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Former Carroll County football standouts Aaron Nelson, Silas Kelly drafted into XFL

South Carroll's Silas Kelly (4) runs during a game against North Carroll in 2015. Kelly went on to play collegiately at Coastal Carolina and was in training camp this year with the Cleveland Browns. He was drafted last week by the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL for the 2023 season.

Two former Carroll County high school football standouts will have a chance to continue their professional football dreams.

Aaron Nelson, a 2016 North Carroll graduate, and Silas Kelly, a 2016 South Carroll graduate, were drafted by the XFL last weekend.

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It just felt like everything I did up until then meant something, it wasn’t for nothing.”

—  Aaron Nelson, 2016 North Carroll graduate, drafted by XFL's Houston Roughnecks.

Nelson, who played in college at Delaware Valley University, was drafted by the Houston Roughnecks as a wide receiver. He was selected in the eighth round, 57th overall, in Phase 1 of the draft for offensive skill players. Kelly was picked in the sixth round of the draft’s Open Phase by the St. Louis Battlehawks.

“A lot of emotions of course,” Nelson said of the moment he found out he was drafted. “A lot of hard work and determination in one moment just felt like ... it just felt like everything I did up until then meant something, it wasn’t for nothing.”

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Kelly played his senior season at Coastal Carolina in 2021 and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns, but was released in training camp after getting injured. He found out he was drafted when he got a phone call from the St. Louis linebackers coach.

South Carroll graduate Silas Kelly (51) takes part in drills during minicamp with the Cleveland Browns in June. Kelly was drafted last week by the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL.

“Obviously I was thrilled. It’s a great blessing to be able to continue playing football at a high level,” Kelly said. “It’s an opportunity to continue playing a game I love, push myself and hopefully get back to the NFL.”

Nelson was following the draft online and questioned where and when he’d be selected seeing the draft progress.

“As the picks are going on, I’m seeing all these guys getting taken off the board from these big schools. It kind of made me think about, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to go the first day; I might go in the open phase.’” he said. “But I just had the draft tracker up and the TV on. I was in my apartment and all I remember was looking at the draft tracker and the Houston Roughnecks drafted me. I was almost in tears.”

North Carroll's Aaron Nelson carries the ball during the first half of a game against Brunswick in 2015. Nelson, who went on to play college football at Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania, was drafted last week by the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL.

They took different paths to arrive at their moment.

In May, Nelson attended an American National Combines scouting event in Atlanta, which showcases prospective players and delivers reports to leagues such as the NFL, XFL, USFL, Canadian Football League and others.

Based on his performance, Nelson was added to the combine’s “hot list.” He said he was contacted about a week later from the Houston front office requesting more film. On July 15, he received an official invitation to be a part of the XFL’s draft pool.

Nelson graduated from Delaware Valley with a criminal justice degree. Since then, he’s spent his time “working and working out,” waiting for a chance to continue going after his professional football dreams.

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“I gave myself a year to try to make it happen, and if I didn’t then I’d use my degree to try and become a state trooper or something along those lines,” Nelson said, “but now it’s happening.”

South Carroll graduate Silas Kelly was a team captain at Coastal Carolina during his senior season in 2021, when he was named All-Sun Belt Conference as a linebacker.

Kelly, meanwhile, graduated from Coastal Carolina in December and went to a training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, for two months to prepare for the NFL draft. He wasn’t picked but signed shortly after with the Browns and went through offseason training activities and minicamp with until he suffered a pulled hamstring, which according to him was “a small thing but was big enough to keep me out for a couple weeks. Just unfortunate timing.”

“Pretty much from the end of my last football season until now, it’s been kind of full-go,” Kelly said. “When I got released by the Browns, my agent got some calls from some other teams with some interest, but it was tough for me because I didn’t have any preseason film, because I got hurt before the first game.

“I wasn’t gaining any traction in the NFL, and the coach from St. Louis actually reached out to me and I was exploring the XFL and USFL and possible spring leagues. I got my paperwork in order and entered my name in the draft pool.”

Kelly said he didn’t do any of the summer XFL combines since he was in camp with the Browns, but sent a highlight film to coaches.

After getting a taste of the NFL, he says he’s just as hungry to get back to that level and hopes his time in the XFL will get him there.

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“What I’m looking for this opportunity is the chance to go and play football and put my best product on the field,” Kelly said. “Push myself to be the best football player I could possibly be. Put that on film and hopefully win a bunch of ball games while I’m doing it.”

North Carroll's Aaron Nelson turns upfield after catching a pass during a 2014 game against Westminster.

The XFL is scheduled to start its third season Feb. 18. It originally started in 2001 while owned by the WWE (known at that time as the WWF) and NBC, lasting one season. WWE chairman Vince McMahon revived the league in 2020, but it was canceled midseason due to the coronavirus pandemic. The league was sold to a new group including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who planned the 2023 relaunch.

Though the recent history of spring football leagues has been hit-and-miss, but both players are confident the newest XFL offers stability.

“They have a lot of great coaches and great coaching staffs,” Nelson said. “With everything ‘The Rock’ and everyone is doing to promote it, it seems like it will be here for a long time.”

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In Houston, Nelson will be coached by Wade Phillips, who had head coaching stints in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. He was also defensive coordinator of the Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50 in 2015. In St. Louis, Kelly will be coached by Anthony Becht, who played in the NFL for 11 seasons.

Training camps for XFL teams are scheduled to start Jan. 8.

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