By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – This time of year Reggie Kelly usually finds himself training with his teammates, “building chemistry and building bonds, getting ready for training camp.”
But as Kelly described his current situation as an active NFL player, he just so happens to be like “a fish out of water.”
With the present labor situation in the NFL and the league’s owners locking out their players, Kelly, a veteran of 13 seasons, finds himself in Mississippi and not at his Cincinnati Bengals’ facilities.
On Wednesday morning, Kelly stood as “a big fish out of water” at the Smithville High football field. Fortunately, the lockout has afforded the 6-foot-4, 257-pound tight end more time to spend giving back to his native county.
The Aberdeen product spent Wednesday morning touring the town of Smithville, a community of fewer than 1,000 people located in northeast Monroe County. An EF-5 tornado roared through the town in late April, devouring buildings and ultimately accounting for 17 deaths.
“My wife and I have viewed it on TV,” Kelly said about the destruction in the tiny Mississippi town, “but that doesn’t do it any justice until you actually get out here and see all the destruction the tornado has caused to this community.
“It’s sad, and our hearts go out to the businesses here and our hearts go out to the families and especially to the kids as well, because we want them to always be encouraged and always have some form of hope.
“And that’s the reason we wanted to come: just to be some form of inspiration. We know it’s a small thing, but anything that we can do to try to just lift some spirits, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
In his final stop in Smithville, Kelly addressed the kids gathered around him on the Smithville High football field and told them to keep in mind that there’s always an opportunity out of every problem they encounter in their lives.
“I believe somebody right here in this position is going to achieve greatness in their lifetime,” Kelly told the group of kids as construction vehicles could be heard in the background. “And I look forward to the day where I can sit here and say I was in the midst of all that.”
It’s still home
Monroe County School District Superintendent Scott Cantrell said he was “just glad” and thankful that the Smithville parents took their kids to see, hear, greet and meet the big NFL player who still calls Northeast Mississippi home.
“Reggie’s gift is his time,” Cantrell said of Kelly, who spent the morning with his wife, Sheila, signing autographs and handing out cash and football cards to the Smithville kids. “For any pro athlete like Reggie, it’s tough to find time these days outside of your training to do something like this.”
Said the 34-year-old Kelly, “I think just by an athlete showing up, it would encourage somebody’s life. One word from an athlete can set somebody’s path a whole lot differently.
“I know when I was in high school (at Aberdeen) – I can’t even remember the guy’s name – there was a NFL linebacker who came and spoke to us. He was so positive and that in turn encouraged me.
“That was way back in high school that I remember that, and so surely if I can come and just say one thing, shake some kids’ hands and sign some autographs, that can affect them for the rest of their lives.”
For an established pro like Kelly, Wednesday morning was time well spent – perhaps more meaningful than hazing the rookies and “sending them on false errands,” as what Kelly described he and his teammates would now be doing if it weren’t for the lockout.
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572