ASTON >> You wouldn’t know by watching him dazzle on a football field every week that Julz Kelly is a quiet kid who would rather not talk about himself.
“He’s pretty humbled,” said Sun Valley coach Greg “Bubba” Bernhardt. “But the sky’s the limit with Julz.”
Julian “Julz” Kelly has made a major impact in his first full season of varsity football. The all-purpose junior has been a human highlight reel.
“He’s an all-around great football player,” Bernhardt said. “He’s one of the better kids that I have seen. He just does it all.”
That’s high praise coming from Bernhardt, who coached several All-Delcos during his tenure at Bonner & Prendergast. But Kelly could be one of those once-in-a-generation talents.
Last week, he torched Octorara with four touchdown runs and compiled 243 yards of total offense. He had seven carries for 153 yards and added five catches for 91 yards.
Kelly is a perfect complement to leading rusher and senior Caliph Jones, who has been a star on his own this year. Jones has rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the last four games for the Vanguards (4-3), who travel to West Chester Rustin (4-4) for a 1 o’clock kickoff Saturday. Jones enters the week as the fifth-leading rusher in Delaware County with 707 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kelly, who lines up as a wildcat quarterback, running back and wide receiver, is sixth in Delco in both receiving yardage (419) and receptions (23). As a runner, he’s averaging 10.2 yards per carry. He also plays safety and returns kick and punts.
Difficult as it may seem today, Kelly was a relative unknown coming into the season. During preseason camp in August, Bernhardt said Kelly would be a factor on offense, defense and special teams. But did anyone expect 10 touchdowns, including seven by way of run and one kick return?
“I’m not surprised, but he has improved a lot since last year,” Jones said. “I knew he had it in him. There’s nothing that ever surprises me about Julz.”
Kelly admitted he had plenty to prove coming into his junior campaign. An injury forced him to miss valuable playing time a year ago. He contributed sparingly on offense and special teams when he wasn’t hurt.
“I knew there was something I had to show them because they didn’t get to see a lot of me last year,” Kelly said. ”I broke my hand. I started the last four games, but I didn’t play much.”
Kelly’s best attributes, he said, are his speed and stutter-step. A quick glance at his Hudl.com highlights would prove him correct.
“Right now, I think, he just has to realize how good he is,” Bernhardt said. “Funny story. It was last week’s game. I forget what the situation was, but we had to punt. We’ve
been having trouble with our punting this year. Julz was just involved in a play heavily — he’s not on the punt team normally. This time I told him to come out. I said, ‘Julz, we need you to go in there and punt.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to mess it up, Coach.’ I said to him, ‘You’re not going to mess anything up.’
“Now he’s going to be our punter this week.”
And so, the legend of Julz Kelly grows …
“Even in practice you’ll look around and see him doing something different, like, did he just do that?” Bernhardt said. “It’s our job to figure out how to put him in new spots. If you’re good, teams are going to know about you. We think we have a healthy combination, with Julz and Caliph. We have other guys stepping up as well.”
First-year starting quarterback Anthony Ellis has thrived in recent weeks. In the rout of Octorara last Friday, Ellis completed 12 of 17 pass attempts for 200 yards and a score. Ellis is fifth in Delco with 857 passing yards. The offensive line is anchored by senior Shane Luedtke. James Gines, who leads the team with 25 receptions, has been a stalwart at tight end and linebacker. Sun Valley is averaging a healthy 339 yards of total offense through the first seven weeks of the season.
“We’re all confident,” Jones said. “We’re not worried about stats, we’re just worried about doing our assignments and winning the games.”
The next two weeks are a litmus test for the Vanguards, who occupy 10th place in the District 1 Class 5A standings. The top 16 teams qualify for the playoffs next month.
On deck is Rustin and Unionville (7-0), which is the top team in Class 5A.
“The Ches-Mont is never easy,” Jones said. “We just have to stay focused and believe in ourselves.”
In a team meeting this week, Bernhardt implored his players to do better. The Vanguards are two weeks removed from an embarrassing, 55-13 defeat to Oxford, a game in which “we didn’t show up for,” Bernhardt said.
“It’s time for us to take the next step,” he said. “We have two great challenges these next two weeks with Rustin and Unionville, and I think we’re capable of playing with both of them.”
Top photo: Sun Valley’s Caliph Jones, left, and Julz Kelly have paced a Sun Valley offense that is averaging 339 yards per game. The Vanguards (4-3) have a big test this weekend when they travel to West Chester Rustin (4-4) for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday.