On Saturday the Pulaski Academy Bruins, of Little Rock, defeated Helena-West Helena Central 35-32 to claim their second State Title since Head Coach Kevin Kelley took over six years ago. In those six years the Bruins have compiled a 68-13-1 record. Their story was recently aired on NFL Films Presents, not just because of their recent success, but because Pulaski Academy simply does not punt, ever. After the story aired we posted an article on the Bruins style of play. Click here to read, “Who Needs A Punter? Pulaski Doesn’t!”
I sat down with Head Coach Kevin Kelley yesterday to discuss his successes this season and his team’s unique style of play.
nickev: First off I would like to congratulate you on your second state championship. While, I wasn’t able to watch the game I kept up with it online and read about it. It seemed like a thriller. Probably a lot closer than you hoped after a stellar first half.
nickev: In your last two contests you have kicked an onside kick on the opening kickoff. Is this something you do every game or sporadically?
Coach Kelley: We do it just about every kickoff, not necessarily on the first one.
nickev: Is your philosophy with the onside kick much like not punting?
Coach Kelley: Yes, very. We think we have about a 25% chance of getting the kick. We also know that they would run the kick back to the 35 and now we give them the ball on the 47 so only a 12 yard difference with a chance to get the ball.
nickev: Spencer Keith (Pulaski’s record-setting quarterback) had an excellent first half, as did your defense. How important is it to get off to a good start in a game of this magnitude?
Coach Kelley: Very important when you play a team that plays on emotion and momentum like West Helena. We gained confidence and made them question early.
nickev: At the end of the first quarter, after another Helena-West turnover, you elected to kick a field goal to put your team up 19-0. Your reasoning for the field goal.
Coach Kelley: It put us up three scores and they don’t have a kicker so they go for two every time. 19 points meant three full touchdowns and at least one two point conversion for them to be ahead.
nickev: When you do get off to a good start, like you did Saturday, do you see teams start to imitate your style of play to get back into ballgames?
Coach Kelley: Yes, many teams do and their kids are not conditioned mentally and psychologically to do that so it plays into our hands.
nickev: What did Helena-West Helena Central do differently in the second half to make a game of it?
Coach Kelley: They attacked more when our leading receiver, Carson McKnight, went out at halftime. He played a couple of plays in the 2nd half but couldn’t go. Our other big receiver, Neil Barlow, had the flu and couldn’t run so they loaded the box and took away the run because they knew we were struggling a bit off the line.
nickev: After a tremendous first half with his arm Keith converted two short 4th downs with his legs to keep the final drive alive and the ball out of Central’s hands. I know the last conversion was 4th and 1 near midfield. If you don’t convert they are two first downs from field goal range. Where there ever any thoughts about punting the ball away on either fourth down and making them go the length of the field?
Coach Kelley: NEVER
nickev: I was looking for the stat online but couldn’t find it anywhere. Do you know what your conversion rate is on 4th down for the season?
Coach Kelley: It is 58%, actually slightly above that. If you take away the first two games of the season, it is closer to 75%. We didn’t play as well because it was raining both those games and we throw a lot.
nickev: Also, you mentioned that Helena-West had eight Division I players. How many graduating seniors do you have that will go on to play DI?
Coach Kelley: 1, maybe 2.
nickev: On Sunday in the Bengals-Colts game, the Bengals trailed 7-0 with 6:11 in the second quarter. They had a fourth and goal at the 2 and chose to kick. They converted the field goal but did not enter the redzone again en route to a 35-3 loss. Do you think teams will ever start imitating your style of play?
Coach Kelley: I think that it already has started happening some. San Francisco converted two 4th downs in a game this weekend. I am seeing more and more teams do it.
nickev: Where have you coached before you took the position at Pulaski?
Coach Kelley: Carrollton Independent School in Carrollton, TX
nickev: Since you started your coaching career, have you always had the same philosophy toward punting, or the lack thereof?
Coach Kelley: I had toyed with it when I became a head coach 6 years ago but not to the extent I had the last few years. More and more numbers convinced me.
nickev: Did you adopt the no-punt philosophy from anyone? Who were your influences?
Coach Kelley: Paul Cromer, an economist at Berkley and another professor from Harvard whose name escapes me, both had data that pointed to not punting. I didn’t really get it from anywhere although I am not afraid to take plays from other coaches.
nickev: Congratulations and good luck next year. We look forward to chronicling your season and think our readers have gotten a pretty good kick out of following you.
Coach Kelley: Glad to hear it. Thanks for putting us on your website.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Lil’ Buddy Strugglin’ to Kick a Football | March 16, 2009
- Pulaski Academy Drops First Game of Season, Falls to Lake Hamilton 32-30 | September 22, 2009
- Pulaski Academy Wraps Up Regular Season Tonight | straitpinkie.com | November 6, 2009
- Pulaski Academy Begins Title Defense With 1st Round Victory Over Helena-West Helena Central | straitpinkie.com | November 14, 2009
- The Super Bowl's Best Commercials http://straitpinkie.com | straitpinkie.com | February 7, 2010
- Pulaski Academy and Head Coach Kevin Kelley Continue Bouncing on Em in Arkansas 4A Playoffs | straitpinkie.com | November 24, 2010
- The quirky philosophies of Pulaski Academy head coach Kevin Kelley | straitpinkie.com | October 18, 2011