Mike Kelly's dream of playing Division I college football turned nightmarish before the high school campaign built any momentum.
“When it happened (last September), I got down. Like anyone else would,” Kelly said of the Week 2 foot injury that ended his senior season for Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, the eventual Division II three-peat champion. “It just didn't seem possible.”
Nor did this: Verbally accepting a partial scholarship offer on Jan. 27 to play football for the University of New Hampshire, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision's super-competitive Colonial Athletic Association.
“Knowing most colleges go off senior tape, I didn't think it would be enough for colleges to assess me,” said the 5-foot 9-inch, 176-pound talent, a projected slot receiver, kick- and punt-returner, and possible cornerback for the Wildcats. “I was nervous about that. In one game, to seemingly have (my dream) taken away, it was a hard thing to come to grips with.”
Good thing Kelly, a Merrimack resident, enjoyed a career contest in the season-opener. Guertin routed defending Division I champ Salem, the heavy preseason favorite to repeat, 48-21.
Kelly was impossible to contain.
The top weapon in BG's spread-option attack totaled 310 yards of offense and five touchdowns. His 17 carries generated 193 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 117 yards, including a 65-yard catch-and-run TD on the season's first play from scrimmage.
Running a crossing pattern toward the left sideline, Kelly snared in stride Steve Cuipa's 20-yard toss and hit high gear. He burned past Salem's secondary for the final 45 yards.
It was vintage Kelly, who a year earlier scored three touchdowns in Guertin's Division II title-game clincher.
“He's gifted. He's got tremendous speed. And on the football field, speed is everything,” BG athletics director and head football coach Tony Johnson said, noting Kelly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds before injuring his foot. “(UNH coaches) looked at his ability to change directions, excel quickly, sustain speed for a long period of time. They were interested in him in spring of his junior year.”
UNH wasn't alone. Conference rival Maine, Marist and multiple Divisions II and III schools also expressed interest, Johnson said.
And then Kelly severely hurt his foot against Plaistow's Timberlane Regional. He was diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury, and mid-September surgery was required to repair a tear in the foot's major ligament and displaced bones.
Many schools backed off. UNH did the opposite. Offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey made sure Kelly knew the Wildcats were still watching.
Cramsey's boss, UNH head coach Sean McDonnell, explained after Feb. 2 – better known as National Signing Day – why his staff continued to pursue Kelly.
“One, we've had kids recruited who've torn ACLs or broken bones and they usually come back in great shape. They want to prove they're healthy and ready to go,” McDonnell said. “Two, I like the kid personally.”
McDonnell saved his best reason for last.
“Three, he's an in-state kid, who probably would've been one of the best players in the state if not for the foot injury,” McDonnell said. “We're working hard to keep those kinds of kids in our program.”
McDonnell dismissed the notion UNH is taking a chance on a player just five months removed from foot surgery.
“The risk would've been not taking a chance on him,” McDonnell said. “And having him go somewhere else.”
Kelly said he is running pain-free. A key role player for the boys' basketball team, he expects to red-shirt his freshman year at UNH.
Doing so will give him additional time to grow stronger and faster. He hopes the combination will convince UNH coaches to quickly find a role for him on the field.
“You have to earn a spot in practice,” Kelly said, “which I plan on doing.”
CLOSE TO HOME
Cody Patch also committed to play Division I college football. The Lebanon High senior, who led the Division IV Raiders to their first NHIAA championship last fall, is bound for Dartmouth College.
The Big Green's campus is mere minutes from Patch's home.
“It really is a dream come true. I never expected this to happen,” Patch told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “To be representing my community and playing right down the road, there is no other feeling like it.”
The 5-foot-10, 190 pound running back/linebacker was the only player from Divisions IV, V or VI to earn a spot on the statewide newspaper's 2010 All-State Football Team. He rushed for 1,231 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also returned two interceptions for scores.
JOYOUS RETURN FROM JAFFREY
In the 11-year history of Campbell High girls' basketball, the Litchfield program was winless inside Conant High's gym in Jaffrey.
That all changed on Feb. 4. The Cougars – last season Division III runners-up to Conant – earned that elusive win.
Final score: Campbell 40, Conant 37.
“When I told the girls what they accomplished, some of them were actually crying,” said Campbell coach Shawn Flynn, whose program is the three-time reigning runner-up, twice courtesy of Conant.
Campbell (13-1) won in comeback fashion. After racing to a 5-0 lead, the Cougars fell behind and trailed for virtually the remainder of the contest.
It wasn't until the 2-minute mark approached that Campbell vaulted ahead, 38-37.
That's when Conant's Brooke Springfield, the league's two-time reigning Player of the Year, held the ball for more than a minute and finally took her shot with seconds to play. But the Southern New Hampshire University women's hoop recruit, who scored a game-high 19 points, couldn't connect.
Becca Arnone (team-high 11 points) grabbed the rebound. Fouled immediately, she calmly drained two free throws.
Campbell won without the customary production from its leading scorers. Kristen Hrubowchak was limited to three points. Liz Pettis, who netted 30 points in the first meeting, didn't score in limited time.
Preventing Conant from hitting a single 3-pointer helped Campbell's cause.
So did this strategy: “We went to the post,” Flynn said.
Concord's Bishop Brady High on Feb. 5 celebrated the rink version of the Campbell girls' hoop story.
The Green Giants visited Skate 3 Ice Arena in Tyngsborough, Mass., home of first-place BG, and skated to a stunning 5-0 win in Division I boys' hockey.
The laugher lifted Brady into second place and earned the program its first win on Guertin's home ice in the nearly eight-year tenure of coach Clint Edinger.
“To beat them at their rink, I couldn't tell you the last time BG has lost two in a row,” Edinger said. “You know they were coming out guns blazing, especially playing the (third-place) team at the time.”
Patrick Hadley gave the guests a 1-0 lead – the only goal needed, it turned out, to hand BG its second straight loss.
Yet Brady remained aggressive. Nate Philbrick doubled the lead with a shorthanded marker before the first period concluded. Connor Gillian and Paul Pirozzo (goal, assist) added second-period scores. Brady Gut (goal, assist) buried Brady's final goal.
“You're thinking it'll be a 3-2 game in either direction. Never in a million years do you think, '5-0, us – at their rink,'” said Edinger, whose team entered Feb. 9 action 9-2-1. “We didn't sit on our heels.”
MAKIN' IT LOOK EASY
Milford High was plenty good in boys' basketball last winter, when the team cut down the nets inside UNH's Lundholm Gymnasium.
This year's Spartans – which returned the triple threat of Mike O'Loughlin, Jamie Holder and Mike Mitchell – are downright scary. The defending Division II champions are 13-0. They're winning by an average of 19 points per game.
And they stand just five wins from running the regular-season table.
Coach Dan Murray & Co. have, on paper, two tough home games before the playoffs.
Run-and-gun Goffstown (9-2) visits on Feb. 15. Three times the Grizzlies cracked 100 points and three times netted at least 90. Pelham (10-2) comes to town four days later.
The Pythons lost at home to Milford, 61-51, on Jan. 7. O'Loughlin, Holder and Mitchell combined for 46 points.
Defending Division I girls' hockey champion Hanover High is, at this moment, the heavy favorite to repeat for four reasons.
Twin sisters Madison and Tessa Hill, and Maddie Dewhirst, Hanover's first-line forwards, and netminder Emily Eickhoff have powered the club to an 11-0-0 record with four league games left.
The Marauders comfortably cleared their most recent hurdle. One goal apiece from each of the their top forwards fueled a 3-0 win at then-one loss cooperative team St. Thomas Aquinas-Dover.
Oyster River High of Durham (6-2) is Hanover's only remaining foe with a winning record. The Marauders won the first matchup, 4-0, before the holidays.
GRANITE STATE GREATS
Jared D'Orazio of Peterborough's ConVal Regional recorded an eye-opening double-double on Jan. 25. He scored 26 points and pulled down a staggering 26 rebounds in his team's 61-59 non-league boys' basketball loss at Mascenic Regional of Ipswich.
BG's sharpshooters sizzled on Jan. 28, sinking 10 shots from beyond the arc. Five players netted at least one 3-pointer as BG beat Trinity of Manchester, 59-52, in a matchup of Division I boys' basketball powers. Sean McClung, who netted his 1,000th point on Jan. 25, hit four treys. Brad Holler hit three, and Kyle Remillard, Connor Green, and football recruit Kelly tallied one apiece.
Bishop Guertin's penalty-kill unit potted five shorthanded goals on Jan. 29. Aaron Choi netted two markers, and Erik Kelly, Tom Newton and Andrew Crespo netted one man-down marker apiece. BG thumped Manchester Central in Division I boys' hockey, 10-2.
Exeter High's Nolan Daley, a four-year starting goaltender, blanked high-scoring BG in a 2-0 Division I boys' hockey decision on Feb. 3. He turned aside all 26 shots fired by a team that scored 18 goals in its previous two games.
Merrimack High senior Rachael Carter didn't wait long to crack the 1,000-point plateau for her career. She needed six points to celebrate the feat. The third bucket in her 26-point outing on Feb. 8 did the job. The Tomahawks topped Rochester's Spaulding High, 58-44, in Division I girls' hoop.
Dimitri Floras of the Merrimack boys' hoop team was also dominant on Feb. 8. He scorched Spaulding for 35 points, his biggest shots being five free throws in overtime that nailed down a 66-62 Division I win.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.