By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal
INDIANAPOLIS, IND – In a corner of the Westin Hotel lobby in downtown Indianapolis, a trio of autograph seekers waited patiently as Reggie Kelly looked back on a 12-year long road that still amazes him.
It’s a road he’s still traveling. In fact, 12 hours from the time he sat in that lobby, Kelly and the Cincinnati Bengals were scheduled to face the Indianapolis Colts just blocks away at Lucas Oil Stadium in November.
After more than a decade at the height of football, the Aberdeen-native says he’s still in amazement of where his career has taken him.
“It’s been remarkable. I think back to, as a little boy, leaving church, rushing home to watch the Washington Redskins against the Dallas Cowboys,” Kelly said. “That was a big rivalry back in my day. After the game, the neighborhood boys, we were all still revved up, go outside in the backyard and play tag football, basically tackle football, reenacting some of our favorite heroes.”
Now he is one of those heroes, signing and posing for photos on his way back to his room that night.
Kelly spent the first four years of his NFL career in Atlanta, hauling in 69 catches for 790 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He started every game of both the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
Since arriving in Cincinnati for the 2003 season, Kelly has caught 126 balls for 970 yards and three touchdowns.
Kelly’s latest project is his newly released book, “Prepared: Body, Mind, Spirit.” He’ll be signing copies at the Barnes and Noble bookstore at Mississippi State on Jan. 15.
With a reputation as one of the league’s best blockers, the tight end’s selfless approach to the game has defined his career.
It’s a definition that Kelly says doesn’t define his life though. A self-professing, “man of God,” Kelly never misses a chance to share the faith he holds higher than any title the NFL awards him.
“My everything,” he said of his Christian faith. “Football is what I do. Being a man of God is who I am. Football is only going to last so many years. To be honest with you, football is only a short span in my life. Me being a man of God, it’s going to last an eternity.
“Only what you do for Christ is going to last, so that’s my whole mentality. I don’t put my identity in football because one day I won’t be playing it. It is important to me and I do enjoy the game but there are other things that are much more important, especially my relationship with Christ.”
Kelly missed the entire 2009 season after rupturing his Achilles during training camp.
“For me to be here 12 years is nothing short of a blessing,” Kelly said. “I thank God I’m able to play. It’s 12 years but I can keep going. I’m in awe right now. I’m still in awe. Even when I first got into the league, I saw guys and played against guys like Jerry Rice. Just to see those guys… guys who I really looked up to being a kid.”
Kelly’s Mississippi State quarterback Matt Wyatt said there’s a reason he’s had such a long NFL career.
“I am a little surprised that’s he’s lasted as long as he has at the tight end position because he’s a blocking tight end mostly but is only 6’5 and 255/260,” Wyatt said. “You see a lot of those guys up there are 6’6, 6’7 and 280 or 285. But again, he’s a natural leader, ALWAYS does the right thing, mentally rarely if ever makes a mistake and that trustworthiness has meant a lot to his coaches.
“That’s why his teams and teammates have wanted him to stay around so long, which I think is the ultimate compliment.”
Kelly mentioned the likes of especially Mississippi guys such as Rice and Brett Favre, two of the best to ever play coming from his home state.
“I just kept wishing and hoping I could be one of those guys playing on Sunday one day,” Kelly said. “Here I am. It’s a dream come true. That’s why I try to enjoy every minute of it. Even when I see those guys today, I’m still kind of like shell-shocked.”
Kelly has started all but six games since his rookie season in Atlanta, the team that took him 42nd overall, in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State.
He said after his third season in Starkville that he started drawing interest from agents and the like who ranked him a top five tight end for the upcoming draft.
“Probably the most consistent teammate I ever had,” Wyatt said. “I use that word because in four years he never missed a class, never was late to a meeting, never had a bad day, never got in trouble, never made a bad grade…solid as a rock.
“On top of being a player who always did his job, every play, he’s one of the most likeable people I’ve ever come across. I think Reggie has spent a good portion of his life laughing and giggling, which shows he’s a person who is truly happy in his own skin.”
He ended up being the first tight end drafted after a personal call from Dan Reeves just before seeing his name crawl across the television screen.
“I had a great time there with guys like Michael Vick, Alge Crumpler, Jessie Tuggle,” Kelly said. “I’m dating myself I guess but I had a blast. Then when I came to Cincinnati, at first I was kind of like, ‘I don’t know if I want to leave down South to come up North.'”
Kelly said after he met the coaching staff though and the personnel the Bengals had in place, he knew it was the place for him.
“It’s been nothing but positive. I haven’t looked back since and I’ve told lots of people I don’t have a problem retiring a Cincinnati Bengal,” he said.
There is one thing he’d like to do before retiring though, another dream he calls it. That’s reaching the Super Bowl, a task he says proves it’s difficulty by the fact that he hasn’t reached the plateau despite more than a decade in the league, a league that boasts a player’s average tenure at less than four years.
“It’s been 12 years and I haven’t made it yet,” he said. “Whenever you do make it, you should consider yourself fortunate and blessed. That’s my dream, to one day play and win the Super Bowl. As long as I’m playing, I’ll keep dreaming.”
Kelly to sign new book in Starkville
By Brandon Speck
Reggie Kelly wrapped up his 12th NFL season Sunday but the Cincinnati Bengal doesn’t let the NFL alone define him.
A devout and outspoken Christian, Kelly talks a lot about his faith, football and being prepared for life in his first book: “Prepared: Body, Mind, Spirit.”
“It’s talking about the little stuff you go through down here on Earth basically prepares you for something bigger and better here,” Kelly said. “Ultimately I believe God has put us here to prepare us to go to Heaven.”
The book released on Dec. 15 and can be ordered via Kelly’s Web site at ReggieKelly82.com.
He’ll be in Starkville at his alma mater to sign copies on Jan. 15 at the campus Barnes and Noble.
“I’ve been writing this book since 2005 and actually got serious about finishing it in ’07,” said Kelly, who has 194 catches for 1,760 yards and five touchdowns in his career with Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Teammate Ben Utecht, a Christian musician by day, shared a few Nashville contacts to aid Kelly in getting the book published.
Kelly has another project in the works as well, working with a former West Point native in Kentucky on a line of foods, tailgaiting products that Kelly hopes to eventually see in stores.
Here’s an excerpt from “Prepared: Body, Mind, Spirit.”
“If God wants us all to be with him in Heaven, why did he put us on earth first? This question has puzzled humans for centuries. I believe we were born into this world first for the same reason every player in the NFL starts his career tossing a pigskin in his own backyard: Whether it’s the gates of Heaven or the goalposts of the Super Bowl, we are not worthy, nor ready to stand before either until we are first prepared.”