“I lived in Campbellton all my life and graduated from Graceville,” said Kelly, now the assistant coordinator of pro and college scouting for the NFL’s Denver Broncos. “It’s a very small, rural area. There are not a lot of professionals like pro athletes or pro business people who came back to Graceville and spoke to the kids or students there. So for me, I didn’t know what all was out there. Not knowing what’s out there can limit your vision of where you want to go.”
For the second consecutive year, Kelly is giving back to his former home in the form of The C.H.A.M.P. Camp, a two-day non-contact football camp scheduled for June 30 and July 1 at Graceville High School. The camp is for kids ages 10-17 and costs $50 to enter, though exceptions may be made for kids unable to cover the expense.
Last year’s camp included 120 athletes, and Kelly hopes the camp grows considerably this year. Kelly added that he expects the number of staffers to increase, too, with a blend of area coaches and former college players.
“Last year we had around 30 (coaches) and probably 15 people on the staff,” Kelly said. “This year we hope there’s around 40 coaches from the local area, and the guys I’m bringing with me. … The thing we hope to accomplish with this camp is this: We want those guys to see past the streets of Campbellton, Graceville, Panama City, Dothan (Ala.),” Kelly said. “The sky truly is the limit.”
Football camps are available to athletes throughout the region during the summer, but Kelly believes his differs from most.
“Because it’s more than football,” he said. “We’re going to stress football, and they’re going to get great football instruction from knowledgeable football people — local coaches, former players. But most importantly, we get guys talking about life skills and how they overcame the obstacles life gave them. I’m not sure if you get real-life talk like that from other camps.”
Kelly graduated from Graceville in 1998 and played football collegiately at the University of Kentucky first as a defensive back and later as a wide receiver. Though his dreams of playing in the NFL never materialized, Kelly remained undeterred. He played in the Arena Football League with the Lexington Horsemen and transitioned into the front office as the team’s general manager. Kelly pestered NFL teams for a front office job for four years — “I got garbage bags full of rejection letters,” he said — before he finally caught a break with the Broncos.
Now that he’s in a position to give back to the community in which he grew up, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
“I’m not saying anything bad or negative about the guys left ahead of us, but when they left a lot of them didn’t have a chance or an opportunity to come back and kind of nurture us when we were growing up,” Kelly said. “And we really needed that. For a kid like me, my mom had issues with drugs. My dad had issues with drugs and was selling at that time.
“I didn’t necessarily have that example I needed. It would have been great if some of those guys had come back and showed me the way, showed me it was possible.”
Between instruction of football fundamentals and teaching life skills, Kelly acknowledged there is a lot to cover over two days.
“We’ll go about two hours of instructional drills, and after every two hours we’ll have a breakout session and have a speaker or speakers talk for 30 minutes,” Kelly said. “We’ll work on offense from the morning to around noon and then work on defense from noon to the end of camp. Another thing that’s unique is that we touch on every position. We bring guys who are quality teachers for any position on the football camp. It’s not just a skills camp. It’s not just a lineman camp. They get every aspect of the fundamentals of the game. It’s a total team camp.”
Kelly and his wife, Stephanie, have created a non-profit organization called Heart Power Inc., and The C.H.A.M.P. Camp is the crown jewel of that program. Kelly said his long-term goal for Heart Power Inc. is to open youth centers throughout the Panhandle and offer after-school programs for kids.