2018 FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lenny Kelley, Dallas
Imagine the excitement of being a running back and seeing the offensive line open up a big hole, clearing a path for a big gain that either leads to a first down or potentially even a touchdown.
Now think about being a linebacker, seeing that same type of hole with a running back coming at you. But instead of that hole leading to a big gain or more, you fill the hole and make a huge hit that can possibly lead to a fumble or negative yards.
Lenny Kelley knows what it’s like on both sides of the ball.
Kelley is the complete football player. He makes contributions on both offense and defense. So much so that it is difficult to describe on which side of the ball he is most important.
Sure, everyone likes to score touchdowns. Kelley did plenty of that this year. But it is also fun to make the big hit, listen to crowd react and have not only yourself but the entire team feed off the emotion.
Kelley proved that he can do both this season for the Dallas Mountaineers.
All Kelley did at linebacker was lead the team in tackles with 110. Of those, 13 were for loss and he also forced one fumble. As the Mountaineers rolled through the regular season and into the District 2 Class 4A championship game where they finished second to Valley View, Kelley, a junior, led the Wyoming Valley Conference in rushing with 1,653 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He rushed for 16 touchdowns.
For his efforts, Kelley was selected as The Citizens’ Voice Player of the Year for the 2018 season. He recently talked with high school football beat writer Steve Bennett on the season as well as other topics.
Q: You were part of the group that was called up to the varsity as a freshman. What was that experience like for you?
A: I was a little nervous at first. Then I just realized that I was playing the game that I have always been playing since I was younger. It wasn’t that hard after the first time I got in the game.
Q: Was it ever intimidating at all?
A: Not so much practice. But my first game against Berwick as a freshman, I got picked on a lot. I was playing corner and the guy scored on me. After that it wasn’t that bad.
Q: How do you think you performed, and can you see how it has paid off at this stage of your career?
A: You can never be satisfied. I think the stuff coach has us doing in the offseason, working out and drills, certainly paid off this year.
Q: How would you describe your running style?
A: That is something I never really thought about. I just try and get as many yards as I can. I never want to have a negative yardage run. I just try and get as many yards as I can on every play.
Q: Are there any specific running backs that you try to imitate?
A: I like watching Saquon Barkley. He is a pretty cool back.
Q: Coach Mannello really emphasizes work in the weight room. Was that something you needed to adjust to, and what is it actually like?
A: It’s pretty hard. It is definitely something you have to want to do. We put so much time into it, you are either in or out. This year we weren’t physically where we needed to be, and I think that showed against Valley View. But we are working hard for that now. I think everyone saw that we weren’t strong enough against Valley View.
Q: You missed part of the 2017 season with an injury. What was it like not being out there on the field?
A: That was pretty upsetting especially with the games I missed against Scranton Prep and Valley West. During my time off I just worked hard on trying to get back and being healthy. Once I got back I wanted to makeup for the time that I lost.
Q: When you look back at how the 2017 season ended with a first-round playoff loss, how much of a motivating factor was that coming into this season?
A: That was huge. That just showed you can’t go into a game thinking records mean something once you get to the postseason. None of that matters. Everybody goes into the playoffs and tries to knock teams off. It makes you not want to get beat.
Q: In the playoff game against Berwick this year, you took some snaps out of the wildcat formation. Is that something you enjoyed?
A: That was something, it was pretty fun. If I have the opportunity to do it again, I definitely would.
Q: You even threw a pass in that game. When was the last time you threw a pass in a game before that?
A: It was a while ago. I would have to say mini-football. I completed a pass to Danny Meuser.
Q: When you look back at the 2018 Dallas Mountaineer football season, what comes to mind?
A: Just how we dealt with losing people for a certain amount of time. We lost our right guard early in the season and it was the next guy up. We go in the playoffs losing both our starting quarterback and backup quarterback. That was huge. Mike Lukasavage comes in and he was impressive. You can’t find anybody else who could come in and do that.
Q: In your opinion, what does the future look like for the Dallas Mountaineers?
A: I think it looks pretty good. The younger kids are committed to working hard. Our freshmen that are on the scout team, they give us a great look in practice every week. They are just as important as what we do on Friday night. They were a huge part of our season. Being on the scout team is only going to help them when it is their turn.
Q: If you could take a handoff from one quarterback in the history of the game of football who would it be?
A: I would have to say Tom Brady. He knows how to get the job done.
Q: What is the most important aspect of your game you believe you need to work on in the offseason?
A: Turnovers. I can’t be having fumbles. That is something that I am going to work on.