By Alex Norman
When the opportunity arises we like to have conversations with the playmakers around town. Recently we had the chance to sit down with Tennessee junior safety Todd Kelly Jr., and talked about, among other things, his life-long connection to Knoxville and the Vols, as well as his thoughts on new Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Knoxville Focus: How can the work you guys put in in the spring pay off when you get to the fall?
Todd Kelly Jr.: As many reps as you can get, the better you get. I learned that going through the process of going out there, putting yourself out there, and just competing and having fun with your teammates is the main thing— going out and giving your all. And learning from the coaches and getting the hands on experience. Coach (Bob) Shoop is now here. We see how he coaches and does things so, just relating to him and that gets us ready for the upcoming season.
KF: You mentioned Coach Shoop… what is he like as a Defensive Coordinator and how quickly over the past few months have you been able to bond with him and get used to having him as your DC?
TK: He’s motivated and loves the game of football. I call him a football junkie because he is always studying film and texting us, reminding us of things to do not just about football but about being a man. He talked about meeting my parents and getting to know everybody. He already knows everyone’s name on the defense. Shows how much he cares about this team and the future.
KF: What have you learned going from year 1 to year 2 and now to year 3 as a college football player and a student-athlete?
TK: You are student first; you have to take care of your grades. When you have that, everything adds up and it is easier to do things on the field. I make sure I am on top of my grades, on top of school, going to tutors… taking good notes. They teach everything here. It’s pretty awesome and once I am on the field I just do as the coaches ask me and listen to the older guys and listening to the veterans helps me out. Now that I am a junior I consider myself a veteran, so coaching up the young guys, telling them right from wrong at a young age will help them when they are older.
KF: Do you feel that you can take on more of a leadership role now?
TK: I see myself as one of the leaders of this defense and when something happens to put it on my shoulders because I have experienced it before and I tell these guys what is right and what is wrong. Of course I am going to make mistakes and I have guys back there to correct me — guys like Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin… just to have a support system on our team is special and I consider myself part of that support system.
KF: What are you working on to get better?
TK: I learn new things every day. I’m not a perfect player. Listening to Coach Shoop, Coach (Willie) Martinez… Cam has experience and points some things out to me. I’m also listening to teammates. Just getting bits and pieces from everyone and putting it together will help me perfect my craft. And watching film on me every single day, pros and cons that I did that day, just checking myself before I move on to the next day.
KF: You guys have some much talent in the secondary… how good can this group be?
TK: We can be as good as we want to be and that comes with putting the time in, making sure we work hard. Communicating and working together, I think that is the main thing. If we do that, we can be exceptional but with that comes time. We are working at that and hopefully we can reach that goal.
KF: Expectations were big, now even bigger. Are you ready for what’s to come?
TK: I think we are ready but we are focused on the process and getting better taking it game by game. We are not looking at getting to Atlanta or back to Tampa… just taking it day by day, week by week and when that game comes, stay together as one.
KF: You are a local guy (Kelly graduated from Webb School) and grew up with this Tennessee thing… do you local guys take even more responsibility?
TK: I like to joke with Josh Smith, Brent Kendrick (CAK grads) and say we would have beat them if playing back in the day but we couldn’t pay each other. We talk, you know, about how important it is to people in East Tennessee, really all of Tennessee, and just growing up going to games, seeing how well they do. We want to bring that tradition back and I think we are doing that with winning but it is important to focus on the process. If we stay together and do what we are asked to do and set goals we can reach them.