Caleb Kelly began the season as one of the nation’s more highly sought high school football recruits. He still is at year’s end, and now honored as the best prep linebacker in the U.S. by none other than Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus.
Kelly, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder targeted by colleges from coast to coast, was presented with the high school version of the Butkus Award as the nation’s top high school linebacker during a Thursday meeting. Butkus participated by phone after a recent surgery, but his son, Matt, was on hand.
Then-UCLA star Eric Kendricks, a Hoover High alum selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings, won the 2014 college version of the award. Created in 1985, it was expanded to include the NFL and high school levels in 2008.
Kelly plays the game very fast, with a terrific closing burst to the quarterback.
Butkus Award panel in announcing Clovis West’s Caleb Kelly as this season’s honoree as the nation’s top prep linebacker
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“In what was one of the best prep linebacking classes in a decade, including many very deserving candidates, Caleb Kelly emerged from a tight race as the winner,” the selection panel – comprising football coaches, recruiters, talent scouts and journalists – said in a statement. “Kelly plays the game very fast, with a terrific closing burst to the quarterback.
“He is a strong, face-up tackler with outstanding cover awareness and has distinguished himself as a very productive playmaker against the run and pass versus top competition. Kelly is ready to make an immediate impact at the next level.”
26 colleges reported by ESPN.com as having offered scholarships to Kelly, whom the website has ranked as the No. 6 prospect at his position; he is No. 62 overall regardless of position
Playing in the Central Section’s elite Tri-River Athletic Conference, Kelly was credited with 115 tackles, including 23 for loss with 21 sacks and three forced fumbles. The Golden Eagles finished 6-5 overall (their first above-.500 finish since 2010) and 2-3 in the TRAC, with their season ending with a 35-28 loss in the Central Section Division I quarterfinal.
Kelly, who also starred at tight end, is ranked sixth on the ESPN 300 list of top outside linebackers. Much of the Pacific-12 Conference is seeking his services on the defensive side, as are national powers such as Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan and Notre Dame.
Finishing second to Kelly for the Butkus Award was Lyndell Wilson of Carver High in Montgomery, Alabama, whom ESPN has ranked No. 1 at outside linebacker.