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Junior takes healthy outlook for season

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THE most important statistic to tell the story about quarterback Mitchell Kelley’s sophomore football season at Columbus North had nothing to do with passing yards or touchdowns.

Four games, five injuries. Two hamstring pulls, a broken right wrist, a sprained right foot and a concussion ... for those keeping track at home.

That’s 1.25 injuries per game. That’s three more injuries than touchdown passes.

For many, that would be reason to consider another sport.

Not for Kelley, though.

After the 2013 season, Kelley sat down with his parents, Dennis and Shelly Kelley to talk about his sport of choice.

“They just wanted to make sure that this is what I wanted,” he said.

Mitchell Kelley never hesitated.

“I love to play football,” he said. “I know that injuries are part of the game. But I knew I was going to work hard in the weight room. I gained five to 10 pounds.

“I also have learned that flexibility is very important. I’ve been stretching every night. I didn’t used to do that as much.”

The Kelley family understands football. Dennis Kelley was a quarterback at Rose-Hulman.

“I grew up wanting to play quarterback,” Mitchell Kelley said. “And I played quarterback through the PAAL league and at Northside.”

He played the position despite being on the smallish side. His added weight this season brings him to 180 pounds, better suited to his 5-foot-11 frame to take hits.

Besides being a little bigger and stronger, Kelley said he has learned to be smarter about taking contact and making better decisions on the field.

“In my first varsity experience, I had to get used to the speed of the players,” he said. “I needed to read the progressions and to get the ball out faster.”

His junior year should display other improvements.

“I just got a lot of experience in big games last season,” he said. “I think I have better mental toughness now. And I definitely worked on my arm strength. I learned to drive off my back foot and to open my hips when I throw.

“The muscles from your shoulders to your legs are important when you throw, and I worked on that. I can tell the difference.”

Although he is a junior with little experience, he knows he can’t act that way on the field.

“I need to take charge in the huddle and on the line,” Kelley said. “I need to know everything about the other positions, where everyone is supposed to go.”

North coach Tim Bless knows his quarterback isn’t the prototypical drop-back passer, so he has designed more runs for Kelley, who is extremely quick.

“He never is going to be defined as a guy who has a rocket arm,” Bless said of Kelley. “But he has the intelligence and timing, things that can offset pure arm strength.

“He also is a three-sport athlete, and there is a carryover value to that, too.”

While Kelley isn’t the biggest guy, he has a pair of 6-foot-2 wide receivers in Clay Roberts and Weston Moore, a 6-5 tight end in Drew Schoeberl and a 6-3 tight end in Jonathon Weaver. He also has a tailback in Josh Holt, who averaged more than 100 yards rushing a game in 2013.

Kelley doesn’t have to carry the load by himself.

If he can stay healthy and incorporate all his offensive weapons into the attack, North stands a good chance to rebound from its 3-7 season.

“We would like to show the fans that we are back to playing a good, quality brand of high school football,” he said.

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