Southeastern quarterback Cole Kelley continues to demonstrate excellence on the field, recently taking home the prestigious Walter Payton Award.
When the 2021 Southeastern football season kicked off on September 4 in Strawberry Stadium, the Lions featured the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) under center.
Senior quarterback Cole Kelley received the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award—the Heisman Trophy of the FCS—in May. After the 2020 football season was moved to the spring of 2021, Kelley thrived in his first full season as the Southeastern starter.
The Lafayette, Louisiana, native threw for 2,662 yards, accounted for 27 touchdowns (18 passing, 7 rushing, and 2 receiving) and topped 300 yards passing in all seven games of the spring campaign on the way to being named the Southland Conference and Louisiana Offensive Player of the Year.
“Winning the Walter Payton Award has truly been a blessing,” Kelley commented. “I was honestly surprised when I found out I was a finalist, so when I won it meant a lot to me. But I looked at it as a team award, because without our receivers making plays when I get them the ball and our offensive line giving us time and room to execute, I wouldn’t be able to win any of these individual honors.”
Kelley’s teammates rejoiced in his victory, which made him only the third student-athlete in the history of the Southland Conference to take home the nation’s biggest individual prize. “My teammates’ reaction might have been the best part of the whole experience,” Kelley stated. “Everyone was so excited for me and congratulated me through calls, text messages, and social media. Our program is so special because of the family-like environment we have here at Southeastern. My teammates are my brothers.”
Heading into the fall, Kelley led a Lion team that featured a league-best 16 preseason all-conference selections, was ranked in the top 15 in every national preseason poll, and was picked to win the Southland Conference.
Last spring, Southeastern was one of the last four teams out of the FCS postseason field and all three of its losses came on the road to nationally-ranked opponents, including a narrow 43-38 defeat at eventual national champion Sam Houston in the season opener.
“We watched the playoffs last spring and knew we belonged on the biggest stage,” Kelley said. “We’re just focused on getting one percent better every day. We’ve proven we know how to handle adversity, but handling success will be our next challenge.”
Kelley started his collegiate career at Arkansas and came to Hammond prior to the 2019 season. After splitting time with then-starter Chason Virgil on the way to a FCS playoff berth, Kelley took over the reins as the full-time starter and has never looked back. His final season in Hammond this fall has also proven to be one to remember.
“Southeastern means the world to me,” Kelley commented. “The people of our University and the Hammond community make Southeastern such a special place. God blessed me when he placed me here, and I couldn’t have picked a better place.”
Following the season, Kelley will look to become the third Lion selected in the NFL Draft since the return of football prior to the 2003 season. Kelley will be looking to join former Southeastern cornerbacks Robert Alford, a second round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, and Harlan Miller, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo, who has coached in the NFL and also mentored several future pros on the collegiate level in a career that has spanned more than three decades, believes Kelley has a chance to perform at the next level.
“Kelley has demonstrated he can build on and improve what he did this spring,” Scelfo commented. “This fall they’ve been looking to see if he can not only continue to perform at a high level, but does he show improvement in all facets of his game moving forward.”
In August, Kelley was listed as one of 35 players on this year’s Walter Payton Award Watch List, a further indication of his potential for both more distinguished awards and a successful professional football career.
By Kemmler Chapple