Kelley named Walter Payton Award finalist


Symiah Dorsey/The Lion's Roar

Cole Kelley is the first player in Southeastern’s program to win the Walter Payton Award. Last season’s recipient of the award was North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, who was previously selected third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers.

After capping off a seven-game 2021 spring season, Lions’ starting quarterback Cole Kelley was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.

The award is given annually to the best overall player at the Football Championship Series level. Last season’s recipient of the award was North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, who was previously selected third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers. 

The 6’7” gunslinger would be the first Lion ever to win the Walter Payton Award, and the first Southland player since Sam Houston State’s Jeremiah Briscoe in 2018.

Third-year head coach Frank Scelfo shared why he feels Kelley is deserving of this year’s award.  

“All you have to do is look at the stats. Cole had the better season compared to the other finalists,” Scelfo shared.

Kelley, a Lafayette native, finished the season with 27 total touchdowns, 2,662 passing yards and seven total 300-yard passing games. 

The Walter Payton Award finalist saw limited action last season for the Lions but took on the full-time starting role after Chason Virgil graduated in 2019. 

Scelfo noted how the offense revolved around Kelley’s skill set this season.

“The offense formed around Cole this season. We drew up plays and schemes that best fit his interest this season, and he did a great job with everything we asked him to do,” Scelfo said. 

Kelley agreed with Scelfo that he thinks he is deserving of the award because of his statistics during the 2021 spring season.

“I don’t mean to sound cocky, but if you look at the numbers I had the best statistical season out of all the finalists,” Kelley said. 

The University of Arkansas transfer started all seven games during the Lion’s shortened season. 

Kelley shared what his favorite part of the 2021 season was despite the Lions missing the FCS Playoffs. 

“It would have to say beating Nicholls State on the road this season. I hate Nicholls, and beating them on the road was definitely my favorite part. Getting Coach Scelfo’s first win against Nicholls on the road was a huge deal for me,” Kelley said.  

Other notable players to win the award besides Lance are current Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo and former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. 

Kelley explained what the award would mean for him personally. 

“It would be huge if I won the award. Even though it would be awesome to win the award, I would rather win a championship. I see the four teams that are left in the playoffs right now and I think we are better than all of them,” Kelley said. 

On May 15, the award winner will be announced on the FCS National Awards Show that will be aired on Bally Sports.