Kelly has had it with injuries
“I’ve been struggling with the same injury for about a year and a half now,” the reserve defensive end said after a recent spring practice. “When I finally got back with the team, it was a relief.”
Kelly, who will be in his fourth year in the program in 2011, isn’t close to completing what would be an improbable comeback from a serious groin injury.
And after playing well in the first six practices of the spring Kelly suffered another injury, albeit a minor hamstring pull.
But defensive line coach Charlie Partridge saw enough from Kelly before the latest setback to be encouraged.
“If he is healthy, he is fighting for a starting position,” Partridge said. “Because for a guy who has not played much football in two years, the progress he showed in six or seven practices was really impressive. It is a matter of him staying healthy and continuing to progress.”
Let’s review Kelly’s injury-riddled time at UW:
The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder from Eden Prairie, Minn., played three games as a freshman in 2008 until he suffered a season-ending broken hand.
Kelly then suffered what he thought was a severe groin pull during summer workouts before the ’09 season.
He missed the opener and played sparingly in eight games before being shut down by the medical staff after the Big Ten Conference finale at Northwestern.
“We thought it was a pull,” Kelly said. “There might have been a small tear. I tried to battle through camp, and the next thing you know it ended up getting worse.
“I tried playing through it. I was battling it, taking limited reps in practice.
“They finally shut me down, and I got surgery on it.”
Three surgeries, to be precise, because the injury turned out to be more serious than anyone suspected.
“I tore about four muscles off my pelvis, my groin inductors,” Kelly said. “It ended up being pretty messy, but I got it all fixed up and I’m ready to rock.”
Because of the surgeries and rehabilitation Kelly did not play last season. UW officials are seeking a medical waiver that would provide Kelly a sixth year of eligibility. For now, however, he will be considered a redshirt junior in 2011.
“We won’t find out until my fifth year,” said Kelly.
, who would be a fifth-year senior in 2012. “If it is in God’s plan, hopefully I will have another year.”
Kelly acknowledged that he encountered some resistance early in his comeback as friends suggested he might want to contemplate giving up football.
“I think a lot of people were telling me that,” he said. “I had doctors tell me that. But at the same time, I don’t accept failure. I believe that I was meant to play football.
“I have a passion for it that is so strong. Why would that passion be put in my heart if I wasn’t supposed to play?
“So I just continued to follow what I thought was right, and it ended up working out.”
Kelly rejoined the team during the second half of winter conditioning in early February and was playing well on the No. 2 defense until suffering the hamstring injury. He sat out three practices but returned Tuesday and lined up with the No. 2 defense, opposite Pat Muldoon.
The early departure of end J.J. Watt for the National Football League leaves a huge hole to fill for 2011. However, UW returns four ends who played last season. That group: Louis Nzegwu, David Gilbert, Muldoon and Tyler Dippel, who is out this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Asked to articulate his goals, Kelly didn’t sound like a player who hadn’t seen the field since 2009.
“If I’m healthy, I definitely think I can contribute to the defense and to the team, whether it be special teams,” he said. “Everyone’s goal is to start, you know? So my goal right now is to start. If that is what I’m meant to do, I’ll be doing it.”
But have the surgeries and hours of rehabilitation been worth it?
“Oh, yeah,” he said, grinning. “Every step. It feels great, and it is nice to be back. Just stay on the path.”
The path has been bumpy, so much so that Kelly’s reputation is that of a talented player who can’t stay healthy.
“It’s still too early to tell,” defensive coordinator Chris Ash said when asked whether Kelly will be able to contribute next season if he can stay healthy. “If he can continue to improve and just learn to play again, I would expect him to be doing some things for us.”