“God, how many times have I been there?” he wondered aloud on Sunday. “It must have been a camp we were going for, that our linemen went for, and we gave them a ride.”
Kelly recalls one visit, in particular, where he drove up from Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West to Berkeley, and head coach Sonny Dykes allowed him free reign in the football wing of the Simpson Center.
“Sonny Dykes hits me every weekend, asking how my weekend was, and he’s just a real cool coach,” Kelly said. “The first time I ever went over there, he left me and my friend in his office, and let us go do whatever we wanted, while he went down and watched the camp. He said we could hang, watch FIFA, which was on, and we were like, ‘What? The head coach is just going to leave us here?’ It was cool.”
That visit was well before Kelly named a top-10, a list that the Bears didn’t make. The West’s No. 1 overall prospect initially named his top 10 in early March as TCU, Notre Dame, Alabama, Washington, UCLA, Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon, Michigan and LSU, but then, not long after, he edited that list.
On April 11, Kelly named a new top 10, one that included California.
Why did the Bears replace the Huskies? Two words: Garret Chachere.
“Those coaches, right when I didn’t put them in, they said, ‘We may not be in your top 10 …’ – like, five minutes after -- they said, ‘We may not be in your top 10, but that doesn’t mean we’re done recruiting you.’ Coach Chachere, he’s just a real coach,” Kelly said of Cal’s linebackers coach. “He told me, ‘We don’t really feel like we’re in it, too much,’ even though I put them back in the top 10, but, he said, ‘At the end of the day, we’re going to be in it,’ and he said, ‘We’re never going to give up on recruiting you until you tell us to.’ He was just being real with me. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Kelly has been to each of the last two spring games, he said, and noted the marked improvement of the defense from the first to the second year under Dykes.
“They’re working,” Kelly said. “You can see that they’re working. They’re not just settling with what they have. They’re pushing their guys. I have a coach that graduated from there, this year, and he’s coaching me now -- Lucus Gingold -- and he loves his school, he really does. He’s so excited to have the degree from there. He’s like, ‘I got a degree from the best college in the nation,’ and he’s loving it. He’s happy that he did it, and chose that school, and he wants me to go there, too.”
Talking with the former Bears fullback has given Kelly a unique insight into the workings of the program, and confirmed his impressions of Dykes and Chachere. The education aspect of Cal – which Gingold touts – also matters to Kelly.
“Especially lately,” he said. “I figured that football is only going to last about 21 years, max, or so, from now. I really need to focus on what’s going to happen after it. I’m eventually going to have to hang the helmet up. It’s kind of hit me, lately, that I need to work on that, and figure out what college I want to go to, for academics, too.
“Early on, my mom always pushed me, pushed me, said ‘It’s academics, it’s academics,’ but then she let me go through the process, and now, it’s just hit me. I feel like I could go to the NFL from any school, anywhere, because many have done it. It’s just the academics – what happens after.”