Remembered: Longtime high school football head coach Kelly never tires of seeing former players

Published on Wednesday, 11 September 2019 21:09


It might be a decade or two after he’s done coaching them, but Jude Kelly will still hear from his former players at some point down the road. 

Each time he hears them reminisce, Kelly gets emotional. 

Whether from his coaching days at East Catholic, Southington or his current stop at St. Paul, the longtime high school football head coach never tires of seeing the people he used to mentor. 

“If I had the opportunity to coach you, I hope that you get life skills out of it, and most of the time you don’t hear about it until five, 10, 15 or 20 years later, sometimes, and realize the impact you made,” Kelly said. “That’s what kind of keeps you ticking. It seems to happen whenever you’re having a low point. A player will come back or send you an email, or give you a call and just talk about what they learned when they were there. I always get choked up with that because that’s why you do it. A state championship doesn’t come close to the feeling of having a kid come back and say what you did for them. That’s why I still do it.”

Kelly is set to enter his 46th season as a head football coach, a long and successful career that can be linked back to the tutelage of Joe Cottone, Kelly’s football coach at Wethersfield High School. 

Cottone, who played basketball with Kelly’s father at Bulkeley High School, already had a familial type of connection with Jude before the younger Kelly entered his program to play linebacker and offensive guard. That helped the two become closer, and Kelly soon gained respect for a coach who was personable, loved to smile, genuinely cared for you, but would also get after you on the field. 

Kelly credits Cottone for being the inspiration for him beginning his coaching career, and after he graduated from Wethersfield in 1970, Kelly looked at different colleges with good education programs because back then, most coaches were also teachers. 

He eventually landed at SCSU, where a knee injury ended up being a convenient setback for him, as he was forced into a team managerial role as a freshman and became closer with the coaches and more acquainted with the strategy of the game itself. After four seasons as a player/manager, he was hired for two seasons as a graduate assistant, and eventually three more years as an assistant coach. 

But Kelly believed he could make a bigger impact on kids at the high school level. As much as he loved college football, when you’re in education, he says, it’s all about impacting and working with kids. 

He eventually landed at East Catholic, where he won three state championships in the 1980s under a wishbone offense.

He later switched from the private Catholic school lifestyle to the big public school aura at Southington, and he also changed his offense to a spread-it-out passing attack. The style switch worked, as the Blue Knights reached three state title games and captured one championship. 

Kelly then was looking for a new home, and he eventually landed on St. Paul. Having always had love and respect for Catholic schools and how they operate, he was ready for the transition back to the parochial coaching. 

At the time, Kelly says St. Paul was struggling with enrollment, and the football program had been taking its lumps. He figured he would try his hand at a “way, way, way smaller school that hadn’t had success” and signed onto the program in 2005. 

He will now being his 15th season in Bristol, but with the ebbs and flows of an ever-changing game, Kelly has held steady. He again shifts a big reason to his success to someone else. In this case, multiple people.

His next chapter begins Friday at Seymour.

Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, St. Paul on Wednesday, 11 September 2019 21:09. Updated: Wednesday, 11 September 2019 21:11.