But that doesn’t mean his loyalties will be mixed when East Tennessee State plays at Tennessee this Saturday.
Kelley, one of ETSU’s top wide receivers, has spent his entire life more or less pulling against the Vols.
“My dad was a Georgia Bulldog, so that means I pull for Georgia,” Kelley said. “I never pulled for Tennessee. I was kind of indifferent about it. If they won, good for them. But when they were playing Georgia, all bets were off.”
Kelley graduated from Grace Christian Academy and like the 10 other Knoxville natives on the ETSU roster, it will be a homecoming when they get to play in Neyland Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be televised by the SEC Network. The Kelley family won’t have to worry about the TV coverage, though. They’ll be infiltrating Neyland in numbers.
“My parents actually purchased, I think, 50 tickets for this game,” Kelley said.
Kelley said it was always in the back of his mind that ETSU and Tennessee might meet on the football field during his career. When the news broke that the teams would be on each other’s schedules, he was ecstatic.
“I kind of hoped that they would establish that, but it was pretty incredible to actually see it happen,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. In the past seasons, we’ve played several good teams, but looking into the future, this was the date that you circle on your calendar.”
Kelley’s high school team played a jamboree in Neyland, so he’s familiar with the field, if not the atmosphere, that awaits the Bucs.
“There weren’t as many people as will be there this week,” he said. “It’s always a hostile environment. I’ve been to several games in Neyland so I know what to expect. I think we’ll be prepared for what’s going to happen when we walk in that place.”
Kelley caught the first touchdown pass of his career in last week’s 28-7 victory over Mars Hill. It was a long time coming for the senior, who had been hauled down inside the 5-yard line three or four times during his career.
“It was good to finally get one,” he said.
Kelley’s touchdown, a 14-yarder from Logan Marchi, came right before halftime and helped the Bucs overcome a difficult first half full of mistakes.
“It just seemed like nothing was going right for us in that first half,” Kelley said. “We’d get down inside the 10-yard line and something crazy would happen. It wasn’t our football. So that second half, to get out there and score several times and get in a good rhythm, was really good for all of us.”
Kelley, who has been on the Southern Conference All-Academic team three years running, said Marchi’s first start deserved better than a passing grade.
“Logan’s a great quarterback,” he said. “He’s not afraid to throw it anywhere. He’ll sling it all over the place and pretty much all the time it’s where it needs to be. I think he had a really good game.”
Less than a week before one of the biggest games in ETSU football history, Kelley and his teammates seem ready to go.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for our whole career,” he said. “We can’t wait.”