KNOXVILLE -- Todd Kelly Jr. already picked up two more pieces of hardware this week to add to the impressive collection of awards and honors he's accumulated during his high school football career.
It's the third one, though, that's the most important to the University of Tennessee commitment.
The Webb School of Knoxville senior picked up his second consecutive Mr. Football award in Murfreesboro on Monday and received an official invitation to the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl during a jersey presentation ceremony at Webb on Tuesday.
Thursday, Kelly and the Spartans will try for their third Division II-A state championship in the last four seasons against Memphis St. George's at Tucker Stadium on Tennessee Tech's campus in Cookeville.
"Nobody wants to lose their last game, so I want to bring that gold ball back to Knoxville," Kelly said Monday night following the Spartans' practice on the turf indoor field inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex at UT. "Webb is all about winning tradition, so we're looking to win that state championship.
"[The TSSAA Mr. Football ceremony] was really cool. I'm not a big fan of individual awards, though. It all has to do with the team. I wouldn't have got there without them, so I told all my teammates that. They're great guys, and the linemen blocked for me and the defensive line got back there for me to get those interceptions."
Kelly, or "TK," as he's widely known, plays running back and safety for Webb, though he'll play defense when his collegiate career begins next summer. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is rated a four-star prospect by both 247sports.com and Rivals.com. One of the state's top prospects, Kelly committed to the Vols back in March.
Though he goes to school 10 miles from Tennessee's campus and his father was an All-America defensive end at Tennessee in 1992 and a first-round NFL draft pack in 1993, Kelly admitted he was not a lock to play for the Vols. Despite his ties to the Vols, older sister Clarke "was in my ear," Kelly said, to pick Alabama, where she is a cheerleader.
He also had scholarship offers from Florida State, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Ohio State, Southern California, Clemson and others, but the arrival of Butch Jones and his staff to Tennessee, Kelly said, made a "huge difference" in his recruitment.
"If he wasn't here," he said. "I probably wouldn't be a commit. I wasn't a big fan of Coach [Derek] Dooley. I was looking to go elsewhere. I was really thinking about going to Alabama. The Tennessee fans probably don't want to hear that, but I'm a Vol, 100 percent."
In addition to his on-field ability and talent, Kelly was an important piece of the puzzle for Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class. He was the third commitment of the class, one that's now 32 players strong. A day after Kelly's commitment, five-star tailback Jalen Hurd from Beech High School in Hendersonville jumped on board.
By the end of this week, the Vols could end up with six of Rivals.com's top 11 in-state recruits, if Station Camp receiver Josh Malone and Brighton defensive lineman Charles Mosley choose Tennessee today and Friday, respectively.
A little more than two months before national signing day the first Wednesday in February, Tennessee has the nation's No. 2 class according to both 247sports.com and Rivals.com.
"I told Coach if the NFL doesn't work out, maybe I'll be able to get on the coaching staff, because I know I can recruit some good guys to come to the school," Kelly quipped.
"You know, we had an idea, but I didn't think it would happen like it did," he added. "Once we got on board, everybody jumped on with is. It's a pretty cool thing to see, and hopefully it pans out in the long run."
Despite the program's fourth consecutive losing season, Tennessee's class has yet to run into many problems with recruits jumping ship and heading elsewhere, and Kelly attributed that to the bond connecting the players and their belief in Jones.
"We're all close, man," he said. "We know what Coach Jones is going to do in the future. We're all bought in, and we've got to make sure that everybody's 100 percent.
"Coach Jones, a lot of people knew that they were going to have a rough season, but they panned out better than I thought they would. The win over South Carolina was pretty big -- first win over a top-10 team in a long time. I'm looking forward to doing some big things here soon with me over here and all the good players we're bringing in."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.