Coach Spotlight: Ryan Kelly

Patience is a virtue in the recruiting game. A year ago Crimson Tide fans were disappointed when heralded linebacker Jordan Hicks out of West Chester, Ohio's Lakota West High School chose to attend Texas. However, this past July, Ryan Kelly, one of the top prep centers in the country and also from Lakota West, gave his verbal pledge to become a member Alabama's 2011 class.

"Coach (Bob) Odom and myself came in to coach the offensive line when Ryan was just a sophomore," said Jeff Wadl, Kelly's position coach at Lakota West. "When we were putting together the line, Ryan was one of the guys we looked to and saw potential in. He was just 6- 215, very lean, had some strength, but showed a lot of maturity."

In the past two years, Kelly has done quite a bit of growing. He's now 6-4.5, 285 and Wadl says the 70 added pounds isn't "bad weight."

"Ryan added a lot of muscle between his sophomore and junior season," Wadl said. "He really took off as a player during his junior season. We're very demanding as coaches on technique, and he took to the coaching with an excellent understanding of what we wanted. We decided to move him from tackle to center to help lead the offensive line."

It was that season some of the big names in college football started to take notice. Michigan, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Boston College, and many others all extended offers. In the middle of July, he made his pledge to Alabama and didn't looked back.

"I think he liked Alabama from the beginning," Wadl said. "We always tell our kids to go on visits and make sure the school is right for you. Well, he went down for a visit and fell in love with the place. It's where he wants to be. He likes the idea of playing for the Tide, playing for Coach Saban, who other players he's talked with said they'd run through a wall for. He's very excited and can't wait to get down there."

With starting center William Vlachos having one more year of eligibility, Wadl and Kelly have talked about a possibility of redshirting his first year in Tuscaloosa.

"Ryan's the type of guy who's going to do what's important to help his team," said Wadl. "He never puts himself first. In his first game, he may be a bit overwhelmed, but he's not going to let it ruin him. Ryan has the maturity, mental toughness, and demeanor to adapt to the situation at hand. His level-headedness is probably the characteristic I admire most about Ryan."

West Chester is a Cincinnati suburb just north of the city. Kelly grew up the son of the West Chester's Chief of Police, so staying away from trouble was ingrained in him from an early age.

"Being a policeman's kid, Ryan knows to avoid putting himself in compromising positions," Wadl said. "He doesn't go to parties. I don't think he looks down on the kids who do, he's just not wired that way. He's very mindful of others, responsible, and has a great sense of humor. He's just a typical teenager who likes hanging out with his friends, being in the outdoors, hunting, and going to class."

Last year, Lakota West had a 9-2 team. This year there was a bit of a drop off due to the turnover rate, and the Firebirds only managed a 3-7 record. Still, Kelly was named 1st team All- Conference, 1st team All- Butler County, and 1st team All-Southwest Ohio. Kelly will participate in the 2011 Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg, Fla. January 5th.

"Ryan graded out higher than our other four offensive lineman this year," Wadl said. "Even though we were having a bad year the effort never wavered in Ryan. He brought intensity and leadership to the team. He wanted to get better every week and help make everybody else better."

Kelly will graduate with his class in May and head down south to Alabama in June. He plans on working on strength and conditioning in the off-season.

"Physically, Ryan has excellent length and reach," Wadl said. "He's strong now, but he'll continue to get stronger. He'll give Alabama a lot of flexibility to where they can play him. I think he has the ability to play anywhere on the line. If they play him at center like they've talked about doing, it will give them a player at the position with tremendous football wisdom. Ryan's someone you want as the key guy in calling for adjustments that need to be made at the line of scrimmage."

Ryan Kelly wore No. 78 for the Lakota West Firebirds. This year he served as a team captain. Kelly walked off the field in his last high school game a victor over area rival Lakota East.

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