MADISON - For Brendan Kelly, the past year has been difficult to say the least. With three separate groin procedures, Kelly has had to endure plenty of rehab and anguish trying to fight his way back.
Now that he's finally healthy, Kelly is quickly working his way up the depth chart. At the conclusion of Thursday's practice, BadgerBlitz.com had a chance to catch up with the junior defensive end.
The following is a question and answer with Kelly:
You are five practices in now, how are you doing? You're looking healthy.
Kelly: It feels pretty good. I've definitely been eager to get back for over a year now. The time is finally here and it's time to shine.
Was there ever a time where you thought maybe you wouldn't get back out there?
Kelly: I always thought I'd be back. I always knew in my heart that I'd be back. I'm a football player. I'm meant to play football. I have a passion for the game that is so strong that it wouldn't be put there if I wasn't meant to play. A lot of people counted me out sometimes and a lot of people thought it wasn't going to happen. But at the end of the day it doesn't matter what other people say, it's what you do with it.
Talk about some of the rehab you had to go through? What would you do a lot of the time when you weren't out practicing?
Kelly: I underwent three surgeries. Every day is about three or four hours or rehab and waking up before everybody else does and doing actual work. It's just battling through and just trying to stay focused. The physical part is just showing up and doing it. The mental part is what gets you. I took a lot of pride because it took a lot of strength to get through that.
Watching you during the three practices that we've been able to watch it seems like you have pretty good burst off the edge. Your groin is not affected at all?
Kelly: No, I've been doing real well. Thank God I've been healthy so far and I want to continue that way. That's the plan as long as I just keep making steps in practices. I think I'll keep getting back to what I used to be able to do.
Are the coaches pretty impressed with you? Do you feel like you're impressing people right now?
Kelly: I'm not impressing myself. I always feel like there is room for improvement. I never give myself enough credit, but I think I'm doing alright. As long as I keep moving myself forward I think I'll be alright.
Is it a goal of yours to crack the two-deep this spring?
Are you in the two-deep right now?
Kelly: I'm second string right now and I've been rolling with the ones here and there. We'll see where that leads.
You've been in the program for a while now. Is this the deepest you've seen the defensive line, especially at defensive end?
Kelly: We've all had such limited numbers it's like playing defensive line with three or four defensive ends. You've got to keep the rotation and it's hectic. We've got some young guys stepping up like Warren Herring, Konrad Zagzebski, Jake Irwin and all those guys.
It's nice to have those guys because you have an actual one, two and third line. You don't have to worry about if you're a second stringer running with the threes. It's great to bring those guys along and see them develop. They can watch and learn from the older, more experienced guys and still get time to develop with the younger guys.
It doesn't even stop at defensive end. The defensive tackles are pretty loaded, too. You've got a great rotation there.
Kelly: Yeah, and the good thing is that we have a lot of experience at defensive tackle. At defensive end we lose J.J. Watt, but at the same time we get Patrick Butrym, Jordan Kohout, Ethan Hemer and all those guys. That's great just to bring those young guys up too.
Do you have a relationship with J.J? Do you still talk to him?
Kelly: Yeah, J.J. and I are real tight. He is one of my good friends. We came in together pretty much. We hung out a lot and he's going through and exciting time in his life so best of luck to him. I'm sure he'll be doing alright in a couple of months.
Is he giving you pointers?
Kelly: Yeah, he gives us a lot of pointers. He's been training a lot lately in Arizona, but when he comes back he's giving us some tips that really help. The best thing about J.J. is that anytime you need to call him he's going to pick up the phone. If you've got a question you can ask him.
The rest of spring, and you kind of hit on it a little bit, but what are your personal goals?
Kelly: Personally, first and foremost, stay healthy. I'm finally out here and I want to stay out here. Second off, like you said, I want to crack the two deep and just really progress and get my skills back on the defensive line because I've been out of the game for so long. And just really mature and solidify myself as a leader on the defense.