Teenagers who grow into superstars on high school football fields in Texas are expected to end up in Austin playing for Mack Brown.
Young men with millions of dollars potentially on the horizon are supposed to spend summer vacation in tropical locales imitating a life they hope to soon lead.
It is often assumed standout wide receivers will preen after each reception, however insignificant it may be.
All of those things might be the conventional wisdom, but Malcolm Kelly is not conventional.
Kelly, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma, has had something of an unconventional first training camp for the Washington Redskins. The 6-foot-4, 227-pound wide receiver quickly became a standout at Redskin Park, wowing fans, coaches and teammates alike.
Blessed with burgeoning biceps and chiseled calves, Kelly’s body belies his status as the youngest player on the roster (he won’t turn 22 until Dec. 30) and immediately makes him stand out amongst the receiving corps. What has earned Kelly much praise though, is his ability to snare errant throws, often stretching high in the air or awkwardly across his body to collect passes.
He also quickly became a reliable target. While Kelly has a penchant for the dramatic catch, he is making all the routine ones as well.
“You really don’t know what to expect coming into camp,” Kelly said. “I had some butterflies, but once you realize how hard you have to work every play, it just brings out the best in you. You end up out here making plays that you never though you would make. It is fun.”
Added receivers coach Stan Hixon: “He’s been very impressive. He makes a play every day, sometimes two or three. He has outstanding hands, and he is able to make some difficult catches.”
Then Kelly’s hamstring “knotted up,” as coach Jim Zorn put it, and a week’s worth of goodwill was put on hold. He joined fellow rookie Devin Thomas on the sideline, watching instead of wowing.
Kelly has returned to practice but in limited fashion. His status for the team’s first preseason game Sunday is in doubt. After one great week and one frustrating one, Kelly would probably settle for something a little more consistent for the rest of camp.
“He tried to come out today, but if you saw what I saw - he labored,” Zorn said Thursday. “He gave it a go, and it just didn’t respond. It was definitely sore today.”
Kelly grew up in Longview, Texas, a small city of about 76,000 two hours east of Dallas. After becoming a standout at Longview High, Kelly spurned Brown and the home state Longhorns, instead opting to cross the Red River and play for Bob Stoops’ Sooners.
It turns out that Stoops’ ability to steal running back Adrian Peterson from nearby Palestine, Texas, a year earlier had a major impact on Kelly’s decision to defect.
“All the top players do it every year. That’s where we go - Peterson, [quarterback] Rhett Bomar, [defensive tackle] DeMarcus Granger - everybody,” Kelly said. “I went because of A.D. When I saw him leave and go there and do what he did his freshman year, I thought, ‘Man, [teams] are going to put nine in the box. I’ll go up there and get one-on-one [coverage] all day.’”
Kelly got away from football for a few days early last month before his professional career began in earnest. Instead of lounging at the beach, he journeyed to Liberia as part of a contingent from a non-profit organization called Mercy Ships.
People from the charity travel around the world, providing medical care and other amenities to those in need. Kelly, his father and personal trainer spent almost a week in Liberia, working out with athletes and meeting people who have lived through years of a recently ended civil war.
“You’re talking about 3.5 million people in a city [Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia], and 80 percent of them don’t have electricity or running water in the city,” Kelly said. “There are still a lot of buildings that were bombed out. It was a harsh reality that some people have to go through much worse that we go through here.
“I went over there, and it was a life-changing experience. You see things, and then you realize you take things for granted every day. Once you go over there, you can’t complain about anything.”
Like expecting to be drafted in the first round but watched as 50 players were selected before him, including seven other wide receivers. Kelly looks like a prototypical franchise wide receiver, but he dropped in part because of slow 40-yard dash times. He is hoping to prove his “football speed” will trump any track skills.
While he made catch after catch in the camp’s opening days, one of the few members of the Redskins that didn’t boast about it was Kelly. No post-grab dances, no words of “encouragement” for the opposing defenders - just flip the ball to a staff member and jog back to the huddle.
But aren’t receivers supposed to be showmen?
“Nah, you ain’t supposed to,” Kelly said. “You don’t have to. I’d rather be a silent killer. You don’t see Larry Fitzgerald out there catching passes and talking trash. And really, I haven’t seen Santana [Moss] or Antwaan [Randle El] talking that much out there, either. I just try to go out there, make plays and keep my mouth shut.”
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of talent in Kelly’s pipes. He earned plenty of recognition on the Internet for his talents as a freestyle rapper at Oklahoma. It was something he picked up as a kid, drifting down Texas roads in the backseat of his older brother’s car.
“I just kind of took to it, and it stuck with me,” Kelly said. “I’m really just playin’ around. It just so happens I’m pretty good at it.”
Are his musical talents something to consider for a post-football career path?
“Nah, not rapping - I can’t really relate to a lot of the rappers,” Kelly said. “They go through some stuff. I can’t go out there and lie. It would just be weird.”
He says no now, but it would be something unconventional.