Meet Nick Kelly, the new Alabama football reporter whose family roots trace back to Joe Namath's hometown

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The quarterback zipped the football at my chest, and rational thought disappeared. 

Instead of jumping out of the way, I caught it.

Only moments before, I had snapped him the ball and got into my pass set. Without a nose tackle or middle linebacker over me, I chipped the defensive tackles. But after a few seconds, the ball still hadn’t flown past us.

I turned around and right before the defensive end could take my quarterback to the ground, the football shot toward 13-year-old me. Despite my bricks for hands, reflexes kicked in.

Now what?

Nick Kelly

I’d never caught a football in a game before and never did again. As a career lineman, I knew I wasn’t allowed to touch the football, and I definitely wasn’t supposed to run with it. But logic wasn’t part of the equation here. Just impulse.

I saw plenty of open grass in front of me. That’s the beauty of being an ineligible receiver – coverages don’t account for you. So off I went.

When given a prime opportunity, why not run with it?

The same can be said for my chance to cover Alabama football and athletics for The Tuscaloosa News and the USA TODAY Network. With a college football machine, rich history and fanbase with unparalleled passion, I see plenty of open grass in Tuscaloosa.

I’m new to the South, so please send any and all tips on how to survive the heat and humidity of summers. Please. At least I won't have to shovel heat. 

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I grew up about 1,000 miles north, but I’ve always been well aware of Alabama’s success and even some of its history. Part of that comes from a few stories my grandpa, Patrick Kelly, has told me.

I’m from Minnesota, but the Kelly roots stem from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. If that town sounds familiar, it’s probably because of this name: Joe Namath.

Grandpa, two years younger, went to high school and played some sports with the future Alabama quarterback. Grandpa always followed Namath’s career and was the first person I heard mention the names Joe Namath and "Bear" Bryant years before I knew I’d end up in Tuscaloosa.

After high school, Grandpa went into the Navy where he met my Minnesotan grandma, Milly, and they later moved to the frozen tundra I call home.

I loved growing up and working in Minnesota, a state with 10,000 lakes, plenty of kindness and a fair amount of passive aggressiveness. We’re happy to give you directions to anywhere but our house. But I also love living in different places.

My first time away from home came while studying at the University of Missouri, where I covered SEC football for three years. The one year I didn’t, I spent half a year in Florida, writing about the NHL’s Lightning for the Tampa Bay Times. Then one summer I moved to Massachusetts, where I worked for the Boston Globe as a sports intern. And yes, a Bill Belichick press conference is as underwhelming as it looks.

I’m ecstatic Tuscaloosa is my next stop. I’ll bring a passion for storytelling and football as well as a curiosity to learn more about the game every day. You’ll be right there with me in that journey, learning together, as I pass along what I glean. 

I’m here to serve you, and I’m grateful for that chance.  

This time, I’m actually eligible for this prime opportunity, unlike my catch-and-run as a 13-year-old.

I made it about 40 or 50 yards before I was tackled and the officials threw the flags. Well, OK, maybe more like 15 or 20, but it felt like a lot more as someone whose physique and cardiovascular condition weren’t about to be confused with a receiver.

Now a decade later, metaphorical football in hand, I’m ready for the marathon that is the Alabama football beat.

I hope you’ll join me on my run.

Follow Nick Kelly on Twitter @_NickKelly.