Everyone knows that Derrick Henry took home the majority of hardware in this college football season. He was best in the nation with the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Doak Walker Award as nation’s best running back, Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year, and unanimous All-America. And maybe some other awards.
Although Alabama may have the nation’s best defense, Crimson Tide defensive stars like Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson were finalists for national awards, but didn’t get the trophies.
Second to Henry in award season collections was Crimson Tide center Ryan Kelly. That wasn’t a big surprise. He was on the Rimington Award watch list for the past two years as one of the nation’s best centers, and this year the 6-5, 297-pound senior from West Chester, Ohio, won the trophy. He is also leader of the unit that took home the inaugural Joe Moore Trophy, given to the nation’s best offensive line.
Kelly is one of the captains of the Alabama team takes on Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 31. The winner of that game goes to the national championship game against either Clemson or Oklahoma on Jan. 11.
Kelly said that he wasn’t expecting the Rimington or All-America. “Like any other award in football,” he said, “it didn’t come individually. It was a team effort. It was pretty special because I get to play with four great offensive linemen every day.
“And, obviously, having a Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t hurt either.
“I just wanted to do my job and put the team in the best situation to be successful. But I always tell young kids, if you're looking to get noticed, the more the team wins, the more everybody gets recognized. I don't know if enough guys got recognized for what they did (for this team), but there's definitely a lot of guys who did and we're just hoping to keep it going."
The 2015 Rimington Trophy winner anchored a Crimson Tide offense that rushed for an average of 208.2 yards per game. He graded out at an average of 88.4 per cent with five games over 90 per cent. The senior center missed only eight assignments in 948 snaps and did not allow a sack.
As many Alabama players, Kelly measures the success of the season from what happened after Bama stumbled in its third game of the year, losing a home game to Ole Miss. “You can’t let it linger around and let it beat you twice, the next week too,” he said. “It’s hard, because you want to get past that as soon as possible, but at the same time you try to look at the film and break it down and see what you did wrong. I think everyone in that locker room made a pact that this wasn’t the way this team and this road was going to go. So since then it has been incredible.”
Bama has reeled off 10 straight victories since that loss to return to the College Football Playoff field.
“So,” Kelly said, “you can scratch the Ole Miss game off because we are where we are now. We control our own destiny.”
Kelly was not only the All-SEC center on the Crimson Tide’s SEC championship team, he was also the SEC Scholar-Athlete and earned his master’s degree in The University’s fall commencement. Alabama has been involved primarily in “knocking off the rust,” as Tide Coach Nick Saban put it. Now there is the upcoming task of learning the game plan.
Until then, Bama players have seen only a bit of Michigan State players.
“We’ve been working on fundamental stuff, going against our ones (first team defense). We really haven’t broken down Michigan State too much. From what I can see they’re a great front seven. They have really big guys, they do a lot of movement. They make a lot of disruptive plays.
“Right now we’re trying to get better. At the end of the day it’s going to be our fundamentals versus their fundamentals. Whoever can go out there and execute the best will win the game.”
Kelly and his offensive line teammates had one last celebration before winding up Tuscaloosa practice on Tuesday. Heisman Trophy winner Henry has said over and over that anything he has achieved has been because of his teammates, notably the offensive line. This weekend was the time for that.
“I don’t think it will be a McDonald’s kind of night,” Kelly predicted.