HEISER: Ex-Red Lion QB Kelly in national college football spotlight on Saturday night


He's the top-rated quarterback in all of major college football.

He's helped his team to a 2-0 start and a top-20 national ranking.

He leads the No. 1 offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision — one that is averaging a staggering 74.5 points per game.

And Saturday night, in front of a prime-time national television audience, he'll be the pivotal figure in one of the premier college football match-ups of the weekend.

His name is Chad Kelly.

That's right, the same Chad Kelly who was once the starting QB at Red Lion High School way back in 2008 and 2009 during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

It's also the same Chad Kelly who has been involved in a seemingly never-ending series of disciplinary problems over the years.

It started back at Red Lion, when he got booted off the Lions' team in both 2008 and 2009 for unspecified reasons before his family moved to the Buffalo area. Kelly, who is the nephew of former Bills star QB Jim Kelly, excelled in New York for St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and earned a scholarship to Clemson.

After a couple years at Clemson, he again got kicked off the team by Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney for "a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program."

Kelly then went the junior college route and starred at East Mississippi Community College, leading that school to a national junior college championship. That, in turn, earned him another shot with an FBS school, Mississippi.

The opportunity at Ole Miss, however, almost got derailed before Kelly had a chance to take the field. In December, Kelly was involved in an incident outside a Buffalo nightclub, where he was allegedly involved in a fight with a bouncer and threatened to shoot a gun inside the bar. Kelly would eventually plead guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.

Shortly thereafter, Kelly went on a mission trip to Haiti in March with Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. After the visit, the Ole Miss coach heaped praise on Kelly for his actions in Haiti, saying he "displayed a huge heart" while working with the island's impoverished children.

Talent vs. character: Since then, Kelly has stayed out of trouble off the field and excelled on the field, earning the starting QB job with the Rebels.

There's really no doubt about Kelly's physical talents. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 215-pounder is a four-time National Punt, Pass and Kick champion. He has an uncle who is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. And despite his many behavioral issues, he was recruited by many of the top football programs in the nation, including this week's Ole Miss foe, No. 2 Alabama.

No, the questions about Kelly were always more about his character.

Maybe the journey to Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet, was a life-changing experience for Kelly. Maybe it helped him realize the many gifts and opportunities he's been given. Maybe he's become a new, and better, man.

We can only hope that's the case.

On a roll this season: There's little doubt that Ole Miss will be his final shot in college football. He can't afford to screw it up, and so far he's making the most of it. In lopsided victories against Tennessee-Martin (76-3) and Fresno State (73-21), Kelly has completed 29 of 40 passes (72.5 percent) for 557 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating is an astounding 234.0. For comparison's sake, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, who is projected as a possible first-round NFL draft pick, has a rating of 87.9.

Of course, everything has gone Kelly's way in the first two weeks against overmatched opponents. He's faced little or no adversity.

That will most certainly change at 9:15 Saturday night, when the Rebels visit Tuscaloosa to battle the vaunted Crimson Tide on a game telecast by ESPN.

How will Kelly react when the going gets tough?

That's to be determined.

He can't wait for Saturday: For his part, the always-confident Kelly can't wait for game time.

"This is going to be a fun week," Kelly said Monday. "This is where you make the money. This is where everything counts."

Yes, there's no doubt, this is "where everything counts."

It's Kelly's first serious test since joining the Rebels.

And you can bet that folks here in York County, who have been following the Kelly saga for the better part of a decade, will pay close attention.

It will be fascinating to watch.