Making a name for himself
His dad was a star DE for the Vols, but Todd Kelly Jr.'s future is wide open
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Class of 2014 safety Todd Kelly Jr. is trying to make a name of his own. And that's not as easy as it sounds for the Knoxville (Tenn.) Webb standout, because his dad, Todd Kelly, was a star defensive end for the hometown Tennessee Vols and a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
"Even when I went to his hometown, everyone knew who he was. [They were] saying I was Todd Kelly's son," Kelly Jr. said. "Now, I'm going to try to make people say he's Todd Kelly's father."
They just might have to, considering an impressive stack of scholarship offers, and a strong desire to live up to his father's name and even surpass his dad's accomplishments.
The elder Kelly wants that to happen every bit as much as his son, who goes by TK.
"His knowledge of the game is so much better than mine was," Kelly said. "I didn't become a good football player until I was in high school. I didn't come out of my shell until I was a sophomore in high school. He's been doing great things ever since he was 7 years old."
Yet that wasn't always the case. When he was a youngster, the family didn't think the laid-back, quiet Kelly Jr. would pursue sports. Then one day, his grandfather threw him a ball that he easily caught. Things changed. Kelly Jr. became a standout football player, baseball player and track star.
Kelly served as the coach of his son's football teams. From the time Kelly Jr. was 7 until he turned 14, Dad was the coach and the instruction was all about technique.
"He definitely taught me a lot," Kelly Jr. said. "It was great getting the knowledge he has from playing in the NFL. That's my ultimate goal. He really knows a lot about the game. I take pride in that."
There were some times when the two bumped heads.
"I'm going to continue to listen to him, although I get mad sometimes when he tries to correct me," Kelly Jr. said with a smile. "I hope he knows that I know he knows his stuff."
It helped not only on the field, but on the sideline. Kelly Jr. and other prospects who played for Kelly -- including Vic Wharton III (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian Academy), who is one of the top prospects in the state -- learned about football and about how to deal with tough coaches. Kelly pushed hard, and it has paid off.
"You can see now the results with these kids getting D-I offers and being starters," Kelly said. "I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to coach my son. I never treated him any different. He was never favored or anything."
Instead, he was taught about making the right choices and remembering to focus on academics. Forget all the football accolades or that Kelly Jr. recently ran a 4.46-second mark in an electronically timed 40-yard dash. What makes Kelly most proud is his son has a 4.1 GPA at the prestigious Knoxville private school.
"That's one of the things I'm really impressed with," Kelly said with pride.
The grades will allow any college to recruit him. The speed should allow him to continue to play the position he loves. At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Kelly Jr. could grow into a linebacker, but he's focused on being a Taylor Mays-like safety.
"Being at linebacker, I think that would be a waste of speed," Kelly Jr. said. "As long as I keep my hips loose and keep my footwork right, I think I'll stay at defensive back. There are such things as big safeties. I think the bigger you are, the more punch you can bring.
"Hopefully I'll stay at safety. I definitely like defensive back a lot better."
Dad has no doubt his son's future is in the secondary.
"Oh, absolutely," Kelly said. "We went to junior day at Alabama. When Nick Saban first saw him, he put him at corner. You don't find the little small corners like when I was playing. These guys are a lot more physical and a lot bigger guys."
There are ties to Alabama other than just a junior day visit. Kelly's daughter was a freshman cheerleader for the Crimson Tide last year, and Kelly has no issue sending his son to Alabama or any other school.
"We told both of our kids that even though my wife and I went to Tennessee, we're going to support their decision," Kelly said.
It's a good thing, since Alabama and Florida, two of Tennessee's fiercest rivals, are among the many offers Kelly Jr. holds, as well as one from USC and Knoxville's public enemy No. 1, Lane Kiffin.
"It just makes me feel like any other recruit," Kelly Jr. said. "Some people might say, 'You might go where your dad goes,' or something like that. But with me knowing that he gives me that opportunity, it gives me no pressure where to go. I can just go to the right place that fits me. I really appreciate his attitude with that. I always keep that in mind."
All of which keeps Kelly Jr. on the path of making a name for himself. Renee Kelly hesitated to name her son after her husband for the pressure it might put on him. She relented and now sees her son growing into his own man.
"TK and his father are both fiercely competitive, fun-loving and God-fearing, yet they have incredibly different personalities," she said. "Todd is typically talkative, outgoing and energetic. At the other end of the spectrum, TK is reserved, somewhat shy and unusually laid-back."
Not on the football field. There, he's quickly making a name for himself, whether it be TK, Todd Kelly Jr. or maybe eventually just Todd Kelly.