HawgBeat - Xavier Kelly brings championship mindset, work ethic to Arkansas
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Xavier Kelly brings championship mindset, work ethic to Arkansas

Senior defensive tackle Xavier Kelly.
Senior defensive tackle Xavier Kelly. (Arkansas Athletics)

With only 256 snaps played over four years for the Clemson Tigers, Xavier Kelly's potential impact for the Razorbacks after transfering was a big question mark.

Since arriving in Fayetteville in the summer, however, Kelly has worked his way into the starting group on the defensive depth chart at defensive tackle and he's just a few short weeks away from showing what he can do as an experienced senior.

At Clemson, Kelly redshirted his true freshman season after a moped accident and then he was stuck behind top-notch talent for the next three years.

Coming to Arkansas, where depth is limited, sets Kelly up to have the biggest year of his career, but he says it was the coaches that really sold him on spending his grad transfer year in NWA.

"I got a chance to watch film with Coach LeBlanc," Kelly said, recapping his official visit experience. "He’s just a very smart guy and very knowledgeable about the game. And I was like, ‘That’s who I want to play for.’ Just the way he coaches. He’s very technically sound. And I wanted to play under Coach Odom. I got a chance to meet the guys on my official visit, and I got a good vibe."

Kelly's got a high view of his defensive coaches and so far, they're loving him back. He's even exceeded their expectations.

"He's done a nice job, 315-pounds and got good power, plays with leverage and he has got good quickness," defensive coordinator Barry Odom said. "He may be a little bit quicker than I thought he would be. Maybe his explosion at the point of attack inside. We've been able to move him around a little bit because of his skill-set. So really excited that we have him. He's gonna have to play a lot of good snaps for us this year."

Despite limited usage, Kelly was still an integral cog in Clemson's yearly campaign for the national college football title. The Tigers made the College Football Playoffs all four years he was on the team, winning two national titles and losing another. Being part of that culture opened Kelly's eyes to what the top athletes in the nation do to be elite that others just don't.

"(Those guys were) just doing extra," Kelly said. "Coming in and watching film and extra workouts and doing that little extra and you separate yourself. Doing the right things, leading by example, encouraging your teammates."

Through 13 days of fall camp practice, the Kansas native and former Rivals250 prospect has done his part by leading by example, keeping his head down and just doing the work.

"He works hard every single play he's out there," offensive lineman Dalton Wagner shared. "He's really good at eating up two gaps, (does) really well at taking on those double teams. Every day we go against each other we get better and better, especially in those double teams. He shows us where our weaknesses are. We come out the next day, we fix them and he tries to find some more. It's awesome. Iron sharpens iron, man. He's a really good kid."

If Kelly shines in 2020, he won't be the first Arkansas defensive lineman who was discovered by NFL scouts as a senior (see: Armon Watts), but he also has the opportunity to play again in 2021 due to new NCAA legislation. For now, Kelly says he's focused on this moment and not worrying about future decisions.

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