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The question is an obvious one. After all, the uncle also wore No. 12. The nephew also plays quarterback. Their football careers, although certainly different in era, competition level and sample size, have been about as successful as they can be.

Surely, any football fan wonders aloud, having an uncle who is a Pro Football Hall of Famer must have had a lot to do with Chad Kelly becoming the football player he is today.

But Jim Kelly makes things clear to anyone who asks, and he does it as quickly as he -- or his nephew -- can read a defense.

"One thing you need to make sure is that his dad deserves the credit," the Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback said of his younger brother Kevin. "His father has done a great job. [Kevin] was almost a clone of my father -- he had Chad out in the backyard, doing all those things my father did with me and my brothers.

"Sure, I played pro football, but if Kevin wasn't in the backyard with Chad and doing all the things he did, Chad wouldn't be here."

"Here" is a lofty place, and it has come after a lengthy road that started in Western New York and wound down to Pennsylvania and back.

Chad Kelly enters his senior season at St. Joe's having verbally accepted a scholarship offer to attend Clemson. No Western New York quarterback has signed with a major college program since Malik Campbell, a 1996 graduate of Turner-Carroll, signed with Maryland (he later played wide receiver at Syracuse).

Kelly's ascendance has come at a time when media -- and social media -- have provided an unprecedented spotlight on the nation's best high school football players, which he most certainly is (rated in the top six at his position by two national websites). He has more than 1,700 followers on Twitter, many of them Clemson fans. He was featured on ESPN in several prime-time appearances this summer as he excelled at national skills competitions.

When the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Kelly was getting his photograph taken for the front page of this high school football preview, it wasn't even his first cover shoot of the summer: He's on the cover of the New York edition of ESPNRise magazine.

Last year, he was a first-team All-Western New York selection who achieved what is believed to be a first in state history as he threw for 2,000 yards and ran for 1,000. He concluded his junior year by running for three touchdowns and throwing for two in a 49-20 Monsignor Martin championship victory over St. Francis.

The game was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with that uncle of his watching from the sidelines.

And that only prompts perhaps a dozen more uncanny parallels of the two No. 12s. What about that confidence with a sheen of cockiness, all backed up with the performance on the field? The kind of central-casting leadership of his teammates in the huddle? The rough-and-tumble competitiveness that doesn't just show up on both sides of the football, but on the basketball court, the lacrosse field?

"He's a Kelly," said uncle Jim. "He's tough, he wants to be where the action is. I'm not just speaking for me, I'm talking his five uncles. We wanted to be in the middle of everything, diving on the floor in basketball, grabbing rebounds. We were all leaders. Chad doesn't want to sit on the outside -- he's exactly like his dad was.

"We as brothers, all six brothers [oldest to youngest: Pat, Ed, Ray, Jim, twins Dan and Kevin], we were not lazy and we had a work ethic that was unmatched. We didn't have the best speed, not the most nimble with our feet, but we worked at it, and continued to work at it, and that's the way Chad is."

Jim Kelly certainly taught Chad football fundamentals -- along with all of his nephews.

"Sure, I'd show them how to hold the football, the five-step drop I taught all my nephews, just like I would teach my son, Hunter, if he were here," Kelly said, referring to his late son, who inspired him and his wife, Jill, to establish the Hunter's Hope Foundation.

But Jim Kelly said that recently he has had to do something un-Kelly like -- rein himself in a bit. He's had to force himself to remain on the outside. He's not a big fan of Chad's propensity for using Twitter (often more than 20 times a day), and knows that if a promising recruit makes just one misstep in 2011, it will get a lot more attention than it did when Kelly was a senior at East Brady (Pa.) in the late 1970s.

"You try to teach kids things to do on the field, off the field, especially when you've been through it," Jim said. "For kids nowadays, with what's in front of Chad it's not like it was back then. You try to educate them as much as you can.

"I want to make sure he makes the right decisions. But I'm smart enough to realize it got to a point that I was treating him too much like he was my son. But I'm not his father. I'm just his uncle. It was driving me crazy, probably driving his dad crazy, probably driving Chad crazy.

"Maybe I wasn't throwing my two cents in, maybe I was throwing my $5 or $20 in. I was looking at him through my son Hunter, and if he were here.

"I'm just going to be Uncle Jim. If I see something I'll put my two cents in, but I'll no longer throw more than that. He's old enough to make decisions, and to learn himself."

But Chad Kelly has had to do a lot of growing up already.

>N.Y. to Pa. and back

Kevin Kelly got a promotion just as Chad was entering sixth grade and moved his family from Grand Island to Red Lion, Pa., a town a few miles southeast of York, close to the Maryland border. Chad continued to excel, winning -- just as Uncle Jim did -- the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition. Chad made the national finals five times and won it four times, performing before thousands in NFL stadiums.

As early as seventh grade, Kevin Kelly would tell his son, "if you have one or two years under your belt, [colleges] are all going to be after you."

And they were.

If you wanted to check on Chad Kelly's status on the recruiting rating boards the last two years, or to see what colleges were interested in him, then you likely googled "Chad Kelly football."

When you search those terms -- even today -- on the first two pages of results, there is a link to a story published Oct. 19, 2009 by the York (Pa.) Daily Record. The headline reads: "QB Chad Kelly dismissed from Red Lion football team."

That was his sophomore season, in which he started five games, and no reason was given for his dismissal. Other stories state that Kelly started one game as a freshman -- as the only freshman on the team -- before being suspended for the final seven games "for undisclosed reasons."

"It's beyond ridiculous what happened," Chad said.

Chad has explanations for three separate incidents that happened at Red Lion. His accounts certainly wouldn't lead one to think that the punishment fit the crime, or if there was any crime at all. Ultimately it is something of a he-said, school-said over incidents that are seemingly too petty to go into, and seemingly too petty to force a football player's family to move out of town.

But that's what happened.

"Being down there, it was a nice place," said Kevin Kelly, who moved his family back to Wheatfield last year. "But it wasn't the right place. It was an area, that if you weren't from there, you were treated a little differently. They had an agenda for another player to play."

That might sound a little crazy, until you think about the culture of high school football in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio or Texas. You think about towns where boosters put tiny footballs in the cribs of every newborn (like Massillon, Ohio, home of an 18,000-seat stadium), or ones that recruit the parents for the local industry because their son happens to be a promising football player.

At Red Lion, Chad Kelly said, there were study halls that were given to all the football players so they could get together to watch film, and he referred to his academic schedule as being different than a typical student's -- a "football player's schedule." On the day after he was dismissed from his team as a freshman, Kelly said, a rival school in the region called him and asked him to transfer.

There is a passion for high school football that takes over small towns, and shows itself in lawn signs (the ones reserved for political races in New York) and huge bumper stickers and thousands upon thousands of fans in the stadium. So one has to consider how some people, who have lived their whole lives so that their son could play on the high school football team, might react when a new kid moves into town with enough talent to win national Punt, Pass and Kick titles and be the only freshman on the team.

On the posting of that 2009 story about Kelly, there is a reader feedback section at the bottom of the page. There are 339 comments.

"There was so much that my family had going for them, but it just wasn't working out for me," Kelly said. "They knew that if I was going to reach my goal of playing college football, the only way I was going to be able to do it was up here.

"My mom and my dad have sacrificed so much for me to be in this position right now. My dad took a pay cut. We had a great life, but things didn't work out down there. People don't realize what my family and I went through to be in this position to go to college for free."

>Nothing to hide

St. Joe's coach Dennis Gilbert has a demeanor that is as no-nonsense as a policeman's. That's because he is one.

The City of Buffalo police officer is entering his second year as the head coach of the Marauders, which means he is entering his second year answering questions about his standout quarterback.

Gilbert's head was spinning early this year as the recruiting race heated up, as major college coaches made inquiries, dropped in day after day, sometimes unannounced, doing research on a player in whom they were hoping to make a major investment. In the player they invest not only the university's scholarship money, but also their reputation and, ultimately, their job.

"In talking to these coaches, who have all this on the line, and they ask, and I tell them, 'The kid doesn't have anything to hide,' " said Gilbert. "There's a lot out there, and 99 percent of it is bull. I said, 'I'll give it to you straight, because the next time I have a kid that can play at your school, you might not be there, but you might be [at a different program] -- I don't want you saying, I don't want to talk to that coach, or I'm not going to that school because he sold me a bag of crud.'

"When I sat down with these coaches, and I told them, the recurring theme when we were done talking about that aspect of Chad -- his past -- was

" 'And?'

"I'm like, that's it."

A reporter from the York, Pa., area called Gilbert earlier this year, looking to keep tabs on Kelly's recruiting.

"I told him, 'Thank God your community is different. Because he'd still be there if it wasn't, and we wouldn't have had him here. I thank God every day for it.' And the guy's like, 'Whaddya mean?' "

Kelly's experience in Pennsylvania, or just growing up with his famous uncle, was something else Gilbert talked about with recruiters.

"Most guys with his talent, with his skill set, they have to learn in college or maybe beyond -- they have trouble learning how to live life living in a fishbowl," Gilbert said. "And whether it's good or bad, he's been forced to learn how to live in a fishbowl as a teenager -- as a young teenager.

"Is it fair? No. But you know what? It's not fair that he can throw the ball farther than anybody, it's not fair that he's faster than everybody, it's not fair that he can read a defense bing-bang-boom and get to a fourth progression. There's good to it, and there's bad to it. It is what it is and it's how you deal with it."

>No special delivery

When Chad Kelly arrived at St. Joe's for the second half of his sophomore year, he was told in an interview with president Robert T. Scott that there would be no special treatment, and that he would have to dig himself out of a hole academically. Kelly responded with a GPA that has risen ever since.

"I'm so happy I moved here," Kelly said. "This is the greatest thing I've ever done."

His arrival at St. Joe's was not trumpeted. Current teammate Kyle Briggs didn't know who he was.

"One day after school, there was [talk of] 'Chad Kelly, Chad Kelly,' " said Briggs. "I was like, 'Who's Chad Kelly?'

"We got outside and this kid threw a 70-yard pass right after school. I was like, 'Ohhh, that's Chad Kelly.' "

But you don't get recruited by the best in the nation, you don't lead your team to a 7-on-7 title at a national recruiting showcase, and you don't get named one of ESPN's "Elite 11" quarterbacks in the Class of 2012 just because you can punt, pass and kick it the farthest.

"His presnap [read] is phenomenal," said Gilbert. "He's driving the bus before the ball is snapped, for sure. He knows where the open guy should be. There's an adjustment, maybe there's a blitz, or they drop someone into coverage. He can make that on the fly. And when he doesn't see it, he doesn't wait on it, it's boom, he goes. He doesn't hesitate. He trusts his instinct because he's confident in his ability."

>Playing head games

Gilbert's favorite story told to a recruiter came in response to one who asked him, "Coach, when did you know he had it all?"

It took all of three quarters of his first game for St. Joe's, a 48-21 loss to eventual state champion Aquinas of Rochester.

"It's the third quarter, and it's third and 10 or 12 on our 15 or 10, and we have a breakdown inside, and the big kid [6-foot-7, 308-pound Jarron Jones, who verbally committed to Notre Dame this week] is chasing Chad. Chad's running to his right, he's breathing down his neck, and Chad lays one out down the right sideline, the Aquinas sideline, and he threw it like 65 yards.

"A kid picks it off and he comes flying up the field, Chad tackles him at the 1-yard line -- almost pulls his head off his shoulders.

"So he comes off, and he's gotta walk all the way up the sideline. And I'm just looking at him. Most kids, when they make a mistake, the eyes are down, the head is down, maybe there's a a little limp because they're always banged up when something like that happens.

"He gets up, and looks up the sideline, and I can see it like it was yesterday. He stands up and looks, shakes his head, and I make eye contact with him. And he's 50 yards down the field. The entire way walking up the field, he's looking right in my face.

"And I'm just looking at him, and he got 4 yards away from me, and I just said to him, said 'Why? Why? Was that a feel-good throw, Chad? Was that a frustration throw?'

"He never took his eyes off me. And he says to me, 'Coach, because I can throw it farther than he can kick it.'

"I was like, 'He didn't just say that.' For that to be going through his head, in a high-stress, fight-or-flight environment, with that guy chasing you, and to lay one that far down the field, for that to be your mind-set? Field position -- it's third down and we've got to kick anyway, so I can throw."

"The college coach says to me, 'That's a ballplayer -- a guy who can think that fast, when his mind's rolling.' He says, 'that's the difference.' "

Gilbert says that Kelly is physically stronger entering this season, but he has been more impressed that Kelly's demeanor hasn't changed.

The night of Kelly's most impressive high school performance, St. Joe's coaches and alums gathered in a tavern across the street from the school to celebrate the Marauders' first Monsignor Martin title since 2006. At about 12:30 a.m., about an hour after the team had returned to the school to turn in its equipment, Gilbert was talking to St. Joe's basketball coach Mark Simon when Simon looked at his phone.

"Guess who this is?," Simon said.

"I don't know," said Gilbert.

"It's Chad," Simon said. "He's asking me what time practice is."

Simon told Kelly not to worry about practice.

The next morning, Kelly was sitting in his car in the parking lot, waiting for Simon to open the door.

"He went from being the superstar, to do everything, to being a role player, with never a puss on his face," said Gilbert. "To me, that's what symbolizes the kid. That's how he is."

>A good fit

When the Kellys were considering college programs, they put an emphasis on pro-style offenses.

Anyone who has heard one minute of NFL Draft analysis will have heard that a college quarterback from a pro-style offense is much better suited to thrive in the NFL than the spread quarterbacks who have questions about their ability attached to them like helmet stickers.

"It's kind of a whole family philosophy," Kevin said. "If you really want to make it to the next level, you go with a pro-style offense, and he wants to make it to the next level. He's seen what Jim has, and he wants it, and he's working for it."

"Chad always had the potential to go from high school to college, and he's doing that, and now you want to put him in a position to achieve his dreams," Jim said. "It's one step at a time, but you want to put him in position to have every opportunity to make it to the next level.

"It's still a long way away. In high school, he's all-conference, all-state, but at the next level, so is everybody else. At major colleges, the guys are just as good."

For now, there is St. Joe's always-challenging schedule that starts Saturday with a home rematch against Aquinas, and a title to defend against teams like St. Francis and Canisius, which have major college football talent as well.

"It should be an exciting season, and I look forward to cheering him on," said Jim. "If I'm in town, I'll be there. I'm still Uncle Jim, and I'll be pulling for him."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

Check out a making-the-cover video at buffalonews.com

***

Chad Kelly at a glance

School: St. Joe's Class: Senior Height: 6-3 Weight: 215

40-yard dash: 4.6 seconds (according to rivals.com)

College committment: Clemson (his other finalists were the University at Buffalo, Syracuse, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State and Purdue).

Recruiting ratings

ESPNU 150: 81st nationally; 15th in the Atlantic region; first in New York State. Fifth in the nation at quarterback.

Rivals.com: 248th nationally; third in New York State. Sixth in the nation among dual-threat quarterbacks.

2010 statistics

RUSHING PASSING

Att / Yds / TD / Long / PA / PC / Pct / Long / Yds / TD / Int

86 / 1,057 / 15 / 85 / 249 / 137 / 55.0 / 75 / 2,159 / 24 / 8

Defense: 16 tackles, one interception, one blocked field goal

2010 honors: First-team All-Western New York. Monsignor Martin Offensive Player of the Year. Connolly Cup finalist. Offensive MVP of Monsignor Martin Championship (eight runs, 170 yards; 191 yards on 7-of-18 passing in 49-20 rout of St. Francis).