OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Chad Kelly had the reputation of a spoiled problem child when he arrived on Mississippi's campus one year ago.
Now, the Ole Miss quarterback is the face of the program.
It's been an impressive turnaround for Kelly, who enters his senior season as one of the Southeastern Conference's star players. But the Buffalo, New York, native - who is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly - continually reminds himself that one mistake could bring his newfound reality to a screeching halt.
''You've just got to come to work every single day,'' Kelly said. ''That's not just on the field, but off the field. You've got little kids looking up to you. You're the face of this franchise - this university. You've got to understand that every decision you make is going to be criticized.''
Ole Miss started spring football practice this week, barely two months removed from a 10-3 season that included a win over eventual national champion Alabama and a dominant victory over Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.
The Rebels lost a considerable amount of talent from that team - including receiver Laquon Treadwell, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche - but feel they have the depth to continue as a factor in the SEC's Western Division.
One big reason is Kelly, who improved as last season progressed. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder threw for 4,042 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing more than 65 percent of his throws.
He was so good that he briefly explored leaving school for the NFL, but decided to return for his senior season.
He said on Thursday that it wasn't a tough decision.
''I wanted to win an SEC championship and a national championship,'' Kelly said. ''Those are the main goals. That's the whole team's goal and we were really believe we can do that.''
Freeze took a calculated risk when bringing Kelly to campus last year.
Kelly had already been booted from Clemson's program in 2014 after arguing with coaches during the spring game. He also was arrested after a bar fight in 2014, eventually pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
Kelly hasn't had any off-the-field problems in Oxford.
''It's taken a lot of people and a lot of time to invest in him to see things from a different perspective and a different light,'' Freeze said.
From a football standpoint, Freeze said he couldn't ask much more from his quarterback.
He's got a very strong right arm and enough mobility to buy time in the pocket and gain some yards on designed quarterback running plays. He's also a football film junkie - Freeze has said Kelly spends more time studying opponents than he does.
Freeze's decision to give Kelly a second chance continues to look like a good move.
''The transformation continues,'' Freeze said. ''I couldn't be more pleased with what Chad has done off the field and on the field. He just continues to seek the type of man he wants to be. We refer to it as rewriting your story, or writing the end of your story.
''It's really not about where you start, but how you finish. Right now, I think he's on track to finish well.''
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