Caleb Kelly came home.
Well, Pasadena to be more specific, and for the University of Oklahoma starting linebacker playing in the granddaddy of them all – the Rose Bowl – in front of over 40 friends and family under a beautiful Cali sky was an experience he’ll never forget despite the outcome.
The 2016 Clovis West grad marched into Pasadena with his No. 2 ranked Oklahoma Sooners and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield to face the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff semifinal, the winner to play for the national championship. In an double overtime thriller that Oklahoma would lose 54-48, Kelly provided one of the top plays in the game when he forced a fumble that was returned 46 yards by teammate Steven Parker to give the Sooners a 45-38 lead with 6:52 remaining in the game.
Whatever the outcome, Kelly loved the experience and the opportunity to play in just a historic game.
“Playing in front of my blood family was awesome and having them there for that was, of course, a blessing,” Kelly told the Clovis Roundup in a phone interview after the game. “I always wanted to go back and play in front of them all at once again.”
The Sooners were seemingly in control of the game, leading 31-17 at halftime before the Bulldogs would come back to tie the game and then take a 38-31 lead. But with the game tied at 38 after a Mayfield 11-yard touchdown pass, Kelly went low on Georgia running back Sony Michel, causing the fumble on Georgia’s next possession.
“I just decided to hit him as hard as I could and make sure to be lower than him and my head and shoulder caught the ball and it popped out,” Kelly said. “I saw Steven Parker pick the ball up with an open field so I held my hands up and started celebrating.”
Despite the loss, Kelly put it all in perspective.
“I feel we made history in such an epic game – it was fun playing with my brothers in something so important,” said Kelly, the 2016 recipient of the Dick Butkus Award, given to the top high school linebacker in the nation. “I wanted to come out with the win of course but that’s part of the game. I’m real sad we couldn’t pull out a win for the seniors. I’ll miss them very much and I couldn’t thank them enough for all they’ve taught me and got me through. I truly have love for those guys – they are my family.”