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Earlier this season, Columbus North coach Tim Bless wanted to see what his offense would look like with sophomore Mitchell Kelley at quarterback.
The only problem was, Kelley was recovering from a hamstring injury.
The wait finally ended two weeks ago when Kelley was healthy enough to make his first start at quarterback and lead the Bull Dogs to a 49-42 win over Perry Meridian. Senior Michael Vogel, who started all of last season and the first six games of this year under center, moved to H-back, and North’s running game took off.
“It’s made our offense better in two spots,” Bless said. “Michael is a very good H-back, and it’s no accident that we ran for an unbelievable amount of yards the Perry Meridian game with Michael as both a rusher and a lead blocker. So it was good for our entire offense, not simply the quarterback position.”
The Bull Dogs ran for 487 yards in that win over Perry Meridian. Kelley threw only five times, completing four for 72 yards.
“I was definitely at little bit nervous at first, but after I got hit the first time, I calmed down and had fun and tried to do my best out there,” Kelley said. “(The win) was big, especially since we lost the week before against Terre Haute North. It was nice to get some positive momentum going back our way.”
Unfortunately for the Bull Dogs, they couldn’t sustain that momentum last week against Bloomington South. Kelley completed 9-of-20 passes for 147 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 35-14 loss.
Worse for Kelley, he was injured early in the second half and did not return. He is questionable for Friday’s regular-season finale at Southport.
“I thought I did a pretty good job of managing the game and doing what I needed to do to help our team be as successful as it could be,” Kelley said.
After quarterbacking the junior varsity team as a freshman last season, Kelley was set to start at safety this year. But he injured the hamstring in the preseason and missed the opener against Plainfield.
Kelley came back for a few plays at safety against Columbus East in Week 2, but aggravated the injury and didn’t play again until Week 7.
“It’s easier to transition him back at quarterback while that hamstring is on the mend because you don’t have to run around as much, so that kind of helped with the decision-making process,” Bless said. “It was a move we wanted to make sooner, but we simply couldn’t because of his injured leg.”
“It was definitely tough,” Kelley said. “It gave me some motivation to get better as fast as I could. It’s always tough to watch when you know you could be out there helping the team.”
Bless calls the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Kelley one of the most athletic players on the team. He has some quickness that, overall, the team lacks.
“He brings a lot to the table for us as an athletic quarterback,” Bless said. “He’s a good runner, and his passing is developing. He definitely has good field of vision. He’s one of the faster players on our team, and he’s pretty nifty, too, in open space.
“He’s an OK pocket passer,” he said. “Part of it is arm strength. Part of it is height. He’s very athletic, so he throws on the run well, and he’s only a sophomore, so that arm is only going to get stronger.”
Vogel, meanwhile, has embraced his move to H-back.
“Michael is a consummate team football player, and he’s a team captain,” Bless said. “He has accepted it with grace and humility, and it’s an opportunity for him to probably showcase his physical skills better.”
Kelley will have two more years to showcase his skills and, he hopes, lead North to some championships along the way.
“It would be nice to win Conference Indiana and win a sectional title and regional and so on,” Kelley said.
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