OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly created quite a stir at SEC media days last month when he said he was not only the best quarterback in the conference, but that he was "the best quarterback in the nation."
“It wasn’t shocking because he’s Chad,” wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow said Monday at the team’s media day. “He says whatever he wants.”
But while Kelly’s comments might not have come as a surprise to his teammates, they also believe him when he says he’s the best quarterback in college football. They see the work he puts in. They see the type of leader he is.
“He’s not going to let you be average,” Stringfellow said. “No matter if you’re the starter or the water boy, he wants you to give it your all, and that’s what we need as a leader. That’s what makes him such a great player. He’s never satisfied.”
Offensive lineman Javon Patterson added: “As an offensive line, as a whole team, we feel like we have the weapons to make stuff like that happen, for him to be the best quarterback.”
Senior tight end Evan Engram was with Kelly in Hoover, Alabama, for media days. He, too, was making the rounds and fielding questions from various reporters throughout the day. He wasn’t in the room when Kelly called himself the nation’s best quarterback, but as soon as the comments began trickling out on social media, Engram’s phone started blowing up.
“He’s tripping,” one of his friends texted him.
“No, y’all are tripping,” Engram responded. “He really is.”
Nobody will debate that Kelly is the best quarterback in the SEC heading into 2016. In his first year in the league, the junior college transfer led all players in passing yards (4,042), passing yards per game (310.9) and passing touchdowns (31). Over the team’s last four games, he accounted for 1,524 total yards, 11 passing touchdowns, six rushing touchdowns and just one interception.
“How he came in the SEC and balled against great opponents, the best conference in the country, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Engram said. “And he’s confident in that because he knows the work that he’s put in this offseason to be even better than he was last year.”
But the best quarterback in the nation? That’s a discussion that includes Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, as well as Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. All three of those guys have been mentioned as potential candidates to win the Heisman Trophy.
Should Kelly also be in that conversation? It might depend on how Ole Miss fares in the month of September.
“It doesn’t get any better than that [first month],” Engram said. “You have Florida State and Alabama, that’s two top-10 teams. Georgia could creep into the top 10 by that time as well. If we come out 4-0 from that, then of course [Kelly should be in Heisman talks].
“I think his name should be up there before the season starts.”
As for Kelly, he’s just as confident as ever. But he heard about his comments at media days when he arrived back in Oxford the next day.
“You’ve got to be a lot more humble than that,” Kelly said Monday. “But you’ve got to have the confidence. I have confidence in my players around me -- my offensive line, my running backs, my wide receivers, and the defense and special teams. I feel as if we have the best team in the country.
"You’ve got to have that feeling. But otherwise, we’re ready to go. We’re excited about this opportunity and want to have a great year.”