Pluck of the Irish

With a name like Casey Patrick Kelly, you just knew he had to be Irish. With a 6-4, 195-pound frame and a rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder, you just knew he had to be a quarterback.

After watching him play, Phillip Fulmer just knew he had to be a Volunteer.

"He's a guy we really wanted," Tennessee's head coach said. "His athletic ability, his intelligence, his work ethic and his demeanor as a quarterback are all very, very positive."

Even if they hadn't signed a quarterback this year, the Vols would be in good shape at the position heading into 2008. Rising junior Jonathan Crompton is a former prep All-American. Rising sophomore Nick Stephens and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman exhibit considerable potential. That made the signing of Casey Kelly more of a luxury than a need.

"We looked at it long and hard," Fulmer said. "We looked at a lot of different quarterbacks, a lot of different styles of quarterbacks. Casey's kind of a combination of all of those."

That's another way of saying the kid can do it all. Certainly, he can flat-out throw the football. He completed 57.7 percent (292 of 506) of his career passes for 4,212 yards and 37 touchdowns, despite missing four games his senior year due to injury.

Kelly's best year at Sarasota (Fla.) High School came as a junior in 2006. He completed 128 of 223 passes (57.4 percent) for 1,807 yards and 14 touchdowns that fall, including a 377-yard performance against Southeast High.

In addition to a strong arm, Kelly reportedly possesses excellent feet. He provides the kind of mobility new Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson prizes in a quarterback.

After acknowledging that Crompton is "leading the pack," Fulmer noted that Kelly's agility could provide a dimension the Vols currently get only when they put wide receiver Gerald Jones behind center as a direct-snap tailback in the so-called G-Gun Package.

"With some of the things Coach Clawson likes to do, a more athletic guy can allow us to do some of those things (quarterback draws and bootlegs) without taking a receiver and having him do them," the head man said, "although we'll continue to do that (use Jones in the G-Gun) until we get there."

As gifted as Kelly is on the gridiron, he may be even better on the diamond. He threw a two-hitter in guiding Sarasota to Florida's Class 6A state title last spring, finishing his junior year with an 11-0 record and a 0.24 ERA. He also batted .349 and played a mean shortstop.

"The only person that was more excited than myself or Coach Clawson was Todd Raleigh, the new baseball coach," Fulmer noted. "Casey is quite the baseball player, as well."

Therein lies the rub. Kelly is such a prized baseball prospect that he is sure to be picked early in this June's amateur draft. He may well be picked early enough to warrant skipping college in favor of the pros.

"Obviously," Fulmer mused, "we're going to have a challenge waiting through the baseball draft. We hope to have him here in the fall."

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