WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio – University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban believes Ryan Kelly has an excellent NFL future ahead of him.
“He’s very smart,” Saban said at Alabama’s pro day in March. “He’s got quickness, and he plays with enough power. He’s a good pass protector, and he’s a great person and leader. If you’re looking for a great teammate and a productive guy at his position that could be outstanding, I think he fits the build.”
Kelly, a 2011 Lakota West graduate, isn't dwelling on next week's NFL Draft. There are projections of him being selected in the first round. Others say early second round.
For him, it's business as usual in preparing for a situation in which the NFL team makes the ultimate decision on his pro future.
"I've tried to stay busy the best I can between workouts and preparing for the next level so that I'm not constantly thinking about the draft," Kelly told WCPO.com. "I think by doing that you don't over think something that you for the most part have no control over now. I feel that between the combine, pro day and in-house visits I've done everything that I can do to put my best foot forward."
Kelly has three years of film to fill out his impressive resume. He had a memorable senior year with the Crimson Tide this past season as Alabama (14-1) won the College Football Playoff National Championship in January and Kelly was awarded the Rimington Trophy – given to the NCAA’s top center.
Kelly was also chosen first team all-SEC by the Associated Press and the coaches and first-team All-America by three outlets and second team by two outlets. He was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
A few days after the national championship game, Kelly had meetings to select an agent and he chose Jimmy Sexton, who represents Saban and many other high-profile college football coaches with CAA Sports.
"Coach Saban has said to us since day one when talking about agents that 'an agent can't necessarily get you drafted higher, but they can help with your name in the NFL,'" Kelly said. "What he meant by that was that the film you put on week in and week out is the biggest determiner on how high you get drafted. With that, when picking an agent you want somebody that represents your values and principles in the right manner so that when general managers or owners ask who your agent is they don't get an answer they don't want to hear."
Kelly, the anchor of the Alabama offensive line this past season, said he hasn't signed any endorsement deals yet, but he's completed some autograph signings and has a trading card deal.
Lakota West coach Larry Cox said the attention hasn't changed Kelly.
“Probably what I am most proud of is how well he’s handled it,” Cox said. “He takes things in stride. Two weeks ago when he’s home he comes over here (to Lakota West) to work out still.”
Kelly’s brother, former Lakota West linebacker Mike Kelly, received a short leave from the Naval Academy to be with family next weekend to watch the NFL Draft, according to their father, David Kelly.
The brothers worked out at Lakota West earlier this month and Cox said it was neat watching them interact.
This is the second straight year Lakota West will have a player drafted into the NFL. Philadelphia linebacker Jordan Hicks, a 2010 Lakota West graduate, was selected in the third round in 2015.
SB Nation wrote this week that Ryan Kelly is a “pro-ready player” and that he should be the first center taken in the draft.
“The Crimson Tide pivot is a technical master,” SB Nation NFL Draft editor Dan Kadar wrote. “He gets his snap off in a hurry and gets down in his stance to block without a wasted motion. Touted by his coaches for his communication on the line and ability to put his teammates in the right position, Kelly may not look physically imposing, but he rarely gets overpowered at the line.”
Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports have Kelly going to Seattle at No. 26 in their mock drafts. The Los Angeles Times has Kelly to the Cardinals at No. 30. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler has the Chargers taking Kelly at No. 35 (second round).
“He is the ultimate lunch pail worker with the competitive grit and IQ that translates well to the pro game – scheme-versatile, immediate starter and Pro Bowl potential,” Brugler wrote.
Cox said he will be on pins and needles again next week with anticipation since multiple teams are showing interest in Kelly.
“I think more than anything I am proud of the way he’s handled everything,” Cox said. “Be it the way he plays – his style, his approach, everything that goes into it. He’s still working out every day. He’s real humble about it and real thankful. He realizes how awesome it is to get that (NFL) opportunity.”
Kelly is content to share the special weekend with family and friends at home. He will certainly value the time.
"My family and friends have been by my side since I started this journey back in 2011 and those are the people I want to share the special moment with on my own terms," Kelly said. "My brother Mike — who I don't get to see nearly enough — got approved to come home and spend time with me during the draft which I am very thankful for because I know how precious his time is as well."