Columbus North’s first football game was on Aug. 18, but the season started much earlier for the first-year starting quarterback Trenton Kelley and his veteran receiving corps.

The Bull Dogs were on the field as early as June 5 getting ready for the season, which allowed the junior signal-caller to get comfortable with his senior receivers, Jaylen Flemmons and Tristan Bailey. Kelley threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception, in his season debut at Franklin.

North’s passing attack continued to grow stronger on the hands of Flemmons and Bailey. Eighty-six of Kelley’s 142 completions have been to either one of the pair for a combined 1,424 yards and 17 touchdowns.

That passing attack has helped the Bull Dogs to an 8-1 record heading into Friday’s sectional semifinal game against Jeffersonville.

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“By the time August rolled around, (Kelley) had a lot of snaps under his belt, but to a degree you can’t replicate game reps,” North coach Tim Bless said. “You have to live them, but Trenton was as prepared as he could be and has done a great job from the beginning through the regular season.”

The connection between Kelley and his two receivers go beyond this summer. The three players have known each other since playing PAAL football, and Kelley was Bailey’s quarterback during those days.

Kelley and Flemmons also have chemistry on the basketball court where both of them represent the Bull Dogs in the winter. Team chemistry among the three of them plays a major role in helping accomplish what they have this season.

Trying to perfect the timing of balls with routes is mostly done in the offseason, but Kelley and his receiving corps work every day in practice trying to clean up the little things. It’s not uncommon to find them still on the field after practice getting in a few extra throws to tweak a couple of things before the next game.

“We run hundreds of routes a day, and we do them about six days a week,” Flemmons said. “So we’re always running the same things over and over. When you’re running them that much, you’re just used to them. You don’t have to think about it that much; you can just do it.”

Kelley has a well-rounded group of receivers, which include starting cornerback J.D. Harris and freshman Preston Terrell, that he can look for during games and said he knows each receiver’s strengths. He looks to Bailey as his possession receiver and Flemmons as more of a route runner.

Kelley’s main goal is to obviously pass the ball where the defenders aren’t, but he also is conscious of shielding his receivers from big hits by placing the ball in certain spots. Both receivers have trust in knowing that Kelley won’t make a pass that puts them in a vulnerable position against the defense.

“If he obviously sees a safety can come down and crack us, he might try to take a second to see if we can run open more, or if he can find another wideout because he obviously doesn’t want us to get hurt.” Flemmons said.

Kelley also has the authority of changing routes at the line of scrimmage which causes for a high level of communication between the quarterback and receivers. If he sees something in the defense that causes him to want a change, he will make eye contact with his receiver and give him a signal.

The chemistry at the line is crucial during those moments because sometimes the eye contact isn’t there to confirm what routes are being ran before the snap. That can cause Kelley to throw the ball somewhere his receiver isn’t going.

“There are teachable moments every game,” Bless said. “Certainly, they’ve had great years, but they’re not finished products nor perfect football players. I think our coaching staff has done a great job of taking advantage of teachable moments and correcting them. Our young men have learned from mistakes along the way and have certainly grown as football players.”

Watching film from the previous game is where a lot of the teachable moments are corrected. The coaching staff hands players a grade sheet, letting them know which plays need to be cleaned up. The reoccurring mistakes are the ones that will get the most attention on the practice field.

Situational football also is worked on in practice to simulate times when the pocket collapses for Kelley on game day.

Often times, offensive coordinator Jason Perry will pause the film to reiterate how receivers should adjust their routes when Kelley starts to scramble. There are scramble rules that receivers adhere to when making decisions to get open. This makes it easier for Kelley to find them when he is forced to move outside the pocket.

Flemmons and Bailey will try to find little holes within the secondary to sit in when Kelley starts to move. They don’t want to be too far on the left side of the field if he’s scrambling to the right. They also make sure they aren’t too deep down field where Kelley can’t get them the ball.

“When I leave the pocket, I know normally where my wideouts are going to be,” Kelley said. “We just are always on the same page. Sometimes, they’ll go deep or come outside, and I just watch my wideouts while I’m scrambling. If we’re not on the same page, then I can just throw it out of bounds, or take off running.”

Kelley hopes the hours of preparation before each game and the time spent during the offseason will pay off in the postseason for the Bull Dogs.

“I feel very confident that this team is pretty special, and hopefully, we get to keep playing a lot of football,” Kelley said.

Go Long

Name: Trenton Kelley

School: Columbus North

Year: Junior

Position: Quarterback

Key stats: 142 for 224, 2,044 yards, 22 TDs, five interceptions.

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Name: Jaylen Flemmons

School: Columbus North

Year: Senior

Position: Wide receiver

Key Stats: 52 receptions, 962 yards, 12 TDs.

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Name: Tristan Bailey

School: Columbus North

Year: Senior

Position: Wide receiver

Key stats: 34 receptions, 462 yards, five TDs

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.