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Former Granger great ready for coaching challenge

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Braxton Kelley knows what it takes to put a winning football team on the field.

During his time at LaGrange High, Kelley was a part of a powerhouse program that captured three state championships in four years and at one point won 29 consecutive games.

Kelley will take some of the lessons he learned during his time at LaGrange High, and in the 16 years since he graduated, and apply them to his new position as the head coach at Banneker High.

Braxton Kelley knows what it takes to put a winning football team on the field.

During his time at LaGrange High, Kelley was a part of a powerhouse program that captured three state championships in four years and at one point won 29 consecutive games.

Kelley will take some of the lessons he learned during his time at LaGrange High, and in the 16 years since he graduated, and apply them to his new position as the head coach at Banneker High.

After spending the previous two seasons at Banneker as an assistant coach, Kelley was elevated to the head-coaching position following the departure of Lou George.

Kelley brought his team to his home-town on Thursday to participate in a seven-on-seven passing tournament hosted by LaGrange College.

In the afternoon, Banneker played a game at Callaway Stadium, a place that holds a special player in Kelley’s heart.

In Kelley’s final game in the stadium, LaGrange beat Washington County in 2004 to win its third state championship in four years and put the wraps on a perfect season.

During Kelley’s four seasons at LaGrange, the team went 55-2 and won state titles in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

“I lost one game in the stadium. We lost to Troup (in the 2003 season opener),” said Kelley, an all-state defensive lineman for the Grangers. “I said we’d never lose a game again as long as I’m a part of LaGrange High, and we didn’t.”

After leaving LaGrange, Kelley enjoyed more success at the University of Kentucky where he was a four-year starter at linebacker, and for three years in college he played alongside former LaGrange teammate Wesley Woodyard.

Kelley got the opportunity to play in the NFL after being signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2009.

Kelley was with the Broncos for parts of three seasons before his playing days ended because of a knee injury.

With his time as a player behind him, Kelley turned to coaching, and he returned to Kentucky as an assistant coach for one season.

Kelley then joined the coaching staff at Clark Atlanta University in 2013, and he remained at the school until 2019 when he was hired at Banneker.

Now, for the first time, Kelley is tasked with leading a program, and he’s looking to establish a winning tradition at the high school in College Park.

“I’m really excited about what’s to come,” Kelley said. “We’re just trying to build something they can be proud of.”

While Kelley is new to the head-coaching position, he knows the players at Banneker after spending the previous two seasons with them.

“It helped me,” Kelley said. “I knew the people already so that put me in the know rather than coming in new trying to figure everything out. It definitely helped a lot.”

Banneker went 4-7 and reached the state playoffs in Kelley’s first season at the school, and it went 3-5 last year.

“We’ve got athletes. We’ve just got to put everything together,” Kelley said.

Kelley will have a familiar face with him at Banneker.

Kelley’s brother Brandon Kelley, who for the past few seasons has been coaching at Gardner Newman Middle School, has joined the Banneker coaching staff.

“They’re mad at me at Gardner Newman,” Kelley said with a smile. “But you know he’s going to coach with me.”

Looking ahead to the season, Kelley said his goal is for the team to “be hard-nosed, play with intensity, and be able to run the ball.”