Kelly kicks his way into HCHS history

Just behind running backs Tyrese Simmons and Quinten Mickens, who have 60 and 54 points, respectively, is a somewhat unlikely choice as the third leading scorer on this year’s Harlan County football team, which travels to North Laurel on Friday for the second round of the 5A playoffs.

Marcus Kelly hasn’t recorded a catch or a carry or a throw this season for the 6-5 Bears, but no one close to the Harlan County program doubts the significance Kelly has had on the Bears’ success to this point. Kelly has scored 44 points as the Bears’ kicker, hitting 26 extra points and six field goals. He’s also played a big role on defense, hitting around 80 percent of his kicks early in the season into the end zone, forcing opponents to start on their 20-yard-line. All three of those statistics are believed to be school records.

“Marcus is a great weapon for us offensively as far as extra points and field goals, but what people forget is that he’s a great defensive weapon when he’s hitting those touchbacks because you’re making teams go 80 yards,” said Harlan County coach Eddie Creech.

Football, as is the case for many outstanding kickers on every level of the sport, isn’t the first love for Kelly, who grew up playing soccer.

“I’ve played in Chicago ever since I was 4 years old,” said the HCHS senior. “I’ve played for youth teams, travel teams and everything, so I’ve had a fair amount of a background in my soccer career.”

Kelly was one of the team’s biggest fans when the HCHS girls soccer program started last year, but he could only watch from the sidelines and practice until a boys team was added this past fall. It was no surprise that Kelly was the Bears’ best player from the opening day of practice.

“Marcus has all the tools,” said Harlan County coach Andrew Williams. “First of all, he is an amazing leader. He has done a wonderful job at leading our team and helping the young guys out. Secondly, he is a hard worker. He has so much God-given ability but does a wonderful job at exerting maximum effort. On the field, his dribbling is impeccable and his ball control is second to none. He is our leading scorer, our best passer, and he’s also our best goalie; just the complete package.”

With his experience in the sport, Kelly was able to teach the game to many of his teammates.

“He has the ability to help those who don’t have the same skill level,” Williams said. “He doesn’t get frustrated with them when they don’t understand something. He is patient with them and continues to work with them. He believes in them and instills confidence in them.”

“The team has progressed amazingly,” said Kelly, “We’ve become way better than when we started. Before we started, some kids couldn’t even dribble a ball, kick a ball, or nothing, and now, we’re playing as a family. Our passing is great, our shooting is great, and we’ve just progressed together as a family and grew from the beginning of the program.”

Kelly hopes to continue athletics in college.

“I want to play soccer outside of the high school level, but if I don’t, I have football as a backup,” he said. “That’s my rebound, and if I could play both, that would be great.”

Creech, for one, is confident his kicker could help a college team.

“I watch college football every Saturday, and I see guys in Division I missing 35-, 39-, 40-yarders, and Marcus has really worked on his accuracy, so I think if he ever got with a true kicking coach, I don’t see why he couldn’t kick on a Division I level.”

“I’ve had fun with football,” said Kelly, “I mean, I just kick for football, so it’s not like I do much, but it’s great because I get to go out and show colleges what I can do and everything, so it’s just been a fun time.”

Kelly hopes the fun times continue Friday at North Laurel in the second round of the 5A playoffs. The winner will play the Whitley County-Southwestern winner next week in the Region 4 finals.