By Will Vandervort
Saturday was supposed to be Chad Kelly’s day at Clemson. His uncle, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, was on the sideline to see him play in his first meaningful snaps since coming to Tigertown last summer.
The younger Kelly had a good spring and was seriously pushing Cole Stoudt for the number two quarterback position. With starter Tajh Boyd being held out of the annual Orange & White game at Death Valley, Kelly and Stoudt were to go head-to-head to see who might forge ahead.
Kelly got off to a good start, leading the Orange Team on a 11-play, 70-yard drive in which he completed six of seven passes for 43 yards, while running two more times for 14. Kelly, who was the 2011 Player of the Year in the state of New York, capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake for a 7-0 lead with 10:38 to play in the first half.
“He was so fired up to go play today and got off to a great start,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
On the Orange’s next possession, Kelly had them on the move again. After D.J. Howard broke off a 20-yard run, Kelly dropped back, rolled to his right and when he didn’t see anyone open, he took off downfield where he gained 17 yards.
Kelly’s scramble moved the ball inside the White’s 40. After the play was over, he popped up after falling down when trying to juke safety Travis Blanks. Everything seemed okay as he rushed to the line of scrimmage, though be it limping. As he got ready to call the next play, Kelly bent over as if to be in pain and then went to the ground holding his right knee.
Kelly was helped off the field and moments later carried to the locker room where early tests revealed he has more than likely torn his ACL.
“It really didn’t look that bad on (the replay). He just made a cut and he kind of went down,” Stoudt said. “But, stuff happens. We were all upset that he went down and hopefully he will get back soon.”
Kelly will not be back for at least six months.
“Chad brings a lot to the team,” Boyd said. “He is really competitive by nature and he pushed everybody. He will continue to be in our prayers and I’ll continue to talk to him and give him advice and be a mentor to him. I’ll continue to take it from there.
“He means a lot to this team and this is very disappointing that this happened.”
Both Boyd and Stout understand what the next six to seven months will be like for their freshman teammate. Stoudt broke his leg in the sixth game of his junior season in high school and missed the last six games of the year, while Boyd tore his ACL his senior year of high school and had to sit out his entire first season at Clemson because of it.
“There will be some down times to it because it is a tough deal to go through especially when you go from competing and competing for playing time,” Boyd said. “The type of work you put in throughout the entire off-season and your career, and then for it to kind of slow in just an instant, that’s tough on you.
“That’s tough on you mentally, so you have to make sure you stay strong. Make sure you are communicating and talking to people because it can be one of those deals where it gets you in a slump and almost in a depressing state.”
Boyd said in the end, his injury made him stronger and made him even more anxious to get back on the field and prove to people he is just as good as he was before the injury. Knowing Kelly the way he does, Swinney has all the confidence in the world that his young quarterback will come back and be just as good, if not better.
“That is in his DNA. That’s who he is,” Swinney said. “I was listening to Jim Kelly speak last night and he was talking about his adversity and his situation. They told him he would never throw again when he had shoulder surgery, and now he is in the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame.
“(Chad Kelly) is a guy that is made of the right things and he will do what he has to do with the rehab. I’ll be surprised if he does not play at some point this year. It will probably be the later part as opposed to the early part, but at some point he will have a chance to get out there and play in his freshman year. He has a great future and I don’t have any doubt that he will overcome this.”