Tennessee junior running back John Kelly burst onto the scene last season, and two very different factors have helped shaped Kelly into a running back capable of succeeding in the SEC.
Growing up skateboarding and former Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara were big influences for Kelly.
Skateboarding helped Kelly learn valuable skills he implements every time he’s on the football field.
“When you’d be at the top just looking down at 13 stairs and be like, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of stairs,’ you just have to just forget about it all and just go for it,” Kelly told Volquest.com.
“That’s just how I think when I run the ball. The gap isn’t always going to be there, but when it is you can’t hesitate. You have to just go for it. It taught me how to fall. I don’t want to just face-plant every time I get hit.”
The 5-foot-9, 212-pound back started to skateboard at age 9. It will always hold a special place in his heart.
“That was my first love, man,” Kelly said.
Kelly began to pay more attention to football after he missed a few summer workouts to skate. His coaches at Oak Park High School in Detroit came to the skate park to convince him that football needed to be a priority.
“Man, they came up there like four deep,” Kelly said. “They were like, ‘Football is your future!’ So was like, ‘Man, I guess I’ll give this football thing a real shot.’ ”
Kelly took skills from skateboarding and applied them to football. He also looked to Kamara.
“Alvin helped me a lot with my patience, to believe in my skills,” Kelly said.
“Back when we were at practice, he probably don’t even know this, but I used to try and copy all his moves, some of the footwork that he had. I felt like it just looked better because Alvin got some swag to him, so I copied that. But he taught me to believe in myself and my skills.”
Kelly’s belief in his skills paid dividends toward the end of last season.
He rushed for 630 yards and 5 touchdowns last season after he patiently waited his turn behind Kamara and Jalen Hurd. Kamara and Hurd started the season above Kelly on the depth chart, but Kelly shined after Hurd quit the team and Kamara suffered a knee injury.
Kelly will enter the 2017 season as the featured back for Tennessee. He will try to use the unique influences of his past to lead the Vols in the future.