Maryland-bound quarterback Chris Kelley's football life was nearly perfect until four weeks ago at W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax, Va.
That was the night Kelley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while trying to twist out of a tackle from behind, just eight minutes into the Super 44 high school all-star game.
All kind of thoughts raced through Kelley's head in the next few hours and days after the injury. Would he ever get a chance to live up to all the high expectations people had for him at the University of Maryland? Would the knee be 100 percent again? How long would it take to recover? Would it be easier just to pack it in right now?
"Chris was in denial at first," said his coach at Seneca Valley, Terry Changuris. "Now, he's OK with it."
Kelley, 18, said: "It took a letter from one of my Super 44 coaches [DeMatha assistant Chris Baucia] to make me really want to go out and begin all the rehabilitation to play again. He said in that letter, 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.' "
There were lots of letters from other coaches, long talks with Changuris and the support of his family. But Kelley said the credit for the final shove goes to Baucia.
"I'm a lot better than I was a week ago," Kelley said yesterday, 15 days after he underwent surgery. "I'm feeling good. I'm ready to face the rehabilitation. I know now I'll just have to wait until spring ball to show what I can do."
Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden expects Kelley to be out six to seven months with the injury, calling it "an unfortunate thing. The good part is there was no further damage than the ACL."
Vanderlinden said he had talked to Kelley's parents in April and a decision was basically made then to redshirt Kelley this season.
Changuris said: "When Maryland brought in the junior college guy [Shaun Hill], that gave them three quarterbacks [Calvin McCall and Latrez Harrison are the other two]. I think they would have probably turned to Chris in the middle of the season if things didn't work out. ... Now, he will definitely be redshirted and will have all season to learn the system."
And what about those eight minutes of fame in Fairfax, Va.? Kelley defied a ferocious rush from a huge Northern Virginia defensive line to hook up with his Seneca Valley teammate, Levar Scott, for 60- and 80-yard completions.
"Chris Kelley had the respect of everybody on the field that night," said Changuris. "He's a quarterback with a linebacker's mentality, and it didn't even seem to faze him that their defensive line was much bigger than our offensive line. ... There is no doubt in my mind he'll be a star in college."
The most impressive Kelley statistic is that Seneca Valley never lost a football game in four years with the 6-foot-2, 190-pound prep All-American on the field. He was 26-0 as a starting quarterback and the team was 39-0 with Kelley somewhere in the lineup, usually at linebacker if not at quarterback.
As a high school senior, he passed for 1,645 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 1,278 yards and 16 touchdowns.
With those kind of credentials, no wonder some Maryland fans immediately anointed Kelley last February as a strong contender to land the No. 1 quarterback job this season. Kelley, himself, said he chose Maryland with dreams of leading the school to its first football victory over Florida State.
That dream is still alive. It just won't happen this season.