After a two year stint as Cedartown’s offensive coordinator, Jacob Kelley is back to his head coaching ways.
He will have big shoes to fill, though; Kelley is taking the reigns as head coach of the Cherokee County Warriors of Centre, Alabama, not far across the state line from Polk County.
The Warriors are in 4-A and compete in Region 6 against the likes of Jacksonville, Anniston, and Hokes Bluff. The Cedartown native will replace Thomas Curry as head coach.
Curry was the man in charge of the Warriors for 18 seasons and led the program to their only state championship a decade ago, but retired after posting a 4-6 record in 2018.
When the Cherokee County (AL) job opened, Kelley said that it did not take long for him to jump at the offer.
“I spent two years as an assistant and I could feel the desire to be the head man once again. I had turned down a job or two already by early December when Cherokee County became an option,” said Kelley.
The former Cedartown quarterback stated that the person who informed him of the opening was actually his father, Everett Kelley, who now lives in Centre.
“My father actually sent me the link, telling me that Centre was open. We played Cherokee County a couple years ago and I am very aware of their history,” he said. “They are a great school with a talented football program.”
Kelley recalled Cherokee County’s 2009 state championship, as he watched from the stands as the Warriors won the Blue Map over Jackson at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
“They haven’t been back to the title game since, but there’s some great football and great tradition here,” he said. “That really started my interest in coaching at Cherokee County. Centre is a great place to build something, to be here for a long time. We hit the ground running in January and have not let up since.”
It was no secret that Kelley was loved by the players in his time at Cedartown, and he is keeping that same energy while heading west.
As Kelley stated, “The thing I am most excited for at Cherokee County is getting to build relationships with these kids. When I look at them, I see a very similar situation as I had initially at Cedartown. I have gotten to known them for a few months, so I’m getting to know their weaknesses, strengths, and body language. Some guys may not have the best home life or living situation, but I always try to preach that we can only focus on what we can control- giving 110% for the program by doing well in the classroom, in the weight room, at home, and finally, on the field.”
His presence with the players, though, is what has resonated with them the most so far.
“I think the fact that I am with them, every day, is big for them. They want to work and get better. We have upgraded the weight room at the school which I feel is key. I’ll always put an emphasis on strength and conditioning- it’s my baby. I love that development phase and I love getting to see the guys get better. It has definitely been a great offseason for us,” said Kelley.
There is no time to sit back and rest, though, for the first-year head coach of the Warriors.
“The off-season has been a success, but we have to keep it up through the summer. If we have 55 guys on the roster, we need 55 at practice every single day, improving with each other,” he said. “That way in the fall we will all be on the same page and we will all be all-in.”
When asked about a possible Cedartown-Cherokee County matchup in the future, Jacob Kelley said that he would not rule it out.
“Well, we have played in the past, even as recently as two years ago. We are finishing up a scheduling-contract year right now, so it would not be possible for 2019,” he said. “But, as far as the future goes, I would not say it is completely out of question. Personally, I would like for the guys I coached up to be graduated by then.”
“It would be a bittersweet feeling for me, seeing them on the other sideline and rooting for the opposing players just as hard as I am for my own guys,” he added. “We are bringing back one rivalry, as soon as next year, in Piedmont.”
The Warriors have not played the Bulldogs since 2017 and have not defeated Piedmont since 2009.
No matter where he goes, Coach Jacob Kelley said he will not forget where he came from and the guys he coached over the past two seasons.
As the CHS graduate mentioned, “I definitely have a lot of history with Cedartown. I could not be more proud of the guys over there. They have all put in so much work and I know for certain that it will result in a lot of success coming their way. I have a lot of love for those guys.”
What can Cherokee County fans expect in year one of the Kelley administration?
“Fans can expect to see relentless effort on the field. Our goal is to make it to the playoffs. Like any program, we have long-term and short-term goals. Our long-term goals are to win the region championship, win all our games, and to compete for a state title, but none of that is possible without our short-term goal of making the playoffs,” said Kelley.