Todd Kelly found new team, wife on visit to Vols

Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel
Former University of Tennessee defensive back Todd Kelly (1989-92) poses for a portrait at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on Wednesday. Kelly, who played four years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons, will be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012 on Aug. 23.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS

Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel Former University of Tennessee defensive back Todd Kelly (1989-92) poses for a portrait at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on Wednesday. Kelly, who played four years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons, will be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012 on Aug. 23.

When Todd Kelly was a senior at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., in early 1989, he liked the football program Joe Morrison was building at South Carolina and committed.

Unfortunately, Morrison would die from complications of a heart attack near signing day, and Kelly and the other Gamecock recruits were allowed to consider other schools.

Kelly looked at Tennessee, and this time the recruiting process fell into place much more smoothly.

"As soon as I got off the plane, I saw orange and ate at Calhoun's and went to the fraternity and sorority parties and just fell in love with the tradition," he recalled this week.

It was love at first sight in more ways than one, as one of the Vol football hostesses whom he met was his future wife, Renee.

"She was one of the prettiest girls on campus," he recalled with a smile this week. "I found the love of my life."

Kelly also found his place at Tennessee as a good enough defensive end to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. As a result of his accomplishments, the current Knoxville resident will be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday.

"I'm definitely flattered and honored," said Kelly, who credits his Christian faith for his success. "There are numerous guys they could have chosen, but they chose me."

Kelly, who attended the same high school as former NBA star Allen Iverson, arrived at Tennessee during a high period of Vol football after several up-and-down seasons.

The Vols under Johnny Majors and later Phillip Fulmer shared an SEC title in 1989, won it outright in 1990 and played in Jan. 1 bowl games all four years he was there 1989-92.

"It was a fun time at UT," he said. "You could walk into an airport with Tennessee stuff on, and people would say, 'You guys have a heck of a tradition.' "

Although Kelly did not start until he was a senior after backing up such standout players as Marion Hobby and Chuck Smith, he saw plenty of playing time all four years.

He made first team All-SEC his senior year in 1992 and moved into second place in Tennessee history in sacks at the time behind Reggie White.

He also received laurels off the field, as he carried a 3.0 grade-point average and pondered eventually going to law school. He was able to enjoy such accomplishments through several strong influences at Tennessee, including academic counselor Carmen Tegano, he said.

"He kept me on the straight and narrow path," Kelly recalled.

After Kelly finished his senior year at Tennessee, he was drafted in the first round by San Francisco, and all seemed well.

Although he became a pass rushing specialist on the 49ers' championship team of 1994, he admittedly did not shine as much on the field as his Super Bowl ring did off it, particularly for a first-round draft pick. The person to blame, he said, was Todd Kelly.

"My NFL career didn't go like I planned it to go," said Kelly, who also played with Cincinnati and Atlanta. "I didn't take advantage of the opportunities. I would tell kids today to lift the weights, do the running and do all the things that are going to make you a great player."

As a result of his lack of proper focus and injuries, a career that he thought might last 15 or so years lasted only four, although he did become eligible for various league benefits.

Kelly and his wife later moved back permanently to Knoxville, where he now serves as a representative for Covidien, selling surgical implants to hospitals.

He also has tried to sell good habits to youngsters, particularly while serving as a youth football coach 2003-09.

"Just getting an opportunity to teach these guys techniques and fundamentals was enjoyable," he said. "That's what is missing, a lot is discipline."

Although he hopes to get back into youth coaching, he has stepped away for now to watch his son, Todd Kelly Jr., a junior at Webb School and one of his former youth players. To date, the young Kelly has had more than 20 offers from Division I colleges wanting him to be a strong safety.

Kelly Sr. said he would love for his son, who has a 4.1 GPA, to go to Tennessee, but he wants him to decide on his own.

The recruiting battle is actually a little more complex than one might imagine, even at the Kelly home. The reason is that daughter Clarke made a new all-girls cheerleading squad that began at Alabama last year, and she is wanting her brother to play for the Crimson Tide.

Regardless, Kelly Sr. will continue cheering for the Vols, still staying connected with the program and passing along the lessons he learned.

"You should take advantage of your education and make good choices," he said. "A lot of times the choices you make in life are going to dictate your future."

John Shearer is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 28

pingkr62 writes:

We would love to see Todd Jr. come to U.T. and continue what his father started. G.B.O.!!!

CoverOrange writes:

Todd, Jr., go to Alabama and be a cheerleader or go to Tennessee and play football. Some choice.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Be a Vol and finish what your dad started..GBO!

voloffaith writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Todd, Jr., go to Alabama and be a cheerleader or go to Tennessee and play football. Some choice.

Sister is a cheerleader.....

UTVOL2001 writes:

Todd Jr., we want you at Tennessee! It is going to be a great run beginning this year!

CrankE writes:

I remember the Heisman pose after the sack of Shane Mathews in 1992. Epic.

The Kelly
The Mose
The Monsoon

Go Vols!

VOLsince68 writes:

in response to CrankE:

I remember the Heisman pose after the sack of Shane Mathews in 1992. Epic.

The Kelly
The Mose
The Monsoon

Go Vols!

I was at that game. Man, what a freaking monsoon it was. You could see it coming, but no one was leaving. And Mose ran all over duh Gators that day. Kelly and the boys were all over Shane Matthews too. Man that was fun.

GO VOLS!!!

60s70s80s90s00s10sallvol writes:

Always loved this guy. Couldnt agree more with the comment "That's what is missing, a lot of discipline". This is so true in every aspect of our society. Kickoff is two weeks from today and I need the discipline to do my job and quit reading any and every word I can find about Tennessee football! Go Vols!

volboy81 writes:

in response to VOLsince68:

I was at that game. Man, what a freaking monsoon it was. You could see it coming, but no one was leaving. And Mose ran all over duh Gators that day. Kelly and the boys were all over Shane Matthews too. Man that was fun.

GO VOLS!!!

Ive never enjoyed sitting in the pouring rain like I did that day! Had TWO ponchos on and still got soaked. I finally just took them off. I'd sit in rain like that every Saturday to win!
Can't believe his daughter went to Alabama. I hope his son goes to Tennessee!

AtLannaVol writes:

in response to 60s70s80s90s00s10sallvol:

Always loved this guy. Couldnt agree more with the comment "That's what is missing, a lot of discipline". This is so true in every aspect of our society. Kickoff is two weeks from today and I need the discipline to do my job and quit reading any and every word I can find about Tennessee football! Go Vols!

no no, you've got it all wrong. I mean on the -quit reading about the Vols and do your job-thing. We're at T minus 14 days till It's Football Time in TENNESSEE. Who can concentrate on work. The NC State game is huge in setting the tone for the season. And setting the confidence level of our players and fans. And the level of respect from the national media etc.

I could go on, but I gotta get back to work:)

Go Vols.

Can't friggin wait.

TommyJack writes:

good stuff

jfuston writes:

I served him and Chuck Smith at Casa Gallardos back in the day. They both ordered two dinner plates. Man that was a lot of food. They were both super nice guys.

nwcs writes:

in response to VOLsince68:

I was at that game. Man, what a freaking monsoon it was. You could see it coming, but no one was leaving. And Mose ran all over duh Gators that day. Kelly and the boys were all over Shane Matthews too. Man that was fun.

GO VOLS!!!

I was at that game too. Sunny in the first half with a big sunburn, monsoon in the second half! I was in the end zone end about two rows back from the front. Great memories!

SmokeyPride writes:

Great candidate to run the Vol for Life program!

MemphoVol writes:

You gotta admit, the first time you heard Todd Kelly's name when he was coming out of high school, you thought he was going to be some red headed Irish kid, didn't you? I know I did.

sethwoolwine47#255415 writes:

Better guy than he was a player....congrats on the award TK!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to MemphoVol:

You gotta admit, the first time you heard Todd Kelly's name when he was coming out of high school, you thought he was going to be some red headed Irish kid, didn't you? I know I did.

He's from Southern Ireland..

manniesghost1903 writes:

It is not too late for his daughter to transfer to UT. UT has a cheerleading squad and she wouldn't have to sit out a year.

murrayvol writes:

Good piece. Glad Todd Sr. has landed on his feet unlike many former NFLers.

Here's hoping Todd Jr. chooses the Vols. If not, I wish him the very best.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Sister is a cheerleader.....

Follow the bouncing ball, GZ.
Sister is a cheerleader...
wants brother to come to Alabama...
to be a cheerleader...jk

CrankE writes:

in response to volboy81:

Ive never enjoyed sitting in the pouring rain like I did that day! Had TWO ponchos on and still got soaked. I finally just took them off. I'd sit in rain like that every Saturday to win!
Can't believe his daughter went to Alabama. I hope his son goes to Tennessee!

Screen pass to Mose and he was gone. He gets to the checkerboard and "checked the watch". U know what time it is.

I was poor and had only a trashbag. Yeah, that worked. Tore that off to the cheers of the wife and other ladies around-whose makeup was streaming down their faces.

I think we were both sick for days after that.

It was worth it.

BigBadVol writes:

in response to SmokeyPride:

Great candidate to run the Vol for Life program!

Good thought! The VFL program needs a strong leader. Someone with strong values that loves TN.

bUTchVFL writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Todd, Jr., go to Alabama and be a cheerleader or go to Tennessee and play football. Some choice.

+1 good one:-)

OwensboroVol writes:

The son has to make his own mind. He will never be all he can be if he goes to a school he is not satisfied with. He must be totally happy with his decision. I hope he will pick Tennessee. I think Tennessee would be his best choice. Now all the coaches need to do is convince him of that.

Bleed_Orange_n_Ky writes:

in response to CrankE:

Screen pass to Mose and he was gone. He gets to the checkerboard and "checked the watch". U know what time it is.

I was poor and had only a trashbag. Yeah, that worked. Tore that off to the cheers of the wife and other ladies around-whose makeup was streaming down their faces.

I think we were both sick for days after that.

It was worth it.

I was there too! The crowd cheering after every thunderbolt. As I recall, the play was more like a student body left and Mose was all alone for the throw back. I think there was one block and it was all the way to the checkerboard! The last thing them gators were expecting was a pass the way that rain was coming down! It's been quite some time since I've felt this good starting a new season. Go Big Orange!

VolGrad writes:

I remember those days....

Good story. #VFL

Go Vols!

BigOrangeRock writes:

"who credits his Christian faith"

Yeah he does! Good witness sir!!!

FormerVol63 writes:

in response to CrankE:

I remember the Heisman pose after the sack of Shane Mathews in 1992. Epic.

The Kelly
The Mose
The Monsoon

Go Vols!

Great game! Lots of rain! But it wasn't TK that busted that Heisman pose. It was Horace Morris.

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