Jamey Chadwell didn’t need to see anything extra on the field last year to appreciate Silas Kelly’s commitment to Coastal Carolina’s football team.
The Chanticleers coach lost Kelly, then a redshirt junior, to a knee injury after the linebacker played in the first two games of the 2019 season. Kelly, a 2016 South Carroll High School graduate and no stranger to college setbacks, was done for the year. But Chadwell said he still felt validated in naming Kelly one of the team’s captains.
“He drove to a couple games on his own just to still be a captain,” the coach said. “That tells you the type of leader he is.”
Kelly returned for his redshirt senior season healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic, and with the Sun Belt Conference kicking off this fall, that meant less time to rehab from his surgery. After tearing the meniscus and ACL in his left knee last September, Kelly returned and earned a starting spot on Coastal’s defense.
The Chanticleers are 2-0, and Kelly earned Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week honors after registering eight tackles and two sacks in a 43-21 home win Sept. 18 against conference foe Campbell.
Kelly has 16 tackles (four for loss) and a career high three sacks so far, with Coastal preparing to play its next game Oct. 3 against Arkansas State.
“To get off to a start like we’ve gotten off to,” Kelly said, “it’s a great feeling.”
Kelly wasn’t feeling so great at this point last year.
He had 15 tackles through the first two games of 2019 before his knee injury. Kelly did his best to stay around the team, but knew he had to begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible if he wanted to get back for 2020.
Halfway through his recovery, Kelly said, doctors informed them he needed a second operation to repair part of his meniscus. The setback was discouraging, he said, but Kelly tried to stay positive.
“I just kept faith in the process and kept trying to work, and do whatever my trainers and therapists told me to do,” Kelly said. “COVID didn’t make it any easier, I’ll tell you that much. I just figured it out, found a way to make sure that I was getting done what I needed to get done. Make sure that I’d be back for this season 100%.”
Kelly said one of the team’s strength coaches lent him a squat rack to use at home. And when his college roommate’s father drove up from Georgia to deliver about 1,000 pounds of weights, Kelly had a makeshift gym in his house to utilize during the pandemic.
“[My] strength coach built a bench from some wood at Lowe’s, and we were rocking and rolling right in the living room, pretty much all summer,” Kelly said. “From a weights perspective, we pretty much had everything we could ask for. We hammered that pretty hard.”
Kelly’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and Chadwell said he’s glad to have back one of his top defenders. Kelly has 166 career tackles with Coastal Carolina, along with 5 ½ sacks, four pass defenses, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
“The great thing about him, he’s a great player but he’s an unbelievable teammate,” Chadwell said. “To have his leadership really back out there, more so than his play, in my opinion, is the biggest positive that he has brought back to us.”
Not being able to work with a trainer over the summer was a challenge, Kelly said, but with each week he gained confidence and mobility in his repaired knee. The rest of the conference took notice, too ― Kelly landed on an all-Sun Belt preseason team.
“He can get those guys lined up. He can make sure to keep them calm,” Chadwell said. “He can do the things necessary ... he knows exactly what do to so he’s not making mistakes. The first two weeks he has exceeded our expectations.”
Kelly missed some time in 2018 and 2017 because of injuries, and sat out his freshman year as a redshirt. But when he’s on the field, the former Times Male Athlete of the Year contributes.
Kelly said he’s noticing his speed increasing, along with his ability to make cuts and pivots without feeling any resistance. Some of those recent moves are ones he hadn’t made in the last six months, he said.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Kelly said.
Kelly came to Coastal Carolina after a decorated South Carroll career. He helped the Cavaliers go 10-2 in 2015 and play in the Class 2A playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. Kelly finished with 238 tackles and 10 interceptions for the Cavs.
The Chanticleers went 10-2 in Kelly’s redshirt freshman year, but moved into the Sun Belt the following season and went 3-9. A pair of 5-7 campaigns followed (the team started 3-1 in 2019), and Kelly said motivating his teammates has been easier and more fulfilling now that Coastal is winning again.
And Kelly wants to keep playing, and winning, while he’s healthy.
“I am gaining more confidence as each day goes by,” he said. "My coaches at South Carroll did a good job of teaching the game to me, and talking about a love for the game and playing as a team. And then you get to college ... you think you know football, but you don’t. Everything is moving 100 miles an hour. You’ve got to kind of pick it up as you go.
“That was kind of my approach to it, try to figure out everything I can as fast as I can. Fortunately I’ve been able to play a lot of football here at Coastal, and that has given me a lot of opportunity to key into those things.”