Steve Kelley's future grows brighter with every handoff. He's No. 1 among area rushers, has scored all but three of Kenwood's 25 touchdowns, and is being compared to one of the best high school running backs the state has ever produced.
But Kelley himself says his senior season is more about a lesson learned than status acquired or yardage gained. Every score is a swipe at erasing some bad memories.
Kelley, a transfer from Chesapeake, had amassed more than 500 yards and four touchdowns last year. But a post-game altercation derailed a promising ride.
"I went over to break up a fight and ended up going too far," said the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder who got his start in the Randallstown recreation leagues.
Chesapeake coach Rick Zentz said, "He's an intelligent kid who broke a team rule. It's hard giving up extraordinary talent, but my only choice was he's off the team."
It ranked, along with being academically ineligible as a freshman, as the lowest points of Kelley's young career, but "if he was carrying baggage, he's dumped it," said Kenwood coach Greg Fuhrman.
"Steve's a team captain. He's the first to pump a kid's spirits," said Fuhrman, whose Bluebirds have won three straight after an 0-4 start. "He's a popular leader who extends himself to players on JV. With the status he's achieved, he has every reason not to do those things."
Fuhrman credits the blocking of linemen Matt Horton, Kennis Roll, Scott Coppinger, Jason Thompson, Jason Shipman and running backs James Baldwin and James Kubilius.
A former assistant at Frostburg and Western Maryland, Fuhrman calls Kelley the best he has seen. That includes Randallstown's Larry Washington, The Baltimore Sun's former Athlete of the Year, against whom Fuhrman coached as an assistant at Annapolis High.
"I'll say Kelley's the best running back I've seen since Larry Washington," said Perry Hall coach Joe Stoy, a 22-19 winner over Kenwood. "He's tough to bring down, and in the secondary he's got the speed to flat-out run away from people. The bottom line is that nobody's been able to stop him."
Entering Friday's game against Franklin, Kelley's 1,349 yards on 116 carries (11.6 yards per carry) topped the area, with his best effort being 275 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-22 rout of then-No. 15 Dulaney.
He had 150 yards and two touchdowns against Franklin in a game called because of lightning after a quarter -- and to be continued tomorrow -- with the Bluebirds leading, 20-6.
But Kelley's worst game of the year, a 14-6 loss to Woodlawn, speaks to his value. Kenwood trailed, 8-6, at halftime, and Kelley had 119 yards and six points before a concussion ended his night.
"He can dominate in so many ways," said Fuhrman. "He's a great cut-back runner who at times reverses fields like [Detroit's] Barry Sanders. Not once has only one tackler brought him down: He just runs over people."
Kelley's acceleration and breakaway speed have led to kickoff returns of 90, 80, 68 and 65 yards. The last run "was actually for 90 yards since the ball went over my head and I had to chase it back to the 10," Kelley said.
Timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40, Kelly "has another gear when the ball's in his hands," Fuhrman said. Kelley has big-time strength. He wants to play college ball like his brother, James, a walk-on redshirt freshman at Nebraska. But because Kelley has a 2.0 grade average, Fuhrman would like to see him attend a preparatory school first to retain all four years of eligibility.
"I know I made mistakes in the past, but that's behind me," Kelly said. "Players take their shots, push off, say things to taunt me. I just get up and do whatever it takes to get a touchdown. Let the scoreboard do the talking."