MATHEWS COUNTY, VA (WWBT) - Mathews High School has made some history before the season even starts.
Blue Devils' coach Carl Kelly Jr is the first African-American head football coach in the program's history.
But just because he's new to the role doesn't mean Kelly is new to the school. He played at Mathews and started his coaching career with the Blue Devils as an assistant.
"It's something new to the county," said Kelly. "A young coach, an African-American coach is just something different, so I'm excited to be a part of history in that regard."
After graduating from Mathews, Kelly headed to Virginia Union to continue playing, but was sidelined due to an injury, which re-inspired his desire to stay with the game.
"When I first got hurt, I was going to quit football all together just be done with it," Kelly said. "But seeing how my teammates were in college and they just kept encouraging me telling me not to quit, it made me get a fire back inside of me."
He knew he wasn't done with football so Kelly turned back to Mathews, where it started for him, and took up coaching hoping to impact every child's life.
"It's different, like growing up here and then coming back to coach from playing here is something I always wanted to do," Kelly said. "Just me being the lead of something, I can just lead kids and change their lives through football, and use this as my platform to reach other people."
He's looking to bring the excitement back to a program that needed some help.
"The word that I use all training camp is growth," Kelly said. "Just growing as a person, as an individual, strengthening the mind and spirit."
As far as winning goes, Kelly is looking to improve.
"A lot of people don't think we're going to win a lot of football games, but I tell people all the time we have the potential to be one of the most dominant programs in this region," Kelly said.
The Blue Devils have almost doubled the size of their roster since Kelly's return.
"If I can do anything to help a kid impact their life, that's better than me winning any football game on any Friday night," said Kelly. "It's a gap that I can help bridge for future people that want to come in and take this role."
Kelly said personal inspiration can lead to better results on the field, and even a small improvement would validate that belief. He said if the Blue Devils win one just game more than last season, his first year at the helm will be a success. Last season, the Blue Devils went 1-9.
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