Cole Kelley has started and played at Alabama. He’s also started and rallied a team from a 24-point deficit to win at Ole Miss.
Now the Arkansas transfer is looking forward to the opportunity of leading Southeastern Louisiana back to the upper echelon of the Southland Conference after the 6-foot-7, 258-pound Kelley announced his plans to transfer and be a part of the Lions' program.
Kelley, a former All-State quarterback at Teurlings Catholic in Lafayette, said he signed a National-Letter-of-Intent with Southeastern and will enroll for the start of the spring semester this month.
By transferring to an FCS school, Kelley will be immediately eligible and has two years of eligibility remaining.
“I’m pretty confident in myself, God’s blessed me with ability,” Kelley said. “I feel like I can play with anybody in the country no matter what level. I think Southeastern has a really talented team and you’re going to play against good players. It’s going to be fun all-around and I’m going to have fun doing it.”
Kelley said after announcing Dec. 3 that he planned to leave Arkansas, he contemplated transferring to another Division I school, contingent that he could reach his degree requirements, making him immediately eligible to play in the fall.
When it became apparent that he wouldn’t be able to graduate in time before transferring, Kelley set his sights on an FCS school closer to his home in Lafayette.
Kelley said his former high school coach Sonny Charpentier and Jake Delhomme, also a Teurlings graduate who played at UL-Lafayette and quarterbacked the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003, both recommended SLU, where coach Frank Scelfo is entering his second season.
Scelfo called to express his interest once Kelley received his release from Arkansas, leaving a favorable impression on the quarterback and his family.
“They said Southeastern was a good fit,” Kelley said of the advice he received from Charpentier and Delhomme. “I did some research and I thought so myself. I liked (offensive coordinator) coach (Greg) Stevens. I think the offense fits me very well. I think they have a good team and I really like the coaches. It was an all-around good fit. It made sense.
“He has a great personality,” Kelley said of Scelfo. “He’s very much a people person and had a great impression on me. His resume’ speaks for itself with quarterbacks. He definitely has a vision and they’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle. I’m just going to be another piece to that puzzle and try and put it all together.”
Kelley was so sold on Southeastern that he committed to Scelfo without an official visit.
The former Teurlings basketball player, who averaged 19 points his junior season, indicated having previously played in summer tournaments at the University Center and getting a feel for the SLU campus.
Kelley compared Scelfo’s offense to the one he played in at Arkansas under former head coach Brett Bielema, who was fired in 2017 after a 4-8 record.
He started in four of nine games during his redshirt freshman season, including starts at Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina, and completed 87 of 151 passes for 1,038 yards with four interceptions and eight touchdowns.
Kelley went 23 of 42 for 200 yards with a touchdown in his first career start in Tuscaloosa, but counts his outing against Ole Miss as his most memorable in a Razorbacks uniform. He became the first Arkansas freshman quarterback in 11 years to lead the Razorbacks to a road victory in the Southeastern Conference.
Kelley did so in dramatic fashion, leading Arkansas back from a 24-point deficit to a 38-37 victory – the largest comeback in school history – with a 19-of-30 performance with 189 yards and a total of four touchdowns.
“It was the best memory because it was a win and it was also on my birthday,” Kelley said.
With Bielema’s firing came the hiring of Chad Morris of SMU and apprehension on Kelley’s part to have to adapt to a new head coach with a penchant for running an offense with quarterbacks much smaller frames than that of Kelley.
Kelley started in Arkansas’ opener this season against Eastern Illinois but was replaced by Ty Storey during the game.
He got one more start the rest of the season against North Texas, but for the most part Kelley was used primarily in short-yardage situations and didn’t see any significant playing time until the Ole Miss game when Storey was injured.
Kelley led the Razorbacks on three drives, two of which resulted in punts and the other an interception, leading to true freshman Connor Noland taking over in the fourth quarter of the game.
Kelley wound up completing 35 of 67 passes for 455 yards with five interceptions and five touchdowns. He also rushed for three touchdowns.
For his 18-game career with the Razorbacks, which included six starts, Kelley completed 112 of 228 passes for 1,493 yards with 13 TD and nine interceptions. He also had six career rushing TDs.
“It kind of scared me from the get-go,” Kelley said of Bielema’s firing. “I had heard a lot of things that happen with coaching changes. Usually they get their own quarterbacks. I knew in the past he (Morris) had never had a quarterback like me that’s big and tall, a pocket passer. I stuck it out and gave it a chance and it wasn’t a good fit with that staff.”
Scelfo unveiled a Pro-Style offense in his first season which wound up 4-7, that featured Fresno State transfer Chason Virgil, a rising senior, passing for 3,034 yards 17 TDs and 13 interceptions.
“It’s very similar to the offense I had committed to at Arkansas,” Kelley said. “A lot of it depends on what the defense is doing. It’s the kind of offense I played in at Arkansas my first couple of years and I really loved it and did well.”
Kelley was a four-star prospect at Teurlings according to ESPN.com, which ranked him as the nation’s No. 6 ranked quarterback prospect after throwing for 3,203 yards and 28 TDs, helping the Rebels (10-4) to the state semifinals.
Kelley earned first-team Class 4A All-State honors his junior season, leading Teurlings (9-2) to the state quarterfinals and passing for 2,980 yards and 27 TDs.
He selected Arkansas over scholarship offers from Colorado State, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Southern Miss., Tulane and UL-Lafayette.
“Something I’ve learned going through some rough times the past couple of seasons, is just take one day at a time,” Kelley said. “That’s all I’m doing. I’m excited for the new opportunity."
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