KP’s Matt Kelley is Special in a Variety of Ways Club He Started Tackles Mental Health Issues
The “Active Minds” club at King Philip Regional focuses on empowering young adults to speak openly about mental health. Matt Kelley, left, is the club’s founder and he’s joined by junior Luke Sullivan, middle, and senior Ryan Hurwitz in promoting the issue.
By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
Matt Kelley has all the credentials to be labeled “special.’’
The King Philip senior is a versatile football player who’s a starter in all three phases of the game — a wide receiver on offense, a cornerback on defense and, on special teams, he’s the Warriors’ field-goal kicker. He also plays baseball, an outfielder who hit .330 last year.
The 17-year-old Kelley not only is a top-notch athlete, but he’s also a high caliber leader, currently a captain in football, and in the spring he’ll serve as a captain in baseball. A team-first player, he cherished a junior year that included two state final appearances — the Super Bowl game against Catholic Memorial and the baseball finale against Milton.
A native of Norfolk, Kelley is also dynamic in the classroom. He’s a National Honor Society student whose GPA is an eye-popping 4.2. And, his collegiate future is already mapped out — he’ll be attending Amherst College where he’ll major in economics and play football.
Kelley obviously is special because he checks all the boxes in athletics and academics. One box, however, gets a double checkmark for delivering in clutch situations. That was the Warriors’ football
ame against Milford last month on Oct. 14. He scored 13 of KP’s 19 points for a huge 19-7 victory over the Scarlet Hawks. Kelley scored on a 13-yard reception, two fields from 25 and 42 yards, and one PAT. The triumph kept the Warriors unbeaten at 6-0.
Kelley has a plethora of positive attributes but what makes him a breed apart is a deep-seated caring nature that’s played a key role in a club he started at KP that deals with raising awareness of mental health and removing the stigma surrounding the issue.
Kelley makes his share of tackles at cornerback but the way he’s organized a club that includes 75 students shows he’s not afraid to tackle a sensitive topic. He’s all about assuming responsibility and facing a challenge head-on.
The club is “Active Minds’’ and Kelley started the KP chapter of the national organization two years ago as a sophomore. The organization’s mission is to empower young adults to speak openly about mental health in an effort to reduce stigma, encourage people to seek help and prevent suicides.
This issue is personal for Kelley whose family was impacted by suicide.
“My cousin (Ryan Riggieri) died by suicide in 2019,’’ Kelley said. “He lived in Grafton and was in his late 20s. Watching my uncle and family go through this sad event made me reach out to Dot Pearl, KP’s health and wellness coordinator, for approval to start the club.
“Club members do research to see what’s needed and what we can do to spread mental health awareness throughout the school and the KP communities. People who struggle with their mental health will speak to the club and relate their stories about how they’ve been affected by the issue and how they’ve overcome it.’’
When Kelley heads to Amherst next fall, he plans to stay involved in the endeavor. “I’ll continue to participate in some manner but the club will be in good hands with the underclassmen who’ve joined,’’ Kelley offered. “They’ll continue to work hard on the issue.’’
Meanwhile, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound tri-captain remains committed to the football goals he’s set. “I want to see us win the Kelley Rex Division title and not only return to the Super Bowl, but win it this time,’’ he noted. “We lost to Catholic Memorial last year, and in baseball we lost in the state final to Milton. Although both losses were sad and tough to deal with, we were proud of what we achieved in both sports. No one favored us to get to those two finals, so I don’t consider the losses ‘disappoint ing’ because we accomplished a lot.’’
As for individual goals, Kelley just wants to continue to be the best captain he can be. He leads by example, he’s communicative and he’s very supportive of all his teammates.
Kelley enjoys playing three positions and he thrives in pressure situations, especially when everyone’s eyes are focusing on him when he’s attempting a field goal.
“I enjoy the pressure that goes with making a field goal,’’ he said. “Kicking is a role that’s unappreciated and is under the radar. I like my wide receiver role because one catch can change the complexion of a game. Cornerback is demanding and challenging. The key is to rely on instincts in the secondary and the key for success in all three roles is to stay calm, handle pressure and be confident you can deliver in clutch situations.’’
Kelley said that a teammate’s father calls him “Matty Ice.’’
It seemed like his heroics in the 12-point triumph over Milford was achieved with ice water in his veins.
“The Milford game was the best of my career,’’ Kelley said. “It was a tremendous win and it felt great to contribute against a very competitive opponent. So many of our players stepped up, especially in the second half. That victory not only sets a positive tone for the playoffs, but it also gives us lots of momentum going forward.’’
Before his heroics in the Milford contest, Kelley’s statistics through KP’s first five games were admirable — 2-for-3 in field goals, 16-for-16 PATs, 25 tackles, and 8 receptions for 65 yards. He also excelled against powerhouse Xaverian in KP’s second game of the season. He kicked two field goals and two extra points and had a 36-yard reception that sparked a TD drive. The Warriors downed Xaverian, 19-14.
Kelley’s calm nature also provided some highlights last year.
“Two memorable games were our triumphs over Milford last year,’’ Kelley said. “I kicked a 31-yard field goal to beat Milford with five seconds left in the game. Later, in the playoffs, we beat Milford, 31-16, to clinch a Super Bowl berth. I had a field goal and four extra points.’’
Kelley’s top gridiron thrill was being selected a captain by a vote of the players. “That showed that my teammates had respect for me and trusted me as a leader,’’ he said. “And, what’s also humbling is the way the coaching staff has shown trust. I left Bishop Feehan after my freshman year because I wanted to return to KP and be with so many friends. At KP, I was strictly a kicker as a sophomore, then was the kicker and a cornerback last year, and now I’m a wideout, too.’’
KP’s head coach, Brian Lee, likes the way Kelley approaches games and the way he focuses in practice.
“Matt has a high football IQ, he’s instinctive, resilient and versatile,’’ Lee emphasized. “As our kicker, he’s accurate from 45 yards in. He knows his roles, is athletic, has a positive attitude, is confident and isn’t overwhelmed by adverse situations.’’
Before his 42-yard field goal against Milford last month, Kelley’s longest field goal came against Taunton last year — a 41-yard boot that enabled KP to beat the Tigers by nine. Kelley kicked three field goals and had three extra points in that encounter.
Quick to deflect praise to others, the personable Kelley lauds the Warriors’ other captains and he admires Lee’s style.
“Will Astorino (fullback/linebacker) and Nate Kearney (tight end/defensive end) are seniors who lead effectively and motivate our team,’’ said Kelley. “They’re both dependable and turn in great efforts every game. Coach Lee is an amazing motivator who’s understanding, respectful and has a phenomenal demeanor.’’
Calling his parents (Tom and Michelle) and his two grandfathers (named Tom) role models for their support and encouragement, Kelley relies on an athletic philosophy that includes winning, reaching one’s potential and having fun. Kelley also emphasizes that football demands total focus “on the task at hand and how I can contribute in a meaningful way.’’
“Athletics have also helped me to learn valuable life lessons,’’ he said. “I’ve learned how to overcome adversity, to be resilient, how to be a team-first competitor and how to sharpen leadership skills.’’
Leadership is an area where Kelley gets high marks. He’s responsible and he rolls up his sleeves when challenges arise. Starting a club to deal with mental health speaks volumes about his character, his caring and his sensitivity to delicate issues.
Matt Kelley is a very special young man because he’s real and he cares.