BOULDER, Colo. (AP) As a 6-year-old, Alex Kelley settled into a lineman's stance next to his two brothers and father for a family photo at Folsom Field.
An early glimpse of blocks to come.
Born in Spain and raised in San Diego, the Colorado senior center grew up humming the school fight song and hanging on every word of the stories from his dad, Karry, an offensive tackle for the Buffaloes in the 1970s.
Now, Alex Kelley is front and center for the resurgence of No. 23 Colorado. He started the Buffaloes (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) on the right path by scoring the season's first TD when he pounced on a fumble in the end zone. They're nationally ranked again, bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 and contending for the Pac-12 South title.
Just what he always pictured.
''I've been here when we lost to Fresno State, 69-14 (in 2012), to when we beat Arizona State, 40-13 (two weeks ago),'' Kelley said. ''This, right now, what we're doing, I can't even put words to how fun it is. I grew up hearing all my dad's stories of playing Nebraska, of running out behind Ralphie (the school mascot). I just wake up every morning extremely happy to be here.''
Out of high school, Kelley was all ready to commit to Boise State when Colorado entered the picture late.
Black and gold it was. He couldn't help himself, even if the Buffaloes were floundering at the time.
Lineman lineage ran too deep.
His father played on the offensive line for the Buffaloes from 1976-79, with the team earning a conference title in `76 and ranked as high as No. 3 in `77. The Buffs went 3-8 in Karry Kelley's final season.
The reverse has been true for his son. His teams struggled early - 4-8 in 2013, 2-10 in `14, 4-9 in `15 - and now they've turned the corner.
''We knew that Colorado would rise again sooner or later,'' Karry Kelley said. ''It's really exciting to see Alex be a part of a program that's having this kind of success. The goal is a Pac-12 championship and I think they have a shot at doing that. I'm pulling for that.''
Of course he is.
''His dad loves this place. Alex loves this place,'' coach Mike MacIntyre said. ''Alex has been here through a lot of rough things. He's very well respected by his teammates. He's done an excellent job with us this year.''
In many ways, Kelley is just your ordinary center: Stout blocker, bushy beard, in sync with his quarterback Sefo Liufau, watches a lot of video.
And in some ways, he's not: Born in Madrid to missionary parents, a ''Teddy bear'' disposition (Liufau's description) and big into video games. His favorite game is Defense of the Ancients, and his favorite character is Anti-Mage, who's known for his high agility in holding back the enemy.
Fitting for this 6-foot-2, 310-pound blocking machine who's springing holes for Phillip Lindsay and keeping Liufau safe in the pocket.
Kelley had every lineman's dream in the season opener - a touchdown.
Here's how the play unfolded: Against Colorado State, Liufau fumbled going into the end zone, and there was Kelley to jump on the football.
Little did he know it was a TD, though - the first by a Buffaloes offensive lineman since 1995. His mom, Charlyn, and dad in the stands didn't know, either. It wasn't until their son who lives in Turkey - and was watching the game - sent a text that Alex scored.
''Now that was really fun,'' Karry Kelley said.
Alex's regret was not getting the football.
Still, the play gained him consideration for the ''Piesman Trophy ,'' an award given to the lineman who does the most unlineman-like thing over the course of a season.
''I'd vote for him, because he saved my butt in terms of recovering that fumble,'' Liufau said. ''He's someone I admire, how he worries about other people besides himself. It's easy to get caught up in football, and the success of the team. He's a great person overall - what he does and the things he does for people around him.''
Since he was little, Kelley has always extended a helping hand. That's why he went to Haiti in 2010 to clean up after an earthquake devastated the country. Or with his father to a Peruvian village in the middle of the Amazon jungle to aid a community. His dad loves the story of how the kids in the village didn't wear shoes and so Alex went barefoot, too.
Just Alex being Alex.
''He's a Teddy bear - unless somebody is trying to mess with Sefo,'' his father said. ''Then, he's more like a grizzly bear.''
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