That’s the number of colleges that have offered football scholarships to Clovis West’s outside linebacker Caleb Kelly.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound 17-year-old has narrowed his prospective list to four: University of Michigan, University of Oregon, University of Oklahoma and University of Notre Dame.
He’ll have to pick one by National Signing Day, Feb. 3.
“I wish I could say that I’ve made up my mind and I’m just not telling people, but I really haven’t,” Kelly said.
Last month he became the only Californian ever to win the high school version of The Butkus Award, an honor named for legendary Chicago Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus and bestowed to the best linebackers in the United States.
“I’m not a crier or anything, but when I got that I started crying right away,” Kelly said. “That meant a lot to me because it was so big — out of everybody in the nation I’m the best linebacker. It was just pretty cool.”
It was also a great moment for Clovis West head football coach George Petrissans.
“It’s hard to say I was surprised, because he’s such a gifted athlete. I’m proud of him,” said Petrissans, who has coached Kelly for two years. “It’s a tremendous honor and I know he really wanted to get it. For as much work as he put in during the off-season and during the season, he truly deserves it.”
Not long after The Butkus Award was announced, Kelly found out that he’ll wear his varsity number — 19 — while representing the West in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 9.
Kelly will be in San Antonio, Texas next week preparing for the big game, which will be played in the Alamodome and air live on NBC beginning at 10 a.m.
The Dallas Cowboys fan started playing tackle football when he was 7 as a middle linebacker at Lincoln Elementary. “I’ve always been cardinal and gold,” he said with a smile.
19Caleb Kelly’s varsity number, which is also his mother’s favorite number because her birthday is March 19, he said. He hopes to wear either number 9 — his seven-on-seven coach Tony Perry’s number — or 19 when he plays at the collegiate level.
In seventh grade at Kastner Intermediate he switched to outside linebacker and has been there ever since.
“It’s a versatile position,” Kelly said. “I can blitz, I can cover people, I can do it all at that position. It’s really three positions in one: you’re a defensive end, you’re a linebacker and you’re a safety.”
Watch a few of his highlight reels at Hudl and it’s easy to notice Kelly’s multifaceted athleticism.
But remarking on Kelly’s physical talent is only scratching the surface when it comes to the young man who has made a huge impact on those around him.
“I’ve been around a lot of talented athletes,” said coach Petrissans, “but with Caleb, it’s not just his ability on the field that makes him so special. He’s just a really good person and a classy individual. He respects all of his teammates. You want to be around him, you’re inspired by him.”
Football is a big part of Kelly’s life, surely, but he only really lights up when he starts to talk about his best friend — his mom, Valerie Kelly.
My mom sends me Bible verses before every game and then she sends me like a little message. That’s something that I won’t go on the field without.
Caleb Kelly on his pre-game ritual
“My mom and I are best friends,” he said with complete sincerity. “She always says we’re the same person, like I’m her twin — but I’m her son. We talk alike and everything.”
Kelly refers to his mother, his aunt and his grandmother as “the three queens.” They are all single mothers who have together raised Kelly to become the well-respected and respectable teenager he is today.
“They run all five of us grandkids,” he said of his cousins and 14-year-old brother, Jeremiah.
My job in life is to raise him to be a good man, a good husband, a good father and a good person. He’s just a really good kid. We’re very proud of him.
Caleb Kelly’s mother, Valerie Kelly
Kelly doesn’t know his biological father, but he easily lists the men in his life who have stepped in to provide guidance in life and on the field.
“My junior high coach Art Francis, he actually came up to varsity with us and became my linebacker coach this year,” Kelly began. “Tony Perry, my 7-on-7 coach, he calls me his son … he’s gotten something like 120 dudes into Div. I schools .. my stepdad, Paul Aikins, and my coach Sean Soares has helped me out a lot.
“What they all have in common is they’ll all do anything for me and don’t ask for anything in return. Instead of having a real dad, I’ve had those guys.”
And of course, he’s had his three queens.
His mom, aunt and grandma have attended every one of Kelly’s football games. His aunt, Jennifer Armstrong, could usually be spotted on the sidelines taking photos.
Before every game, Kelly listens to the same songs he’s listened to since he started playing football — Easy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood” and Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.”
But that’s only part of his pre-game ritual.
He would often be seen on the bus frantically texting his mother to ask for “his message” on the way to Friday night football games.
“My mom sends me Bible verses before every game and then she sends me like a little message,” he explained. “That’s something that I won’t go on the field without. I’ll text her like 50 times, like ‘mom, I need my message.’”
Sometimes the verses are copied and pasted in the text field. But once, Valerie wrote out the verses on paper in the form of a cross and sent of photo of her message to her son. He saved it as his phone’s lock screen.
Kelly has attended Peace Lutheran Church since birth. He and his mother were both confirmed there, and Jeremiah is going through confirmation now.
“God is a big part of my life,” Caleb Kelly said. “When I was younger he was like a dad to me. Not in a physical form, but he was always there for me… Before games I pray, after games I pray, every night I pray.”
While visiting colleges, Caleb watched games and practices to see what his prospective coaches are really like. Meanwhile, his mom was scouting churches.
“To have a relationship with God is so important,” she said. “Every school I’ve gone to with him, I’ve asked if there’s a place for him to go to talk to God … I’m happy with his final four choices.”
He’ll be sorely missed when he goes off to college in June — not just by his family but by his teammates, coaches, mentors and all who know him.
“Of course I’m going to miss him because we’re really close,” Valerie said. “I’ll miss the day-to-day things like giving him a hug or hearing about his day.”
“I’m going to make it to at least one game a year, the rest of the time I’ll be watching him on TV and that’ll be awesome because he’ll be living his dream,” she continued.
Kelly hopes to enter the NFL after college and have a long professional career.
“I like how the (Seattle) Seahawks play defense, so I guess that would be my dream team to play for,” he said.
After that, he dreams of becoming a sports commentator.
I want him to pay it forward and help others achieve their dreams and goals. He’s the type of person that can really change people.
Clovis West head football coach George Petrissans
Wherever he ends up, his support system — the three queens — will no doubt be right behind him.
“My job in life is to raise him to be a good man, a good husband, a good father and a good person,” Valerie Kelly said. “He’s just a really good kid. We’re very proud of him.”
Coach Petrissans echoes her sentiments.
“My goals for him are not being a college starter or going to the NFL … I don’t really care about those things,” he said. “I just really want him to continue on the path that he’s on to be the great man that he is and to care deeply about the people around him. I want him to pay it forward and help others achieve their dreams and goals.
“He’s the type of person that can really change people.”