By Alex Norman
It used to be a day of surprises… but more and more, National Signing Day… the day high school football players sign their Letters of Intent to play at the college level, is a coronation and not an announcement.
Most players make up their mind weeks or months before the big day.
Webb School standout Todd Kelly Jr. made up his mind well in advance of February 5, 2014.
On March 10, 2013, Kelly called head coach Butch Jones (who was still six months from actually coaching a game at Tennessee) that he wanted to be a Vol.
“It feels awesome, the day is finally here. I’ve been dreaming about it for the past 18 years,” said Kelly. “Just to realize that I am signed and committed to the University of Tennessee, it is just a blessing.”
Kelly, rated as a four-star safety and one of the top high school players in the state, made these comments at a ceremony in the Webb school gymnasium just after 12 noon on National Signing Day. In actuality, the important business was completed hours earlier, when the proper paperwork was faxed to UT.
“I told my Mom… she wakes up at the crack of dawn and I said make sure you get that right at 7 a.m.,” said Kelly. “That’s what I was expecting and it ended up happening that way. The coaches were calling me and I wasn’t even awake yet.”
Kelly smiled proudly, wearing an orange and white checkerboard tie, and a Tennessee cap with the words “Brick By Brick” underneath the Power T. That is the slogan Butch Jones says all the time, as he continues rebuilding the Vols football program.
Getting players like Kelly to buy in is a sign that Jones has made a convincing argument to some of the best football players in the county. The Vols Class of 2014 is a consensus Top 10 group according to the major recruiting services.
Had Derek Dooley been given a fourth year in charge of the Tennessee program, the odds are Kelly wouldn’t have picked UT.
“Before Coach Jones got here I was kind of leaning towards Alabama,” said Kelly. “You know my sister was down there edging me a little bit, trying to get me to join her. It was very tempting but once Coach Jones got here they were recruiting me hard, did what they were supposed to do, and that is why I am a Volunteer today.”
Kelly is one of five legacies in the Vols Class of 2014. Kelly’s father Todd Sr. was a star on the Tennessee defensive line in the early 1990s. Todd Jr. has done a nice job making a name for himself thus far.
“Todd is a winner all of his life, a three-time state champion, and a Gatorade Player of the Year,” said Vols defensive backs coach Willie Martinez in a statement released by the University of Tennessee. “I love his physicality and his play making ability and we will be leaning on his leadership qualities this upcoming season.”
Kelly could make an immediate impact in the Tennessee secondary.
“Every athlete wants to go out and play from day one,” said Kelly. “When everyone comes in, they are all gonna expect to play. You just have to play hard and give it your all.”
The Vols have suffered through four straight losing seasons, with a combined record of 21-28 over that span of time. If Tennessee is to return to elite status in the Southeastern Conference, Kelly and the Class of 2014 will be a big reason why…
“We want to bring Tennessee back to the winning tradition,” said Kelly. “They’ve been losing these past couple of years, and the fans have been getting tired of it so, we are excited about Team 118 (2014 will be the 118th team in program history) and we are gonna bring it next year and the years after that, so we are excited for what the future holds.”