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A Conversation With: Joshua Kelley
The running back talks expectations for his second season, the challenges he overcame in year one, what he learned from Justin Herbert, and more.
By Hayley Elwood Jul 13, 2021

This summer, we thought we'd check in with a few Chargers players before the 2021 season kicks into gear.

Our third conversation features running back Joshua Kelley.

After an unprecedented rookie season filled with personal highs and lows, Kelley is entering year two with a new wisdom and is excited for what's to come.

Here's more from Kelley on his expectations for his second season, the challenges he overcame in year one, what he learned from Justin Herbert, and more.

How has the offseason program gone for you?

Joshua Kelley: It's been really good. It's been really a treat, to be honest, actually having OTAs and being able to go in (to the facility) and learn a whole new system. I'm taking every day as a gift. Football is awesome, and I get to play it every single day. I'm not taking it for granted. This offseason has been good, but I'm ready and excited to get back to the season. It's been too long.

I believe that.  You mentioned it, this is your first real offseason, because last year you guys dealt with the impact of COVID protocols, but you're also learning something new – again. How beneficial is it to physically be on that field instead of last year with it being virtual?

Kelley: It makes a huge difference. It really does. Having to actually run the plays, walk through the plays, see your coaches, talk to them. Being able to go through things on the field with your teammates to get a good feel for what everyone's doing around you. It makes a huge difference. It's an advantage. Not having that last season was definitely a disadvantage for all the rookies who came in. But it is what it is and you can't really pout about it anymore. So just having the chance to do it this year makes a difference and slows the game down more.

Now that you've lived it for a year, just how much faster is the NFL than college?

Kelley: It's definitely faster. It's moving parts that you have to understand like on special teams and offense. I think what helped me was as the season progressed and I was studying and watching tape, it slows down. And definitely going into this year, I'm starting to see things slow down. Obviously, we're walking through plays, but just my mental process and knowing what I'm doing or what my assignment is, everything is slowing down.

How do you pair that mental aspect and the physical aspect together? I know you're walking through things right now, but how do you take the mental aspect of what you learned last year and apply it to these walk throughs?

Kelley: I think the most important thing about the mental game is understanding how to be a pro. Understanding you can come in, you can clock in, but that's only half the battle. I think the real thing mentally is watching tape, asking questions, taking time to really dissect not just what you're doing, but the whole concept. I think that's a big part of understanding the whole game. What's the concept of this play? What's the concept of this return unit I'm on? Just understanding the holistic approach to everything makes your job easier because I know what everyone else around me is doing. I think as a rookie, I was just caught up in knowing what I was doing. I was just concerned about my assignment. It makes a big difference when you have that approach because then physically, you can just play faster.

When it comes to the rookie class from last year, it's kind of a special group because you guys experienced uncharted territory. No one had been through an offseason or an NFL season like that. Have you talked with some of your draft classmates at just how much better this year feels?

Kelley: What's funny is we talk about that a lot! Looking back on it, in hindsight, you'd love to have this opportunity, but I'm grateful for it. If we handled whatever was thrown at us last year, I think we can pretty much handle whatever is thrown at us these next couple years. But, in terms of reaching out to these rookies, I've gotten a chance to know them a lot recently. Especially Larry (Rountree) since he's in our room. I chat with him every single day. He's a great guy and we've been getting able to know each other. Obviously, he's a professional now, but I've been giving him some keys and tools and things that I've learned that have helped me. He's been soaking it up like a sponge and isn't afraid to ask, which is a really good trait.

What did you learn about yourself last season?

Kelley: I learned I can play in the NFL. I knew that, because I had confidence in myself, but I think I learned it about myself. Now it's a matter of playing faster and understanding, other people on the other side are pros, too. Nothing is going to come easy. But I think that was the biggest thing for me because all the stuff I went through, I was like okay, I've had success, I know I can play here, it's just all about knowing mentally, it's about bringing that same energy every single game that I belong here, and I can take that approach into this year.

You're always such a positive person, but when you talk about the mental approach, was it something you had to discover as the highs and lows of the season happened?

Kelley: For me, the highs were the easiest. Like you said, I'm positive, I always see the good things so going through high school and college, I always believed in myself, but I never understood how important that was until I got here. I really never had that until I got to the NFL where I realized I had to flip a switch mentally and believe in myself. You can be humble but you also need to have that confidence in yourself to play in this league and survive. That's something I've learned. Some guys have it, I've learned it.

When it comes to Justin Herbert, obviously a draft classmate of yours, what was it like being on the field with him and watching him grow as the season went on to end in an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign?

Kelley: I learned a lot from him. What's crazy is we all came in at the same time and despite everything we went through, he had so much success his first year. He was just ballin'! I learned a lot from him because right off the bat, he knew he could play in this league. I had to learn that mental approach he had, but it rubbed off on me going into this year. I learned a lot from a guy who's a tremendous leader, picks guys up. He's just awesome. He's an awesome person and I'm really happy that we have him on our team! 

What about running backs coach Derrick Foster and this new coaching staff?

Kelley: I love coach Foster. I just had this connection with him right away. I could just tell he has so much passion for the game of football. That's what I love as a coach; guys who love the game but can talk to you on a personal level. Ask you, 'How's your family? Do you want to watch some extra tape?' He's cool! It's a cool relationship. At the end of the day, we see him as a mentor and a friend.

It sounds like having that personal connection or him even taking a personal interest in you, it goes further, right?

Kelley: It definitely does. He told me his story, I had to do some research on him and how he got to Iowa and where he's at the Chargers right now. He's big-time! I learned a lot from him – just his perseverance – that's just a big contribution to our room!

What really excites you about this season?

Kelley: There are a lot of things that excite me about this season. I know we're gonna come out strong, I just really want to see our potential flourish, that's what I'm most excited about. This team has a lot of potential. In this locker room every day, I see the guys we have and the coaching staff we have, the potential is through the roof. I think we can make it happen. I think if our potential really does maximize, we can do some damage. I can say that, but we have to show it.

And what about showing that potential in front of fans for the first time in Los Angeles?

Kelley: That's exactly it! I'm so juiced about that. I've been watching the NBA playoffs with fans in the arena and I'm like dang, SoFi is gonna be crazy! Having fans in the stadium, there's nothing like that. We all feed off that energy, that buzz. Seeing people there, seeing your family in the stands and being like, ok, I really have to ball out now!

And then lastly, what are some of your goals for 2021?

Kelley: I definitely have a lot of goals on my mind. For me, my first goal is I want to do whatever it takes for this team to reach the next level. I know I have to have a huge role on special teams, offense, everything. But I wanna have a huge impact on this team. I want to rush for 1,000 yards, however that can be. I have a lot of high expectations for myself but I think I can reach them if I keep working and keep trusting the process.

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