January 31, 2023

Corey Kelly’s coaches knew they had a special talent on their hands early in the football star’s career at Clear Falls High School.

The 2021 first-team All-District selection for Texas 24-6A and the current commitment of the Baylor Bears made a serious impact in his first year as a standout JV. Kelly was originally slated to jump into varsity for the Clear Falls playoff game this season before coach Zach Head encouraged Kelly to focus on the basketball program instead. Kelly — a dual-sport athlete who compares himself to Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green — complied. But he was more than ready to return to the gridiron for the move to varsity football.

“There are few players that I’ve coached who see the game as well as he does,” Head said. “He saw the game very well early on, so we were able to do so much with him.”

Kelly recorded 69 tackles and seven tackles for losses during his sophomore season in Clear Falls, a year he says his stock has “really skyrocketed” as a potential college recruit. Kelly has an imposing 6-foot-2 with a 210-pound frame, and Clear Falls defensive coordinator Destry Cope is quick to point out his reach from sideline to sideline. But for both Head and Cope, Kelly’s physical attributes are almost secondary. His advanced football IQ makes him a prospect who might even shine in a Power Five conference.

“Even the last game of the season when we played [C.E. King], he played everything from defensive end to safety. That’s about the widest range you can get,” Cope said. “You will have children who can handle and direct themselves and do what they are supposed to do. But with him he sees formations and can tell people what’s coming all the way across the field.”

The ability to diagnose action spurred Kelly to a dominant junior season with the Knights as he finished the year with 97 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks, 11 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. And while Kelly was filling out the stat sheet, big programs were calling. He received offers from Houston, Memphis, Texas Tech, and Boston College, among others, but verbally accepted Baylor in June 2022. Kelly says he will officially sign with the Bears on February 1, along with a handful of his teammates at Clear Falls.

Kelly highlighted a handful of factors as the driving force behind his commitment to the bears. He cited the family atmosphere within the program and his enjoyable experiences traveling to Waco. Most importantly, Kelly was impressed with Baylor’s coaching staff. He noted his close relationship with Bears linebacker coach Caleb Collins, who Kelly said he quickly “knew was going to be someone I could trust.”

Then there’s the head coach. Dave Aranda joined the Bears after four years as LSU’s defense coordinator and three seasons with Wisconsin in the same role. Aranda led a top-12 defense in five straight seasons from 2013-17, then led Baylor to a 12-2 record and a Sugar Bowl win in 2021. Aranda’s defensive pedigree continues to be a selling point for recruits at the Lone Star State .

“Those LSU teams that he was on were some of the best defensive teams in college football,” Kelly said. “Growing up, I always watched these teams. It definitely helped with the decision.”

Baylor’s latest front seven signing downplayed his expectations of his early years with the Bears. He wants to “make an impact in any way he can,” says Kelly, adding that his primary goal is to lead Baylor to a Big 12 title. Such an approach is usual for him. Cope and Head emphasize Kelly’s team-first attitude and desire to uplift those around him. These properties should be quickly implemented to the next level.

“He represents what our program is about,” Head said. “Hard work. Selflessness. I know he will do great things at Baylor and maybe beyond.”

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