Did you sleep through a couple articles from Fill The Steins during the school year? No problem! We are happy to bring you our Summer Session series, a great chance to catch up on our best posts from the previous year.
With the NFL in the midst of their interesting post-draft, pre-preseason period where draft picks and other young hopefuls are looking to find a home in the big time, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to revisit our chat from last fall with a Black Bear who falls in that exact category, former UMaine star wide receiver Jeremy Kelley.
After spending time in the Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League, and as a prospect with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Kelley currently finds himself back chasing the dream. When Kelley spoke with us in advance of Maine’s FCS playoff loss to UNH, he pulled no punches on a variety of issues, not the least of which was what prepares UMaine football players for the NFL.
So sit back and enjoy the musings, perspective, and opinions of the ultra-talented Jeremy Kelley!
Fill The Steins: Jeremy, thanks for taking the time to speak with Fill The Steins. Let’s start off with your time at UMaine. What was your major and year of graduation?
Jeremy Kelley: I graduated in 2010 with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. I was also able to get a head start on my masters as well. About half way through, now…need to finish that up someday soon!
FTS: Where did you live while at UMaine?
JK: Freshman year, 1st floor, room 133 of Cumberland Hall. Cumby Where The Fun Be! Great times. After that, a year in Hancock Hall, and then I moved off campus to a house just across the bridge in Orono on Elm Street. That soon became known as the Legendary ESU…Elm Street University! Let’s just say Orono PD has made a visit once or twice. But they knew our group in the house were all stand-up guys, so we never had issues.
FTS: Good times, indeed. Speaking of good times, what is your favorite memory from your time at UMaine?
JK: This is a tough question. There were definitely too many to narrow down to a single one. But I can definitely say senior year FINALLY beating UNH and placing the Brice-Cowell Musket in that locker room is amongst the top!
FTS: It’s too bad the team couldn’t bring the musket home this past Saturday, but they’ve definitely had a great year. How closely do you follow the current UMaine football team? What are your thoughts on their success?
JK: I follow it very closely, via social media usually and score alerts through apps on my phone. It’s great to see the recent success over the past handful of years but especially this 2013 season. It’s bittersweet in the fact that I wish I experienced this type of success during my time there. But, by the same token, I know my teammates and I helped build the program that exists today.
FTS: What made you choose the University of Maine?
JK: With offers from just about any FCS school, I narrowed my choices down to three, which were UNH, who were #1 in the country at the time, under offensive coordinator Chip Kelly (Editor’s Note: Kelly left UNH to become the offensive coordinator and, later, the head coach at the University of Oregon. Kelly led Oregon to the FBS national title game in 2010 and is currently the head coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. It’s more than understandable that a wide receiver like Jeremy would give serious consideration to playing for such an accomplished offensive mind.), Youngstown St and Maine. Even though Maine was the first to offer, I took my visit there last, mainly because I wasn’t trying to go to school anywhere that much colder than Buffalo. But once I got on campus and experienced the tightness and camaraderie of the team, I knew immediately Maine was a good fit. On top of that, we had the most NFL players out of any FCS school at that point in time. “Small school NFL factory” you could say…
FTS: You’re right, the coaching staff has definitely demonstrated the ability to produce and develop NFL-level talent. What was your experience like with Coach Cosgrove and the rest of the coaching staff?
JK: There were plenty of ups and downs through my 5 year career at Maine. But, that being said, our coaching staff made me a better football player. And the foundation that our football program is built upon also made me a better man. As for Coach Cos and me specifically, we had some unique experiences, to say the least. Coach Cos wasn’t always fond of my excessive celebratory antics. But, to make a long story short, one game he actually had to be escorted off the field by ambulatory services after imposing his Irish temper on me after one of my celebrations. Not sure if it was a heart attack exactly, but it was enough to scare the hell out of me. Nonetheless, the following day he was as excited to see me as I was to see him and we both apologized for our actions and it was all good. Although, personally, it was the most horrifying win I ever experienced.
FTS: That’s an amazing story. What do you think makes Coach Cosgrove successful?
JK: Coach Cos is a very blue collar, tough minded individual and those are the characteristics he instills within the program.
FTS: What was the highlight of your playing career at UMaine?
JK: As I stated earlier, the overtime win against UNH at home is definitely atop the highlights. But, not far behind would have to be 2008, watching ESPN as a team in the locker room, anxiously waiting to see “MAINE” scroll across the ticker, securing our bid to the NCAA playoffs. We erupted! That was a great feeling.
FTS: You’ve spent time in both the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. Which was harder to adapt to from traditional American football, and why?
JK: Canadian football was definitely the tougher of the two, although I picked up the offense extremely fast. Reading and understanding a defense with 12 people on the field instead of 11 was a little different. The dimensions and gameplay are a little different as well, so the game is played at a much faster rate than American football.
FTS: You graduated from West Seneca High School. Did you grow up as a Buffalo Bills fan? What other pro sports teams, if any, do you root for?
JK: I did not grow up a Bills fan. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a Miami Dolphins fan, which I catch a lot of heat for in Buffalo. But if the Bills want to start signing my checks, I’ll be the #1 fan, I can assure you that.
FTS: Smart man. Speaking of signing, you signed a “future/reserves” contract with the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of 2013. Can you explain to us non-football players what that is?
JK: It’s a standard rookie contract that is termed “futures/reserves” simply because I signed prior to the start of the calendar NFL season.
FTS: What was your experience like with the Colts? Was it mostly positive or negative, and why?
JK: It was absolutely positive in every way, shape and form. It was everything I had been working for since I started playing football at age 7. Obviously, it didn’t completely end up in my favor seeing that I’m not in Indy, but my time there has enhanced me as a player and as a professional. Physically, training camp wasn’t as demanding as most would think, compliments of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, as practice times and rules are limited during preseason. On top of being a rookie, you spend a lot of time watching and learning. Mentally is where the great players separate themselves at the pro level. It requires an intense focus day in and day out to be at your best, do your job, and to only give attention to those things that are within your control.
FTS: One great player that you got to work with in Indianapolis is Andrew Luck. What makes him such a terrific quarterback?
JK: This is usually the first question people ask me in regards to my time spent in Indy. It’s absolutely his work ethic. Andrew is always the first one in [the training complex] doing whatever it is he needs to do, plus some. A day didn’t go by where I saw him out of routine or not doing some type of extra work.
FTS: What do you consider the highlight of your professional football career?
JK: I’d have to say starting my first NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals knowing my mother was watching in the stands wearing her baby’s jersey. I can only imagine the amount of happiness she had watching her son accomplish what he had worked toward his entire life.
FTS: You’ve spent a large portion of your life in football locker rooms. What are your thoughts on the current Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito story and the overall presence of hazing in locker rooms?
JK: Well, not to undermine that situation in any way, because I haven’t been in that specific locker room, but I’ve heard from more than one source that it was way overblown. That aside, with the testimony that has come out recently from Incognito himself, there is absolutely no excuse for the things he’s said, or for the rest of that locker room to allow it. Don’t get me wrong, the culture of a football locker room is very unique in many ways. Plenty of what goes on is deemed acceptable inside, but probably wouldn’t be to the average person on the street, or at least it would be hard for them to understand. Does that make these things right? No. But for whatever reason, whether it’s team bonding, acceptance, whatever it may be, some things become part of sports culture.
FTS: What’s the best road story you have from your time as a pro football player?
JK: When I was playing Arena Football for the Utah Blaze, we didn’t fly chartered flights, so we were on flights with everybody and anybody who was headed to the same city we were. One time, this lady asked one of my teammates what sport we played and for what college. After seeing he was slightly offended, my teammate proceeded to explain that we played PROFESSIONAL Arena Football, and attempted to break it down as simply as possibly by saying “It’s sort of played on a half-size field.” It was as if she tried to push his buttons by responding “Oh, does that mean you’re half size players?” I thought my teammate was going to lose it! We experienced situations like this often traveling through airports like regular pedestrians as pros, subjected to explaining the not-as-popular arena game. I found that specific situation particularly amusing.
FTS: What are your plans and goals once your playing career is over?
JK: I have a lot of ideas and talents that I believe could make me very successful once I decide to hang up the cleats. But for some time now, I’ve been putting lots of thought into motivational speaking/life coaching. I love to inspire and to see people overcome. There are plenty of people that need inspiration and are capable of overcoming, they just need to hear it from someone.
FTS: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
JK: I enjoy watching “Antiques Roadshow”.
FTS: Our Arts & Culture contributor, and public TV apologist, Matt Grondin, would be proud. If you were back on the Orono campus, what’s the first thing you’d want to do?
JK: As much as things seem the same, campus has changed and evolved so much in such a short amount of time. I felt that way after returning only one year after graduation. But the first thing I’d do would consist of a trip through the Fieldhouse. I’d definitely stop in the locker room and reminisce about quick naps in your locker between classes and the endless, most relevant and irrelevant debates amongst teammates that created so many laughs. The Fieldhouse is where the majority of time is spent as an athlete. So many good people that had your best interests from academic advisors to my man Jonesy, the equipment manager. Well, he had your best interest IF you were on his good side. I don’t know what I did right, but I was.
FTS: In closing, what’re you filling your stein with these days?
JK: If I were to go out and fill my stein it’d be full of Yuengling Lager. Actually, one of my roommate’s father used to bring up cases from his home state because it wasn’t sold in Maine. At least at the time.
We Fill The Steins to Jeremy for his time, his candor, and his contributions to the University of Maine!!!
Photo courtesy: ESPN