Chad Kelly embraced his debut as Rebels’ starting QB
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly had very few jitters when he stepped onto the field Saturday afternoon against UT-Martin in his debut as the Rebels’ starting QB. He just didn’t want to make careless mistakes or disappoint two uncles who had come to Oxford to see him play.
The former East Mississippi Community College product’s appetite for live-game action was on display inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and he simply feasted on the Skyhawks’ defense, throwing short and deep passes to whichever receiver was open and running for yards when no receiver was in sight.
Kelly sat comfortably in the pocket, just taking what the defense was giving him. After the game, Kelly’s uncle, Jim Kelly, former Buffalo Bills quarterback (who was not one of the uncles in attendance Saturday) gave the former four-star recruit an assessment of his performance.
“He texted me a couple of times, telling me good job and continue to work hard and make sure you take what the defenses give you and everything else will open up,” Kelly said.
The Rebels’ starting quarterback knew he had an offense to lead down the field, and he was up for the challenge. The Buffalo, N.Y. native wants to be like his Uncle Jim, who played 11 seasons in the NFL and started in four straight Super Bowls. Getting the starting nod from Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze was all he needed to motivate himself even more to make a solid first impression on his teammates and the fans of the program who were watching Saturday.
However, leading an offense isn’t new to Kelly.
Just a season ago he led the Lions to their third National Junior College Athletic Association title in the last four years, defeating Iowa Western 34-17. In that game, Kelly was 40-for-52 for 433 yards and five touchdowns.
He is now embracing the opportunity to play under center for the Rebels (1-0), who are No. 14 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 17 in the AP Top 25 Poll.
On the third drive of the game against UT-Martin, Kelly etched his named into the record books of quarterbacks who have thrown a touchdown for Ole Miss, when he connected with sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack for a 56-yard touchdown.
Kelly didn’t have a chance to see Pack prance into the end zone as he was taking a hard hit onto the field.
“I was like ‘he can run fast,’ but after the first ball I threw I got hit—and I was like, ‘I hope this gets completed,’” said Kelly, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns and had a 20-yard rushing touchdown late in the third quarter Saturday. “I wasn’t sure if I should have made that throw, but I did. It was just good being out there with all of the guys.”
Like Kelly’s uncle, Freeze provided his own assessment of the humble quarterback while also giving him the starting nod for Saturday’s home contest against Fresno State (1-0):
He really made some good throws, some deep throws. It doesn’t take his ball a long time to get there. He has a strong arm. I love explosive plays, and he has that ability to help us with that for sure. We’ll see how that progression goes. — Hugh Freeze
Freeze also wants to see how Kelly reacts when the defense presents more of a challenge. “He had some wide open guys the other day,” Freeze said. “So how does that same guy respond when they are covered on that initial read, I think will be the initial test for how well he or the other guys will play. I think time will be a better judge for that. He obviously has the ability to help us have more explosive plays.”
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)