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Malcolm Over The Middle
Q&A with OU's All-America Candidate WR

The ink has barely had time to dry since Mark Clayton basically rewrote the entire pass receiving section of Oklahoma’s football record book prior to his departure after the 2004 season. But with a budding talent like Malcolm Kelly primed to make more than a few edits in the not-too-distant future, that might not be such a bad thing.

Just two seasons into his collegiate career, Kelly already ranks 12th on the Sooners’ career receptions list with 95. The strapping 6-foot-4, 220-pound speedster hauled in 62 passes last season for 993 yards, the third-best single-season yardage total in school history.

Kelly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark faster (19 games) than any Sooner before him, and he proved himself a big-game performer by establishing new Big 12 Championship Game records for catches (10) and receiving yards (142) in OU’s 21-7 title-clinching victory over Nebraska.

Sooner Spectator caught up with Kelly recently during spring workouts and talked to him about his assault on the record books, his maturation as a player and his take on the on-going OU quarterback race this spring.

Sooner Spectator: You suffered a knee injury that knocked you out of the Fiesta Bowl game early. Since you are sitting out this spring, what kinds of things are you doing to get ready for the summer and fall practice?

Malcolm Kelly: Spring is such an important time for every player at this level. I remember the spring between my freshman and sophomore seasons, I made some big strides towards becoming a better player. If I wasn’t recovering from this injury right now, I feel like I could be making similar strides heading into next season. It’s kind of heartbreaking to sit back and watch everyone else going through drills while I stand on the sideline. But I know I’ve just got to be patient and do what I need to do to make sure I’m ready to play in the fall. I can still go out and catch passes from our quarterbacks or catch a few balls off of the jugs machine. Other than that, I’m lifting and working out as much as I can.

SS: Is there anything you can do while you are out here watching your teammates practice?

Kelly: I’ve tried to stress to some of our young guys like Adron Tennell and Brandon (Caleb) that spring practice is such an important time and that they need to try to make the most of it. Both of those guys are doing a good job, making positive progress. I’ve just to give them a little encouragement and take advantage of the extra reps they get while I’m not out there.

SS: You won’t be cleared to go full speed again until after spring practice. Is that frustrating, too, because you don’t get to maybe build the rapport with the three quarterback contenders like you might want to?

Kelly: No doubt. Like I said, I’ve caught a few balls from them, but nothing too major. I wish that was different, but it’s not. But from what I’ve seen, they are coming along really good. I’m excited about their potential and I’ll be ready come this summer when we have eight weeks to work out together.

SS: Do you think all three of those guys — Keith Nichol, Sam Bradford and Joey Halzle — have a realistic shot at winning the quarterback job?

Kelly: I really do. I believe all three of them have a shot at it. I like all three of them. Each of them has looked good at different times during spring practice so far and they’re going to get a lot more snaps between now and the season opener. It’s going to be exciting to see how it all works out because it’s going to come down to who wants it the most and who performs the best leading up to the season.

SS: When you are cleared to return to full workouts, what will be your goals?

Kelly: Basically just keep working on my upper body strength. Actually, the knee injury has made me work on that and it’s paying off. I really want to be a better blocker and a more complete player this coming season, so getting stronger is a key. I’m always going to be working on my route running and reading defenses, just all of the little things that show up in a game.

SS: Being a two-year starter and a guy who has had a pretty big impact on the team, how would you evaluate your first two seasons at OU?

Kelly: I’m happy with it in a lot of ways. I can’t say that I’m totally pleased, because there are always areas of my game I can improve on. Again, I think I can become a better blocker and that’s the kind of thing that can help the entire offense. I want to be a complete player, a complete receiver. I’m not there yet, but that’s my goal in the immediate future.

SS: You’re already considered the team’s go-to guy and a playmaker, but do you feel 2007 is going to be a season where you fully emerge and come into your own as a veteran leader?

Kelly: That’s definitely something I am wanting to do. I’ve never really taken that lead role, but it’s mine time. And really, we’ve got a group of receivers here that has been together for three seasons. We all have to do that same thing to some degree.

SS: With the offense still trying to figure out who the starting quarterback is going to be maybe until well into fall practice, what will he need to do to make sure this team is successful?

Kelly: Whoever wins the job has to know he needs to relax as much as possible and go out and do his job the best he can. The best thing our quarterback will have going for him is his supporting cast. He’s going to have an incredible offensive line protecting him and playermakers all of the field at receiver and in the backfield. All he has to do is get back there and play, not put any extra pressure on himself. He has to put his trust the rest of his guys, have confidence in us and let us do our jobs.

SS: Is it realistic to think this team can perform at a championship level with a rookie starting quarterback?

Kelly: I believe so, especially if all of the older guys step up on both sides of the ball. We’ve got a lot of starters back from last year’s team and that’s going to be a major factor for any of the new guys who will be stepping into the lineup. The reason any player comes to Oklahoma is because he knows Oklahoma plays in the big game almost every year. We haven’t done that the last two years, but I feel we’ve got the talent to make that happen for a fact this year.

(Note: This story appears in the April-May issue of Sooner Spectator!)