OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Just before Chad Kelly left for Mississippi to embark on his best and probably last chance at becoming a successful college quarterback, he was throwing a football around during a workout with his uncle: Jim Kelly.
Within seconds, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who led the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowl appearances had a pair of stinging hands.
”After I caught five or six passes I finally had to say `Chad, take it easy on uncle Jim.”’ Kelly said with a laugh.
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”He has an arm that is very special.”
But as Chad Kelly has found out, there is a much more to being a great quarterback than possessing a rocket right arm and a famous family name.
After a three-year odyssey that included a fair share of bad decisions, the 21-year-old Kelly has re-emerged at Ole Miss and is now preparing for the biggest game of his career when the 15th-ranked Rebels (2-0) travel to face No. 2 Alabama (2-0) on Saturday.
”Sometimes kids think they know it all,” Jim Kelly told The Associated Press. ”Chad’s like a lot of other kids. Sometimes your mom, dad or uncle have advice and you think you know better. It’s part of maturing – how much do you really want this?”
So far, the younger Kelly has made the most of his opportunity.
Through two games, he’s completed nearly 73 percent of his passes for 557 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. He also has the best passer efficiency rating in the Southeastern Conference.
It’s been quite the renaissance for a once highly recruited quarterback who was booted from Clemson’s team in 2014 following an argument with coaches during the spring game.
Kelly transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he was an All-American and led the program to a national title.
He was signed by Ole Miss in December, but almost immediately put his second chance in jeopardy after he was arrested following a fight at a Buffalo nightclub. He eventually pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze still brought Kelly to Oxford, but made it known he had reservations.
So far, so good. Though no one is claiming victory yet.
”Chad seems to be really, really grounded,” Freeze said. ”He is extremely hungry to be coached and do well. So, yes, it is always a concern of mine but so far I am confident he has his head in the right place.”
Kelly readily acknowledges that his attitude wasn’t great at Clemson and he ignored some good advice. He said he’s tried to be much more receptive to Freeze and Ole Miss quarterbacks coach Dan Werner.
”They’ve done a great job helping me become more of a listener than a talker,” Kelly said.
Freeze was immediately aware of Kelly’s arm strength from the first time he saw him throw. After watching the quarterback for several months, he’s also been impressed by his endless desire to watch film.
Kelly said he’s already watched both games Alabama has played this season and spent part of his summer watching all the Tide’s games from last season. Multiple teammates say they’ll find him in the film room at odd hours.
”Chad studies more film than I do,” Freeze said.
Said Kelly: ”I just love watching football. If I could watch football 24/7, I would.”
Outside of the film study, it’s Kelly’s deep passes that have drawn the most rave reviews. Tight end Evan Engram said Kelly ”can launch it out the stadium,” giving the Rebels a potent deep threat that opens up the rest of the offense.
Count Alabama coach Nick Saban among those who are impressed, praising Kelly’s athleticism and accuracy throwing the football.
”I’m sure they’re very pleased with the job that he’s done,” said Saban, who also recruited Kelly. ”He’s really a good quarterback.”
Jim Kelly thinks so, too. After years of Chad wearing Jim’s jersey, the 55-year-old is now on the lookout for an Ole Miss jersey with the No. 10 on it.
”You better believe I’ll wear it,” Jim Kelly said. ”I’m waiting for my brother to make that happen. I would wear it proudly.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this story.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org . Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP