During his national signing day news conference, Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema made clear his opinion of Teurlings Catholic quarterback Cole Kelley.
“We tried to accelerate the process and get him here now just to compete but weren’t able to get that done,” Bielema said.
Instead of being able to fast-track Kelley’s arrival to be a part of Arkansas’ quarterback battle to replace starter Brandon Allen, the 6-foot-7, 258-pounder enjoyed the spoils of his senior year before reporting to Fayetteville.
Kelley officially turned the page on his high school days, finishing his senior trip in Destin, Florida, and then driving 12 hours straight through to Fayetteville for the start summer school and offseason workouts.
He’s now in his second week of school.
“It was sad to leave everyone I grew up with,” Kelley said. “I knew it was going to hit me on the way that I was going to be in college.”
Kelley established himself as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, earning a four-star rating and was rated the No. 16 quarterback by ESPN.
His lofty credentials were based on a strong right arm that helped lead Teurlings to a share of back-to-back district championships, an 18-6 record and to at least the state quarterfinals the past two seasons.
Kelley completed nearly 60 percent of his passes (377 of 634) for 5,633 yards with 55 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his two years as a starter.
Despite his size, Kelley was more than just a pure pocket passer, showing off his mobility to the tune of 286 yards rushing and eight touchdowns last season.
“Dan felt strongly about him,” Bielema said of Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ evaluation of Kelley. “He’s an absolutely very talented young man. He throws the ball 100 miles (per hour). He has great velocity and great touch. He’s also a tough competitor.”
Arkansas is looking for a successor to Allen, who threw for 3,440 yards and 30 TDs last season. His younger brother, Austin — a 6-1 junior who completed one pass for 35 yards in 2015 — was named the team’s starter after spring drills.
The Razorbacks also feature sophomore Rafe Peavey and a pair of redshirt freshmen in Ty Storey and USC transfer Ricky Town.
“I want to try and be a sponge and learn from Austin and the coaches,” Kelley said. “I’ll just try and do the best I can right off the bat. I’m going to control what I can control, and that’s my performance. I’m going to let the coaches make all of the decisions.”
Instead of playing basketball his final season, Kelley was able to focus on an eight-week workout plan prescribed by Arkansas’ strength and conditioning coach after national signing day.
To illustrate his level of commitment, Kelley added an additional two weeks with a concentration on more running and lifting than throwing.
“You want your arm to be in shape and get reps, which I did,” Kelley said. “It should help out a lot when I’m at Arkansas.”
Kelley said Enos forwarded a copy of Arkansas’ playbook and asked him to learn some of the offensive formations and defensive fronts.
The process of learning the team’s plays will take part this summer during a normal day in which Kelley will attend class and study hall, go through workouts and have film study during quarterback meetings and occasional throwing sessions.
“It will be a lot different,” Kelley said. “I was always a leader where I was, and now I’m a freshman and starting everything over. I think I’m going to be able to pick it up pretty well.”