LAFAYETTE - Choose a skill position on the football field and there’s a good chance Lance Kelley can play it.
It’s been that way for Kelley the past four years at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and, before that, at St. Thomas More in Lafayette.
Despite that experience, Kelley said he was unprepared when ULL’s coaching staff asked him to move to linebacker during the offseason.
Now playing inside linebacker for the first time, Kelley leads the Cajuns (6-2, 4-1 SBC) in tackles and is among the Sun Belt Conference leaders in interceptions and pass deflections.
Twice during the past five weeks, Kelly has been named the SBC’s Defensive Player of the Week.
Kelley and the ULL defense will be challenged Saturday at Middle Tennessee’s Floyd Stadium when the Cajuns meet the Blue Raiders (2-4, 1-2) at 6:30 p.m. in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
After beginning his ULL career as a wide receiver, Kelley became a part-time starter at safety the past two seasons and got 66 tackles and three interceptions.
When the Cajuns began searching for linebackers in a new 3-4 scheme, defensive coordinator Greg Stewart looked to Kelley, who weighed a little more than 200 pounds, as a candidate on the weak side.
“The linebacker at that position has the responsibility for making the most plays in our scheme,” Stewart said. “When we looked at (Kelley) in the spring, we saw that he had exactly what we needed.
“Whoever is playing that spot has to be able to stay on his blocks, because he’s on the backside of the scheme. We thought he could fit there, because he can run around and make plays; he’s very athletic.”
At STM, Kelley played quarterback, safety, wide receiver and running back, but linebacker was never a consideration until the Cajuns started spring training in March.
“It surprised me at first (to move to linebacker), but I trusted coach Stewart and his trust in me,” said Kelley, who has three interceptions, six pass breakups and 68 tackles in eight games this season.
“I was a little reluctant and nervous about it, but after the first few (spring) practices, I began to get comfortable with it,” he said.
Kelley is now involved in nearly every defensive play. That includes taking on linemen who sometimes outweigh him by 100 pounds.
As his college career is ending, Kelley said the path he’s taken with the three position changes seems a bit surreal.
“I couldn’t even imagine things happening the way they have. To describe it, I really don’t know what to say,” Kelley said.
One thing Kelley still savors is playing wide receiver, which he did as a redshirt freshman until he suffered a serious leg injury playing against Illinois.
“I miss it, especially going after the deep balls. Having a chance to line up there one more time would be awesome, but we have a pretty good receiving corps,” he said.
And a pretty good weakside linebacker.
Middle Tennessee offense
The Blue Raiders are just ahead of second-place ULL in SBC scoring at 35.1 points per game. Middle Tennessee also leads the SBC in rushing (171.3 yards per game), total offense (470.3) and pass offense (299).
“Their tempo is the thing; they play so fast. As soon as the ball is put down, they are running receivers on the field for the next play,” Stewart said.
Kelley said the Cajuns have been auditioning for kickoff specialists to replace redshirt freshman Hunter Stover, who was injured in last Saturday’s loss at Western Kentucky.
Kelley also kicked off in his football career, but declined to say whether he will also assume that role against MT.