With the transfer of Jalen Hurd to Baylor and Alvin Kamara to the NFL, there is no question who the leader of the Vols’ backfield in 2017 is going to be. Junior John Kelly will not only bring experience to the running back position in 2017, but also leadership and toughness.
Last season, during his sophomore campaign where he saw action in 12 games in mostly a back up role, Kelly led a talented backfield with 630 yards on 98 carries as well as 5 rushing TDs. Now, heading into his junior season as the clear starter, Kelly plans to stake his claim as the best running back in the SEC.
Following practice on Tuesday, Kelly said “I do think I’m the best back in the SEC and I’m going to work hard to prove that.” His confidence is something that should excite fans, especially considering the SEC has a very talented pool of running backs heading into the 2017 season.
But more than just the confidence in his own abilities, Kelly is ready to do whatever his team needs him to do in order to win. “It doesn’t matter as long as we get the ‘W.’ Kelly said on Tuesday. “I don’t mind touching the ball 25 or 30 times, or however many times.”
His work ethic and the example he has set for his teammates have not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“The younger guys have to have an example of how hard you have to work every day. They have to get the example of how to take hard coaching.” Running backs coach Robert Gillespie said of Kelly. “And by John being the leader in the room, he set the example for the guys of, ‘Hey, this guy has played a lot of snaps, but coach Gillespie continues to be on him hard. Shoot, if John can take it, so can I.”
With three freshmen joining the Tennessee backfield this season, Kelly will be expected to carry a lot of the load. It does bode well for the Vols that he is bringing his experience, skill, leadership and confidence to that position to help mentor the younger players that will be learning from him throughout the season.