The Calvert Hall lacrosse jersey easily stretched to the ground, and when the helmet was on, every bit of 4-year-old Jacob Kelly was buried in the home team’s colors.
Completing the ensemble were oversized gloves and cleats his father, Bryan, the Cardinals coach, wore during his playing days. At every game, Jacob Kelly would be playing along the sideline, usually lugging a goalie stick over his shoulder and looking right at home.
To get an understanding of how Kelly got so good at lacrosse — he’s now a senior attackman at Calvert Hall and was last year’s All-Metro Player of the Year — those younger days provide a start.
“The one thing I always looked forward to in the spring was going to watch my dad coach and watch Calvert Hall play. That’s one of the first memories I have with lacrosse,” Kelly said. “I was dressed in the stuff, thinking I was a part of it before I was actually a part of it, and it’s been like that ever since, so it’s definitely where the foundation started. Now I’m here, so it’s a pretty cool experience to be where I’ve always dreamed of being.”
Through all the years in between, Kelly also dreamed of helping the Cardinals win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.
He watched and learned from a handful of older cousins that all enjoyed stellar careers at Calvert Hall — Patrick, Timmy and Stephen were fortunate enough to win titles. When it was his turn to lead the way last season, he was more than ready.
Building on two very good seasons to start his varsity career, he broke through last season to lead the Cardinals to the crown. He finished with 47 goals, 44 assists and 42 ground balls — all team highs — and, more importantly, provided a consistent example as the No. 1 Cardinals finished 17-2 overall and 11-0 in league play. The season was capped by a 12-6 win over McDonogh in the title game. Adding to the experience was having his dad and younger brother, Daniel, then a freshman who scored three goals in the title game, there along with some of his best friends for the joyous bus ride home.
“It’s something we’ve all dreamed about since we were little, so it was like ‘Whoa, we actually did it!’ ” Jacob Kelly said. “To us, it’s like winning a Super Bowl. To other people, it maybe wouldn’t seem like that, but for us, that’s how it feels. That’s just how Baltimore is and what makes it special. I’m sure there’s plenty of other kids that have felt that way, but it is really cool when you can finally sit down and enjoy it.”
Pressure and expectations come with being a Kelly and playing lacrosse at Calvert Hall. Bryan Kelly, currently the longest tenured MIAA A head coach in his 23rd season, is one of four brothers who all played at Calvert Hall and went on to successful college careers. The love for the game trickled down to their children, and success has come with it. Jacob Kelly, who maintains a 3.8 GPA, will be following his dad’s college path (and most of his cousins) as he’s committed to play at North Carolina with plans to study business.
For him, being the coach’s son and oldest of five brothers adds to the challenges and also the enjoyment. The family makes sure lacrosse has its right place.
“I think for us, lacrosse is not your identity,” Bryan Kelly said. “It’s what you do, and you want to be good at it, and you want to give it all you got and you want to honor and glorify God in how you play. But we play for an audience of one, at least we try to do the best we can. For Jacob, he loves the game and gives it everything he has, but he understands that it’s what he does.”
On the field, Jacob Kelly helps the Cardinals win in many ways. His understanding of the game and ability to share that information with teammates is special. It comes from all the observations he made watching his cousins play. And then there were the late-night film sessions when he was still in middle school as he watched his dad dissect opponents.
Accompanying his game sense are a variety of skills. He scores, he feeds, he grinds for ground balls and he causes turnovers. It’s all done in an efficient and fiercely competitive manner that makes him the area’s most complete player.
“When you talk about Jacob, he’s the ultimate competitor. He’s a guy that just plays so hard and I think that kind of makes him stand out even more,” McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said.
“I felt like last year he made a huge transition taking his game to a higher level. He was more of a physical dodger and so much more of a presence. Not that he wasn’t as a freshman or a sophomore, but I just felt like he could dodge against any kind of defensemen. So you had a more physical dodger, and when you add that to the skills and the IQ he has, it’s like ‘Man, how do you stop a kid like that?’ ”
That will be the first question opponents will try to answer this season as Kelly aims to lead the Cardinals to a second straight championship, something that hasn’t been accomplished in the A Conference since Loyola Blakefield won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
“It’s a crazy opportunity to be able to do it a second year in a row,” he said. “We’re not thinking about the idea of repeating. We’re kind of trying to make our own mark on the league this year, and it starts now.”
That it starts alongside his dad and younger brother, Daniel, who will take on an even bigger role in his sophomore season, is what makes the journey the most important part of all.
“He’s definitely someone I look up to on and off the field, and he’s one of the smartest lacrosse players I’ve ever played with” Daniel Kelly said. “When he goes to college next year, I know how to be a good big brother because of him. He leads by example. I don’t know if that comes from our cousins, but he’s just someone that I look up to a bunch. He’s my best friend.”