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Rising Star: Tailback Yusef Kelly

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

August 20, 2002 CLEMSON - Keith Kelly made an impression in 1999. Now, after a redshirt season, he is back with more size, more strength and a new name.

Kelly, a 6-0, 230-pound redshirt sophomore tailback from Walterboro, S.C., recently replaced Keith with his given name of Yusef. Yusef Lakeith Kelly had switched to just Keith before coming to Clemson, because his teachers had a difficult time pronouncing his name.

Kelly made a definite impression in mop-up duty as a freshman. He was one of four first-year players to letter in 1999, and he played the most plays (106) among the group, rushing 49 times for 243 yards and two touchdowns. His high game was 93 yards on 16 carries against Wake Forest. He scored both of his touchdowns in a rout of Missouri. His per-carry average of 5.0 yards was more than one-half yard higher than Clemson's team average from last season.

With the now-departed Travis Zachery firmly entrenched at tailback in 2001, Kelly asked for and was granted a redshirt season. By spring practice, the work he put in while sitting out started showing up. The Clemson camp buzzed with chatter about Kelly's speed, strength and balance.

Senior Bernard Rambert enters this fall as the starting tailback, but Rambert is going to receive a real push from Kelly. Kelly can't match Rambert's experience, but insiders describe Kelly as an extremely confident running back with more natural ability. In Clemson's first major spring scrimmage, Kelly carried 13 times for 103 yards. With the coaching staff trying to keep him under wraps, he carried just five times in the Tigers' final spring scrimmage.

Since his arrival in 1999, Kelly has added 20 pounds to his body and increased his speed. He is the fastest running back and the sixth-fastest player on the team, having run a reported 4.32
40-yard dash. That's the kind of speed coach Tommy Bowden has wanted to see in the backfield from his first day on the job. In the last decade, Clemson running backs have been more plodding than speedy, and Kelly will provide a definite change of pace.

"I'm playing more tailbacks this year," Bowden said. "Bernard is the first guy, Keith is the second guy, and I don't know who the third guy is yet. I would like to use three tailbacks in the first half of the Georgia game."

Kelly was highly rated out of high school. He rushed for more than 4,200 yards and 54 touchdowns at Walterboro High. He played in just six games as a senior because of an injury but still rushed for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns.