Kelley takes home Walter Payton Award


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.

In a season filled with ups, downs and doubt, one thing was a constant throughout the Lions 2021 season – senior quarterback Cole Kelley’s consistency throughout every game. It was this consistency that helped him to bag the Walter Payton Award.

The Lafayette native originally decided to commit to the University of Arkansas out of high school but would end up transferring to Southeastern in the spring of 2019 after two seasons with the Razorbacks. 

Kelley is the first player to ever take home the award in Southeastern history and the first Southland player to do so since Sam Houston State’s Jeremiah Briscoe in 2017.

The 6”7’ gunslinger shared how it was surreal when his name was announced on May 15. 

“It was surreal and got goosebumps when my name was announced. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my team and coaches. Coach Scelfo and Coach Stevens were so helpful this year and I wouldn’t have done it without them,” said Kelley. 

Kelley finished the 2021 spring season with 18 passing touchdowns, 2662 passing yards and a combined quarterback rating (QBR) of 159.02.

The senior quarterback also added 7 rushing touchdowns and 2 receiving touchdowns to his 2021 tally.  

Cole Kelley

Despite winning the 2020 Walter Payton Award, Kelley noted his ultimate goal is still not achieved. 

“Winning the Walter Payton award was great but I want to win championships. I watched the FCS Playoffs this spring and I know we can compete with all of those teams. The first step is winning a Southland Conference Championship,” Kelley said. 

Third-year head coach Frank Scelfo shared how the award means so much to Southeastern as a whole. 

“This is a great honor not just for Cole, but our entire program and our university. Cole’s statistics speak for themselves and I’ll put his numbers against anybody’s in the country. But to understand his real value to our program, you have to go beyond the box score. It’s Cole’s leadership and command of the locker room, the way he’s developed those traits is what has allowed him to develop into such a special player and someone who deserves to win the Walter Payton Award,” Scelfo said.

Kelley will look to repeat as the Walter Payton Award winner in 2021 and hopes to guide the Lions to its first FCS Championship. The Lions will open up their 2021 season at home against North Alabama University on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m.