Having spent nearly three decades at the school, Teurlings Catholic football coach Sonny Charpentier, now in his 21st season as head coach, said this season’s schedule ranks among the toughest in school history.
Senior quarterback and Arkansas commitment Cole Kelley agrees but isn’t willing to concede anything, with hopes of leading the Rebels to their first state championship.
“The No. 1 goal is to get to the Dome, but our goal is not to get to the Dome — but win a state championship,” Kelley said. “We didn’t work this hard to come in second. I’m going to go into every game with the mindset we’re winning every game.”
That’s simply a microcosm of Kelley — a supremely confident athlete, but not to the point of arrogance, with an infectious drive to succeed.
A year after helping Teurlings to a 9-2 record, a District 5-4A championship and the Division I select state quarterfinals, the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Kelley returns for his final season with a full year as a starter to his credit and motivated to exceed all the aforementioned benchmarks.
“It didn’t come as a surprise,” Kelley said. “If anything, we should have gotten more wins. I was happy (with the season) but, as a competitor, I always want to do better.”
Kelley’s first starting role produced a statistical windfall, creating his niche in Teurlings’ spread system.
Kelley completed 60.4 percent of his passes (198 of 328) for 2,980 yards for 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions, earning a spot at athlete on the Class 4A all-state first team.
“Cole’s a competitor,” Charpentier said. “He just likes to play. When the lights go on, he’s definitely a guy you want on your side. The kids rally around him. They believe in him.”
Never was there a greater example of that than in Teurlings’ improbable 56-46 league victory over St. Thomas More.
With the Rebels trailing 43-17 midway through the third quarter, Kelley, who went on to complete 29 of 49 passes for a career-high 409 yards, engineered a stunning comeback, leading the Rebels on a stretch of 36 unanswered points. He accounted for four touchdowns, including three passing.
“I had the confidence going in we were going to win no matter what,” Kelly said. “Then we got down, and I started doubting it. You always say never give up, and you can say that in the summer on the last sprint. But you’re actually in that situation. I grew up as a leader and a football player.”
The program’s signature victory was also validation of sorts for Kelley, who exhibited the ability to not only play under pressure but flourish. Whether it was a game-turning second-half football performance or in basketball, where his buzzer-beating shot downed district foe Cecilia, he lived for such defining moments.
“Pressure doesn’t bother him,” Charpentier said. “Those kind of guys not only have the confidence but the ability to back it up.”
Another such example played out several months later when Kelley was dressed and ready for basketball practice.
Charpentier entered the locker room and told Kelley that Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith was on his way for an impromptu throwing session.
Kelley, still in his basketball uniform, changed his shoes to cleats and headed to the football stadium, where it wasn’t so much what Smith saw, but what he heard, that led to the promise of a scholarship offer.
Amid an empty stadium on a cool February afternoon, Kelley’s first attempt during a 10- to 15-minute throwing session immediately registered on Smith’s radar.
“I was nervous and my heart was beating fast, but I settled down,” Kelley said. “After the first one, he heard it whistle. I was amped up and humming it. Once he heard that, he told me I was going to get an offer from them.”
Kelley, the nation’s No. 26 pro-style quarterback by 247 Sports, made two unofficial recruiting visits in the spring to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, the latter of which resulted in a commitment April 18.
Kelley returned to Arkansas for its June camp and, with a near-flawless performance, further entrenched himself as the lone quarterback recruit in the Hogs’ class of 2016, alleviating any further distractions and setting the stage for a memorable senior season.
“I’m excited,” Kelley said. “I always try to get better but, at the same time, I’m very confident where I am. There’s more responsibility on me, and I get to see what kind of football player and leader I am.
“That will be a fun experience.”