CLEMSON -- Snow was falling all around Chad Kelly on a frigid Thursday night in November, but the high school quarterback was feeling only heat.
Former Clemson star C.J. Spiller and some of his Buffalo Bills teammates had come to watch Kelly in the football state semifinals at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y., a show of support for the kid they had seen countless times at their practice facility. The kid who is a consensus top 100 recruit and the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who quarterbacked the Bills to three AFC championship game wins on the same field.
In the most critical game of his prep career, Chad Kelly was having his worst-ever performance. He threw three interceptions
in the first half and St. Joes's trailed its underdog opponent by a touchdown at halftime.
"I was like, 'Wow, this is horrible' because C.J. Spiller was there, (Bills receiver) Stevie Johnson and half the Bills' squad was there watching me," Kelly said, "and this was one of the worst games that I've ever played in my life."
But Kelly, who will officially join the Clemson program today on National Signing Day, didn't hang his head. He has the Kelly gene of uber confidence.
Kelly rebounded to finish with 301 passing yards in the game, breaking the western New York single-season passing record. He rushed for 202 more yards on 20 carries. He became the first New York quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season last fall, statistical evidence of why Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris recruited Kelly, the nation's No. 4 dual-threat quarterback prospect, according to Rivals.com.
"There's a lot of people that say I'm like a Mike Vick, only white," Kelly said.
With three minutes remaining in the game, Kelly drove his team 90 yards to give St. Joe's a 48-47 win. Spiller met Kelly on the field afterward.
"He was like 'Bro that was excellent,' " Kelly said. " 'That was one of the best games I've ever seen.' "
Being a Kelly has its advantages. The 6-3, 208-pounder has had access to the Buffalo Bills practice facility and has thrown passes to NFL receivers. He's watched hours of film with uncle Jim.
"We've watched everything from his USFL (games) to my high school practices," Kelly said. "There's so much he sees on film you would never think about. For instance, if a defensive back is three yards away, you know he's in man. If he's seven yards away and takes one step back before the snap, he's in Cover 3.
"He's in the Hall of Fame for a reason."
St. Joe's coach Dennis Gilbert has coached in Buffalo for 20 years and said Kelly is the best he's seen and perhaps the region's best quarterback prospect since Ron Jaworski.
"He does a really good job recognizing defenses and coverages pre-snap," Gilbert said. "I think a lot of that came from his uncle Jim."
But there are expectations that come with his family name.
There is the fish bowl he has lived in since he was a sophomore at Red Lion (Pa.) High School, where Kelly was dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons that Kelly has described as "beyond ridiculous."
Kelly's dad, Kevin, took a pay cut and moved the family to Buffalo to enroll his son at St. Joe's. Gilbert said he's been a model student and athlete there.
"He knows he has to be different than everybody else," Gilbert said.
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill notes Kelly is different than his uncle. He's more athletic. Kelly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Jim Kelly, a pocket passer, never had that kind of speed.
"He's an interesting guy because the bloodlines are from a passing standpoint, but he is a really dynamic athlete, the type of guy that can be called upon to be a designated runner, the type of guy who can create when things break down," Luginbill said.
"He's got a lot of that riverboat gambler style of play. I think he has to temper some of his confidence and intensity so that he doesn't get into a position where he forces things. I think that's going to be part of the maturation process."
Kelly can make every throw like his uncle. He wears No. 12 like his uncle. And like his uncle, Kelly won the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick Competition as a youth.
"He's a Kelly," Jim Kelly told the Buffalo News. "He's tough, he wants to be where the action is. I'm not just speaking for me, I'm talking about his five uncles. We wanted to be in the middle of everything, diving on the floor in basketball. We were all leaders. Chad doesn't want to sit on the outside."
In a hurry
Some wonder if Kelly has too much confidence. Last week before visiting Clemson, he launched a Twitter salvo directed at Tigers backup QB Cole Stoudt. Kelly expressed confidence in his ability to pass Stoudt on the depth chart.
Kelly and Stoudt will be backups to Tajh Boyd, who will be a junior next fall.
"(Coach Morris) has a little package already set up for me," Kelly said. "It looks like I might get some playing time as a freshman. I just hope Tajh has a great year. He will probably want to go (pro), and who wouldn't if you're going to be a top quarterback in the NFL draft? I'm going in there to learn as much as I can my first year."
Gilbert called Kelly the most competitive athlete he's been around.
"Everything is a competition and it becomes contagious amongst his teammates," Gilbert said. "I told (Chad) Morris the first time he came up, when you have a water break at practice, (Kelly) has to be the first one to the water trough."
Kelly is confident, talented and in a hurry.
Martin Austin, DE, 6-3, 145 pounds, Bamberg-Ehrhardt HS
Isaiah Battle, TE, 6-7, 265, Fork Union Military Academy, Va.
Travis Blanks, DB, 6-1, 195, North Florida Christian HS, Fla.
Zac Brooks, RB/WR, 6-2, 189, Jonesboro HS, Ark.
Josh Brown, DT, 6-5, 270, South Aiken HS
T.J. Burrell, LB 5-11, 197, Goose Creek HS
Patrick Destefano, OL, 6-4, 275, Dorman HS
Kevin Dodd, DT, 6-5, 277, Hargrave Military Academy, Va.
Ronald Geohaghan, DB, 6-0, 185, Allendale-Fairfax HS
Jay Guillermo, DB, 6-2, 287, Maryville HS, Tenn.
Germone Hopper, WR, 6-0, 165, Phillip O Berry Tech, N.C.
Oliver Jones, OL, 6-6, 322, Ninety Six HS
Chad Kelly, QB, 6-3, 2-8, St. Joe's, N.Y.
Shaq Lawson, DE, 6-3, 240, D.W. Daniel HS
Javarius Leamon, DE, 6-3, 240, Woodruff HS
Jay Jay McCullough, ATH, 6-5, 232, Nation Ford HS
Bradley Pinion, K, 6-0, 190, Silver Bluff HS
Cordera Tankersley, DB, 6-0, 190, Silver Bluff HS
Carlos Watkins, DT, 6-4, 275, Chase HS, N.C.
Marty Williams, ATH, 6-1, 200, Fox Creek HS