It’s nearly impossible to describe what it feels like to experience a sense of accomplishment.
From this point forward, Michael Kelly will associate that memory with a hug of his neck and a chilling splash of water.
Credit Caledonia High School assistant coach Darius Wren and senior JeDarius Gore for plotting the victory celebration last week that soaked Kelly following the Caledonia High football team’s 40-12 victory against West Lowndes in the season opener for both teams.
Thanks to Chris McDill, The Dispatch captured Kelly’s expression moments after he was ambushed by his players. If it’s nearly impossible to describe the feeling of a sense of accomplishment, it’s easy to tell from Kelly’s face the water was pretty cold.
Kelly, who worked as defensive coordinator for Randal Montgomery last season at Columbus High, didn’t mind, though, because he said the victory shower was a treat for his players after they bought into what he and his new coaches installed in the offseason.
“That was the first time I had ever been doused with an ice cooler,” Kelly said. “Anytime you can win on Friday night it is the greatest feeing in the world.”
The victory helped wash away the sting of an 0-10 season in 2017 and a tumultuous offseason that saw the school go until July without officially having a head football coach for this season. But Kelly didn’t allow the decision of the Lowndes County School District Board of Trustees not to hire David King or the resignation of Tim Nickens, who was hired to replace Ricky Kendrick, the coach in 2017, earlier this spring to weigh on him or his players as he and his assistant coaches sprinted through what little was left of the summer and the preseason to put in a new system.
Instead, Kelly and his coaches attacked their prepration with a positivity that screamed change is going to come. The first steps came with establishing a leadership council of 10 players that would work with the coaches to ensure the team was moving forward. The second step came in a shutout of Mantachie in two quarters in a scrimmage. The latest step came in the opener against West Lowndes, a team Caledonia lost to in 2017.
Kelly said he w as surprised to discover Wren, who also was an assistant coach at Columbus High last season, plotted with the players to set up the sneak attack on him. He said he is willing to get doused every week if it means the family is reaping the rewards of its hard work.
“I never even thought it was coming,” Kelly said. “It was just one of those celebratory hugs and then all of sudden you just feel it go down your neck. The good thing about it was I was wet already (from the rain and sweat), so I really wasn’t that bad. I guess I would have been a little more shocked if I had been dry, but it was a good feeling.”
Kelly said his players have been reminded more than a few times about the program’s lack of success. He said he wanted the Confederates to enjoy the taste of victory in the scrimmage. He also wanted them to celebrate what was a first varsity victory for many of them.
“This has been a long time coming,” Kelly said. “We hope to have many more throughout the rest of the season. We’re not going to stop here.”
A meeting Monday re-focused the team on Aberdeen and changed the focus to devising a game plan to slow senior quarterback Fred Fields and the explosive Bulldogs. Still, Kelly said he wasn’t going to forget the sense of pride in seeing his players’ smiling faces and their renewed sense of purpose following the victory. For a coach, those things are indescribable, and they are what every leader hopes to have a hand in delivering, regardless of the sport. In addition to the victory shower, Kelly received the game ball from assistant coach / offensive coordinator Ray Weeks.
“When you receive your first win as a head coach, there is a sense of accomplishment,” Kelly said. “I think the greatest feeling I got was I am surrounded by a group of guys — players and coaches — that believes in the same mind-set that I have. I think that is one of the greatest accomplishments, when you can get five other adults that believe almost the same way you believe and you can get another 50 players — regardless of grade level or age — who believe and have the same passion that is inside of me and you can see some of them practicing and playing that way, that is a great accomplishment.
“It is tough to change somebody’s mental capacity. I believe we’re in a slow process of beginning to do that, and I think winning football games speeds that process up a little bit.”
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him on email at aminichino@cdispatchcom. Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.