- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

After four years and three injuries, Chris Kelley is finally starting — at safety.

That’s right: Maryland’s newest ballhawk on defense is anticipating passes he once threw as a star prep quarterback at Germantown’s Seneca Valley High School.

“At quarterback, you could see he was struggling to pick things up and make plays,” Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Chris saw that if he wanted to play it would have to be another position. I’m really proud of him because he hung in there. He’s doing well in school and playing well. He just loves football.”

Kelley’s final prep game included a backbreaking, frozen-rope touchdown pass into the right corner of Byrd Stadium in the state championship game. Kelley finished 26-0 as a two-time all-state quarterback and accounted for 95 touchdowns in high school. As a result, he was touted as the next standout Maryland quarterback.

But Kelley never reached Maryland healthy, tearing his left knee ligament in a 2000 all-star game that caused him to miss the season. He tore it again before the next season and played in just two games. Kelley appeared to be the favorite to start in 2002 before he tore his right knee ligament during the spring game. He played 11 games as the backup but was already thinking of switching to safety. The Terps didn’t have another experienced passer, however, so he had to wait until last year to make the switch.

Despite all his problems, Kelley never wavered on his decision to stay at Maryland, even when it was obvious he wouldn’t be a quarterback. He finally will get his chance to start when the Terps open against Northern Ilinois on Sept.4.

“That’s why you never give up because in the long run if you work hard it will pay off for you,” Kelley said. “I’ve had the first three years hampered, but that’s behind me. I can’t wait.”

The transition wasn’t easy. Kelley knew the coverages but not the mechanics. The footwork changed from five- and seven-step drops to following receivers and running backs.

“I didn’t know what to do when I first made the change, but now it’s like nothing,” he said.

Kelley played mostly special teams last season, developing a reputation as a downfield cruncher. This year, he will replace graduated All-ACC free safety Denard Wilson. His time at quarterback helps him read the Terps’ young passers, who tip their intentions in practice.

“I used to do the same things he does,” Kelley said of the Terps’ quarterbacks, “so I pick up on him before he knows it.”

One season might seem more of a tease to someone expecting to start long ago, but Kelley appreciates the chance.

“I feel like a stronger person after going through all that stuff,” he said. “I don’t regret coming here. I can’t go back in time and change it.”

Goal-line work

The starting defense outplayed the offense during a goal-line scrimmage yesterday. The offense scored just one touchdown in four series. The second-team offense scored on all three possessions against the second-team defense.

“I didn’t think the offense was sharp today,” Friedgen said. “It just didn’t have the intensity I like to see. I wasn’t displeased with the competitiveness of the scrimmage. Sometimes I saw a lack of poise.”

The team continues goal-line work today in full pads. Friedgen is looking for more hitting along the line and better passing.

“I don’t think you can practice goal-line offense or defense walking through it,” he said. “You might as well go all out at close range.”

The Terps begin two-a-day practices today. The team will have five double workouts over the next 10 days.

“Vacation’s over,” Friedgen said. “If they have the blahs now, what’s going to happen when they have the two-a-days?”

Receiver Rich Parson dislocated his right thumb. The injury forces receiver Jo Jo Walker to move from Z to slot.


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