John Kelly isn't even on campus yet and already he's working like Butch Jones is watching.
The Scout three-star running back from Oak Park, Michigan, is spending his portion of summer before joining the Vols with trainer Daryl Graham, who has worked closely with Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie to develop a regimen to put Kelly in top physical condition for his debut in Knoxville.
“Really it’s (working on) the whole thing, but the thing that Coach G has been telling me a lot, and my trainer, is like footwork drills. I’ll be on the ladder and I’ll be on my cones every time I get a chance,” Kelly told InsideTennessee.
“It’s definitely a combination. Coach Daryl and Coach Gillespie, they definitely work hand-in-hand. Whatever they tell me to do I’m just doing it.”
The thought of putting on the orange jersey and Power T helmet has sustained Kelly as he grinds out the days leading up to his arrival.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking about,” he said. “I know I’m working pretty hard to get down there. That’s definitely what’s on my mind.”
The 5-10, 205-pound bruiser with good burst and rapid acceleration will join the backfield duo of sophomore Jalen Hurd and junior college transfer Alvin Kamara. The fact that he’ll have experienced players in front of him has become an added bonus as Kelly prepares for life in the SEC.
“It means a lot. Me and Alvin already have a really good relationship,” Kelly said. “I talk to him on the daily, so those two older guys being ahead of me is just going to help my game out for the better. We’re going to help each other out.”
But the No. 2-rated Michigan running back in the 2015 class isn’t just putting in the work on the field. Kelly turned in a 3.0 in the classroom last semester and is set to join the Vols with a renewed desire to learn.
“This is the hardest I’ve worked academically ever,” Kelly said. “I’ve definitely been working hard.”
With each grueling workout and passing day, the thought of becoming a member of Tennessee’s football team inches closer to reality for Kelly. While it’s starting to feel more real, he admits it won’t truly come full circle until the first time he’s in the locker room with the rest of his teammates.
“Yeah, it kind of (feels real now), but at the same time, I’m not going to really feel it until I put on the pads and put the jersey on,” Kelly said. “I know I’ve got to be prepared as soon as I get there. I know they’re not going to take it easy on me.”
The Great Lake State native spurned offers from hometown Michigan and Michigan State to come to Tennessee, whose players and staff built lasting relationships with Kelly that exceeded the flare of the on-campus facilities or the enormous fan base.
In the end, it was the people who drew him to becoming the latest addition to the Vols’ backfield.
“Tennessee was the place for me. I love the coaching staff, I love the facilities and I love the people,” Kelly said.
“That’s what really won me over was the people there. Anybody can have some nice buildings, but it’s the people inside the buildings that make the place a little bit better.”