Weber State transfer Jack Kelly out to make most of BYU, Big 12 opportunity

BYU linebacker Jack Kelly speaks with the media after spring practice, Monday, March 4, 2024 at the indoor practice facility in Provo, Utah. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

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PROVO β€” Jack Kelly doesn't think of himself as a "COVID casualty," but a missed opportunity for many Football Bowl Subdivision schools when he came out of Kearns High in 2021.

Then-Weber State coach Jay Hill made sure he didn't miss on the all-state performer then β€” and he wasn't about to miss twice when the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker hit the transfer portal.

Kelly had 59 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions during his career at Kearns, but was perhaps best known for what he did on offense, when he caught 66 passes for 1,299 yards and 13 touchdowns en rotue to 6A all-state second-team honors as a senior in 2020.

That landed him recruiting interest from Utah State, Air Force, new Mexico, Army and Montana State β€” former BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki also recruited him, but the Cougars never landed an official visit with the prospect β€” before Kelly ultimately signed with Hill and Weber State and quickly turned heads.

He was just happy to play college football, Kelly said.

"Everybody wants to play in the FBS out of high school," Kelly told reporters after BYU's third spring practice Monday afternoon. "But Weber State is a great program, and I was just happy to have an opportunity to play Division I. I still worked as hard as I could; my goal is still to make it to the NFL, and I had to work as hard as I could at Weber. I'm grateful they brought me here."

The do-everything defensive end, edge rusher and inside and outside linebacker redshirted his first season with the Wildcats before totaling 85 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, seven pass breakups and an interception in 28 games over three years. He led the Big Sky Conference with 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, then opted for the transfer portal to prove himself at the FBS level.

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But when Hill, head coach Kalani Sitake and the rest of the coaching staff reached out to him through the transfer portal, Kelly didn't need much introduction. He was already interested in a reunion with his old FCS head coach whose defense he already had an "understanding of what we're trying to get done," Hill said.

"He knows how I coach," the second-year BYU defensive coordinator added. "He's one of the strongest players on our team, and he's running really good right now. I've been really impressed with him right now."

Kelly flirted with the transfer portal a year ago β€” around the time Hill left Weber State to take over as defensive coordinator, associate head coach and safeties coach at BYU β€” but ultimately decided to return to Weber State to move from defensive end to linebacker and total 56 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception while earning the nickname "Sack Kelly" from Wildcat diehards.

he also kept an eye on former teammates Eddie Heckard and Kamden Garrett, and watched them bloom into NFL prospects under one more year of Hill's tutelage.

So the connection to his old coach didn't hurt. But that wasn't the biggest selling point for Kelly's matriculation south. That would be the opportunity to play in an expanded 16-team Big 12, which will welcome Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah in the fall.

"That was a lot," Kelly said of the new conference. "It's high-stakes, Power Five football, and it was a huge factor for me."

He's not the only one. Hill stresses that he's never contacted a player before they hit the transfer portal β€” doing so would be an NCAA violation. But he added a pair of transfers from his previous school for the second straight year in Kelly, who was rated a four-star transfer by 247Sports, and cornerback Marque Collins.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound defensive back from Sacramento, California was an all-Big Sky performer who helped the Wildcats to three conference championships and four trips to the FCS playoffs in parts of six seasons, when he made 100 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions and also returned kicks.

"He plays a lot like Eddie, but he's a dang good mix of (Heckard and Garrett)," Hill said of Collins. "He's a good football player, he's got athleticism, he's got physicality and ball skills. Right now, he's coming off an ACL injury so he won't be with us this spring. But he's way ahead of his rehab. I think the trainers and doctors have done a good job with him."

So far, Kelly hasn't regretted his movement β€” both on the field or off it.

"Everyone here has been so welcoming, and the family culture over where has been very beneficial for my transition," he said. "It's been a stressful time, but everyone has made it an awesome transition."

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