- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Malcolm Kelly finished his college career as one of the most prolific receivers in Oklahoma history. But after hauling in 21 touchdown catches and 144 receptions during a sparkling three seasons in Norman, Kelly’s relationship with the OU coaching and training staff soured at the end.
Kelly claimed OU misdiagnosed a partially torn quad that ultimately sidelined him from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, which the Sooners lost to West Virginia, 48-28. Then, things worsened when Kelly said the OU strength staff failed to notify him he would be testing on field turf instead of AstroTurf on his pro day, which led to a blowup between him and strength coach Jerry Schmidt.
The Washington Redskins still drafted Kelly in the second round, but chronic knee issues derailed his pro career after just two seasons.
Kelly, who’s now a businessman in his native Longview, Texas, agreed to speak with SoonerNation about life after football, his relationship with OU now and what he thinks of the current Sooners’ offense:
SoonerNation: What have you been up to since football?
Malcolm Kelly: Well, I have an oil well testing company and a trucking company. We do a lot of pressure tests for fracking companies and stuff like that. The trucking company hauls a lot of dirt. Right when I got let go of the Redskins, I had already started it. We haul dirt, gravel and sand for different companies. The well testing company, we work with different oil and gas companies. I’m meeting with a guy next week, and we’re hoping to start doing business in Oklahoma.
SN: When did you think this might be what you would be doing after football?
Kelly: I knew, probably my second year in the NFL. I knew it was a limited amount of time to how long my legs would hold on. I started looking at what to invest in, and the oil and gas business was booming. A lot of my friends knew about it, and the oilfield business has been around these parts (East Texas) forever.
When I first got down (to Washington), I messed my knee up the very first training camp. Just running and something came loose. I never really was the same. I had another microfracture surgery, my second one on the same knee. Just look at the history of microfracture surgery, and it’s usually not good after one of them. And I now had two. I knew the end was coming. I knew I needed to save my money up. That’s when I realized I had to stop lying to myself like I was going to be able to play 10 years. My knees were swelling up after every practice. I had to come up with a plan B.
SN: To what extent did your knee problems contribute to your decision to come out of school early?
Kelly: That was all the reason I came out early. Even when I was younger, I used to have to take Motrin before playing little league games. I had Osgood–Schlatter, I was growing up way too fast for my bones. My knees always ached. I tore my ACL when I was 15. Once I got to college, though, I still had the one good knee. But in the Fiesta Bowl (the 2006 season against Boise State) I tore my other knee and had to have the microfracture. So I knew at the combine I was going go fall in the draft because of my knee situation. I didn’t want to risk coming back and hurting me knee and blowing all of my chances to have some financial security. I had a great relationship with all the coaches and players, but at the end of the day, you come back to school, you get hurt, you don’t get drafted, all you get is a pat on the back saying, thanks for what you did. At some point, I had to do what was best for me and my family.
SN: I know were very frustrated with everything that happened in your last game, the Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia. What was going through your mind then?
Kelly: Had I played in that game or not, I was going to leave (for the NFL). People have to realize, I knew I was coming out, (the NFL) already thought I was injury prone, so why on the biggest stage would I want to sit here hurt in front of the whole nation? Why would I sit over here on the sidelines saying my quad is hurt knowing this was the last time people would see me in a college uniform? Sitting out is not going to help your draft status, especially when you have a history of being hurt -- so I did not want to sit out hurt.
You can see, I don’t really like bringing up. (The OU training staff) was telling me all I had was a deep thigh bruise -- that there was no need to get an MRI just for a thigh bruise, which is why no one knew what it was. The day of the game, I tried to take off on it and felt something poking me. You know, I had never sat out a game before. And I didn’t want to sit out this game, especially not being able to finish the Fiesta Bowl the previous year.
SN: Do you regret or maybe are you disappointed with the way things ended at OU?
Kelly: I don’t really regret anything. I guess I will say I was disappointed with the way things ended. I never had any problems the whole time I was at OU. Then that one situation turned everything sour. I played when I could, played as hard as I could, gave it my all. Things happen and they happen for a reason. But I’ve always been thankful I was given the opportunity to get to the next level, which in turn gave me an opportunity to start my new career after football.
SN: Do you still have any relationship with strength coach Jerry Schmidt?
Kelly: I’ve talked to Schmitty a couple times. The thing is, whether I ran a 4.4 or a 4.8 (in the 40-yard dash), at the end of the day those medical grades were going to be the thing that hurt me. Yeah, I was disappointed in the pro day. But there were teams that didn’t have me on their draft board period because of my knees.
But I thought we had that all clear (that Kelly would be testing on AstroTurf instead of field turf). I came down a week early to make sure it was clear. When your mind is focused on one thing, then you see something else -- I just really blanked out. You know, that was a real important day for me, then all the stuff with the injury, everything just started rolling in my mind and came out. Schmitty got the brunt of it. The whole situation with my leg, I was upset already with that. In that pro day, everything just snowballed.
SN: Are things still a little bit weird between you and OU?
Kelly: A little bit. I came back for Corey Wilson’s thing (Wilson, a former OU player who suffered a spinal injury in 2009, got OU football alumni together for a basketball game to raise money for spinal cord research). I had a good time. After that, I went to the spring game, and talked to coach (Bob) Stoops.
I had a great experience at OU, I was on great teams, had great friends. I don’t think I’ll completely ever forget how it went down at the end. But I don’t dwell on it. I’d be lying if I said those first two years I didn’t have some pretty deep feelings about how everything went down. But the older I get, the more I realize they gave me an opportunity to jump start my life, which allowed me to go to next level. The further I’ve gotten away from the situation, the more the wounds have healed.
SN: You played with some great players during your time at OU. Which teammate impressed you most?
Kelly: I never played with anyone like [Adrian Peterson]. It’s kinda hard to match a guy like that. People are shocked when he breaks these records. But the dude works like he’s trying to make a team. He’s the most exciting and best player I’ve ever been on the same team with.
SN: After SoonerNation published the article on Trent Dilfer criticizing the OU program, you tweeted that OU was “slowly turning into Texas Tech.” What did you mean by that?
Kelly: You can’t compare the two from a football standpoint. When I said that, I was talking about Landry (Jones), the offense, the type of offense. I might be wrong. But when I think of Texas Tech, I think of lining up with four- and five-wide sets and playing pass scale all game. That’s what I was saying. When I was at Oklahoma, we ran everything out of the “I.” The most we ever did was three-receiver sets. We had (Jermaine) Gresham at tight end, good running backs, a hog offensive line. We were going to run the ball, and then play-action pass. You knew what was coming pretty much, but you still had to stop it.
I’m just saying, when you’re standing in the shotgun and running routes all game long, your mindset as a team changes.
1dJake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon