Jerry Kelly Returns

West Fairmont junior tailback Jerry Kelly returned for his first action since Week 1 and scored three touchdowns against Preston Saturday night.

When you play any sport for as long as most athletes do, special bonds and relationships tend to form.

While those friendships are started in most cases on the field, they are usually carried outside the lines and off the field as well.

Jerry Kelly is no different.

And he made his return to West Fairmont’s football team Saturday night during a 49-14 rout of Preston at East-West Stadium.

While his statistics didn’t pop out of the box score — 9 carries for 42 yards, 2 catches for 36 yards, three touchdowns — there was more to it than simply lighting up the scoreboard and filling out a stat sheet with his performance.

“It’s just good to be back with my team. They’re like my family,” Kelly said. “So being back with the guys is like being back with family. It’s a good feeling. It’s exciting.”

West’s last 10 quarters of football, prior to Saturday night, were played without the on-field presence of Kelly

The talented tailback’s season got off to an inauspicious start back on Aug. 25 in Clarksburg. Kelly, who usually lines up as a linebacker on defense, landed hard on his right shoulder during a pile-up at the end of a Robert C. Byrd offensive play.

Kelly left the game late in the second quarter and never returned. And his football family never recovered, dropping a 21-7 season-opening decision to RCB.

In the following two weeks after Kelly’s injury, West pummeled an outmanned North Marion squad and nearly stunned powerhouse Morgantown.

All Kelly could do was stand on the sidelines, root for his team and encourage his replacement, Jordan Tucker.

“It didn’t really wear on me. I knew I would be back eventually,” Kelly said. “So I just rehabbed during my time out. And I cheered on my team during the games.”

Tucker filled in more than adequately for Kelly as the senior rushed for 175 yards and two scores. And Kelly was right there to help out.

“Whenever he played and I saw things he could do better to have success,” Kelly recalled, “I would tell him to try and do it.”

With Kelly being cleared for practice last Wednesday, both he and Tucker looked to be featured in the Polar Bear backfield Saturday night.

However, their roles were reversed.

Kelly made his return. But Tucker was hobbling the sidelines in a walking boot because of a high ankle sprain, which was suffered in practice last Thursday.

“That was kind of weird,” Kelly said. “But stuff happens. It’s football.”

Now it was Kelly taking the hand-offs and Tucker cheering him on. A tough situation to handle for some, but not when you’re essentially brothers, part of one big family.

“We’re real good friends on and off the field. We try to teach other new stuff on the football field whenever we practice,” Kelly said about Tucker. “He cheers me on when I play, and I cheer him on when he plays. There’s no rivalry between us or anything like that.”

Kelly’s return was a huge success as he accounted for three touchdowns. But more importantly, he still had his speed, his elusiveness and his toughness.

Kelly even lowered his shoulder and ran over Preston defenders, showing he has a lot of strength to go with that speed.

As for his right shoulder, “Yeah, I just need to toughen it up a little bit,” Kelly said. “But I’m fine. I’m ready to play.”

And the Polar Bears are ready to make their run at a second straight postseason appearance, of course with the help of Kelly.

“Our team has very good discipline. We have great coaches and great players,” he said. “Whenever you put hard work into things, good things come out of that. So you put that all together and you have a great team.”

No, make that a great family.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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