By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When he was in the eighth grade, Chad Kelly sat down and wrote down a list of things he wanted to accomplish as a football player. In last Saturday’s win over S.C. State, Clemson’s backup quarterback was able to check one of those things off his list.
“It was a true blessing to know that I was able to play in my first ever college football game,” Kelly said. “I set so many goals for myself when I was in the eighth grade and that was one of my goals. There is a whole bunch more I want to check off on that list and it is coming soon.”
It was a blessing to see Kelly back on the field, especially considering he was coming off a knee injury he suffered less than five months ago during third-ranked Clemson’s annual spring game in April. A week later he was having surgery to repair his ACL in his right knee and he was expected to miss the entire season.
“There was really no thought in my mind when it happened,” Kelly said. “It was just like something might have happened, I was not really sure because I have never had a major injury. But when they told me I could have torn my ACL and they really didn’t know what had happened, I was kind of down on myself, but I knew in the back of my mind that I could get back from it and comeback bigger, faster and stronger and more mentally prepared and that is what I felt.
“Going through the whole process of getting back, that’s what was in the back of my mind.”
Kelly came completely back late in the third quarter last Saturday when he entered the game for quarterback Cole Stoudt with the Tigers comfortably ahead. He went on to throw six passes for 11 yards and also ran the ball for six more yards.
Not great numbers of course, but Kelly being back on the field was an accomplishment in and of itself.
“It was impressive,” said quarterback Tajh Boyd, who needed six months to get back on the practice fields when he recovered from an ACL injury during his redshirt freshman year. “It was a memorable moment for sure. It was awesome to see him get in the game.”
Kelly has never thought about how remarkable his recovery has been. He has heard how people have come back in eight or nine months, but that never was is thought process. He only focused on getting better so he could help his football team.
“Even seeing (Robert Griffin III) looking a little timid at times kind of made me surprise myself,” Kelly said. “You have to give all the praise to God and to getting all the prayers and stuff that people sent. I dedicated myself to come back so quick – that is definitely the key.
“Just having your mind right. If you believe that you can come back, then go do it. Anything you put your mind to you can do it.”
Kelly said he had his moments when he would get down on himself and would think “I have a torn ACL.” But he would tell himself not think that way and to stay positive.
“You know what, I can’t think about that,” he said. “I have to stick to what I’m doing and go out there and play and not think about anything.
“I feel perfectly fine and that is a testament to working hard and people down in the training staff getting me and making feel like it is a brand new knee and nothing is wrong with it. I give them all the credit for pushing me every day and saying hey if you don’t want to come in at six a.m. then you are not going to feel right.”
It also helped that Kelly had tight end Sam Copper go through the same process. Copper, like Kelly, had surgery to repair his ACL that he injured in the spring game as well. And like Kelly, Copper has needed only five months to get back. He was listed as probable for the S.C. State game last Saturday and there is a real good chance he could play against NC State next Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C.
“We were in there every day working hard,” Kelly said. “One day I was down and he was picking me up and the next day he was down and I was picking him up. Every day we were picking each other up and pushing each other.
“Sometimes we would get angry at each other because we were pushing each other so hard, but that is what you need. To see someone like me and him come back from something so quick is a testament that we were able to put our minds to it.”
Kelly did not get to stay on the field as long as he wanted to against S.C. State. Head trainer Danny Poole took the Niagara Falls, NY native out of the game when Kelly’s brace dug into his knee and caused some discomfort. Kelly said the knee was a little swollen from the brace, but there is nothing to worry about. The redshirt freshman says he will be ready to play if the opportunity presents itself at NC State.
“I still have so many people asking, ‘Why are you back so quick? Should you really be back that quick?’ Yeah, there have been some advances in the medical field and all that, but if you are working hard and dedicated and you want to put your mind to something, you can do it and I really believe that. If you say something, it will happen,” he said.
Now that he is back on the football field and is helping his team try and win another Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and possibly play for a national championship, Kelly is back to looking at his list of goals.
Next up? Become the starting quarterback for a Division I-A football program.
“To write (your goals) down and see them every day, that’s what you need to do,” Kelly said. “If you want to achieve your goals, you have to see them and believe that you can do it.”