CENTRE – There’s always a special bond between a high school head football coach and his seniors. Cherokee County High School’s Jacob Kelley and his seniors are no exception.
The Warriors (7-4 in 2020) had five of their seniors officially sign college scholarships on Wednesday morning at a ceremony in the school gym. The five were lineman Silas Robertson (Greensboro College in North Carolina), wide receiver/defensive back Colten Hill (Faulkner University in Montgomery), offensive lineman/defensive end Nas Diamond (Faulkner), wide receiver/defensive back Connor Elrod (Shorter University in Rome, Ga.), and all-purpose athlete Slade Alexander (Jacksonville State University).
“I love the fact that ya’ll did things the way I wanted them done,” Kelley told the seniors after they signed their papers. “Ya’ll are hard workers. Ya’ll come in with a great attitude every day. When you’ve got kids like these, it’s not work for me. It’s fun.”
Kelley spoke to those in attendance about the impressions each of the five seniors had on him, beginning with Robertson.
“Me and Silas kind of came to Cherokee County together,” Kelley said. “I remember after our first spring game, I met him for the first time along the fence. He came from Georgia and the first thing I said to him was ‘Me too.’ He’s been a blessing. He fit right in with this team. He played two years, started every game at Centre and did a fantastic job for us. He’s a tremendously hard worker. He never missed a workout. I remember him texting me daily ‘Have you got my enrollment papers so I can come work out?’ It’s little things like that with my players I don’t forget.”
Robertson said Greensboro’s team “felt like family.”
“How the coaches were reminded me of ya’ll (Cherokee County),” he said.
Kelley spoke on Hill next, describing him as “the Cherokee County football historian.”
“From day one in my office, he’s giving me and filling me in on the history of Cherokee County, almost on a daily basis,” Kelley said. “Colten, coming in, was failing three out of four classes. He had long hair and I was like ‘No way this kid plays football.’ Within the first nine weeks, he was passing everything. He finally committed himself in the weight room. He is a two-year starter for me at receiver. His senior year he had 50 tackles and three interceptions, and out of all the players we had on the team, this guy played the most out of anybody we had on the whole roster. He was on everything but PAT.
“I could not be more proud of this kid. He’s worked tremendously hard. He’s had a great attitude daily. He’s one of those players who would run through a wall for you. He’s 100 percent committed to Cherokee County. As a coach, you love that.”
Hill said he was appreciative of the opportunity Faulkner has given him.
“It just felt like home and it felt like it would be right fit, so I decided to go with them,” he said.
Next up on Kelley’s list to talk about was Diamond, who joins Hill at Faulkner.
“I remember Nas had some height about him. I was like ‘That’s a good looking kid,’” Kelley recalled. “I was excited, and I would go to Coach (Caleb) Hays and Coach (Brad) Weaver and all the coaches he played for and I was like ‘Tell me about Nas.’ They were filling me in on Nas and how much of a hard worker he was.
“You just can’t explain what he is and what he was to this football team, as far as a vocal leader, somebody who just would do anything for this team. He played both ways and never came off the field, other than to try to get him off on some special teams. He had 126 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, and he also played every snap of the season at right tackle. It’s rare to have somebody who plays that many snaps and is productive, but it’s for the team. It’s for Cherokee County, and it’s important to him.”
Like Hill, Diamond felt a special connection with the Faulkner coaches.
“It felt the place for me because the coaches welcomed me as soon as I got there,” he said.
After speaking on Diamond, Kelley turned to Elrod, describing him as “a silent giant.”
“It took me a while to figure Connor out because he would come in, he’d do the work, and by the time I wanted to talk to him, he’d be gone,” Kelley said. “He just has that separate fire about him when it comes to game time. I don’t think I’ve had a player who has as much tenacity as he has when the ball is thrown out. I’m excited for Shorter, because I don’t feel like (Shorter head coach) Zach (Morrison) knows what he’s getting, but he’s about to find out. Zach was a teammate of mine.
“As a junior, Elrod had about 23, 25 catches for 350 receiving yards, a couple of returns for touchdowns. As a senior, he basically played half the season at receiver and we moved him to tight end because we needed him in the box because of his blocking capability. Never once did he come in and say ‘Coach, I need the ball.’ It was never about anything but the team.
“Defensively, you talk about a guy who hardly came off the field, 110 tackles, one pick, maybe two, seven tackles for a loss. An all-county and all-region player, two years he’s been on the verge of all-state, one as a receiver and one as a defensive player. I couldn’t be more excited and sad to lose him. You talk about unselfish players, that type of attitude is going to take you a long way.”
Elrod said being at a school close to home was “a big thing for me.”
“Every time I visited up there, the coaches did a good job of making me feel welcome,” he said.
Finally, Kelley turned his attention to Alexander.
Alexander, a multi-purpose threat at quarterback, running back and defensive back, broke his ankle in a Week 5 game against White Plains last season, but persevered. He recovered in time for the Warriors’ first-round playoff game at Mobile Christian.
“He broke his ankle game five and should’ve been done for the year, but you don’t want to tell him no,” Kelley said. “Dr. (Adam) Shaw was like ‘He’s done.’ I was like ‘Did you tell Slade that? Does he know that? Ya’ll talked about this?’ You can’t tell somebody no when they’ve got it inside their heart and mind. He knew in his heart he was going to be back on that field.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he was medically cleared the day before Mobile Christian. He got the chance, and he literally did everything – threw the ball, ran the ball, caught the ball, tackled the ball. He did everything. He caught three passes in that game and almost broke one for a touchdown.”
Alexander said he was down on himself following his injury, but a call from Jacksonville State assistant coach Josh Linam reaffirmed him the Gamecocks still had him on their list.
“Coach Linam was like ‘We still believe in you,’” Alexander said. “After he saw my potential and saw what I could do and I was healthy and he believed in me through the adversity I faced, after that, I was like ‘It’s time to go.’ Jacksonville has always been a dream school of mine.”
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