For the first six weeks of this season, Andrew Kelly's duties for the Howard football team consisted mainly of returning kickoffs and watching starting tailback Melvin Sutton run the ball.
"Returning kicks was the only way I was going to play; I couldn't move Melvin out," said Kelly, with no trace of animosity. "I know I can run the ball, and the only thing you can do is wait for the opportunity to show people what you can do. Getting a few runs here and there isn't time enough to show anything. It takes time to get into the flow of the game."
Kelly got his chance to start last week against North Carolina A&T because Sutton, the Bison's leading rusher, with 421 yards, and coleader in scoring with Tracy Singleton, with 24 points, suffered a badly sprained ankle two weeks ago against Virginia State and is out indefinitely.
"Yes, I wanted to beat Melvin out and I'm sorry he had to get hurt for me to start," Kelly said. "I pushed him hard in practice and he knew he had to work hard. Now, I'm playing and I feel he has to beat me out when he returns."
Kelly replaced Sutton against Virginia State, but ran the ball only three times, gaining 18 yards. Last week, he rushed seven times for 56 yards, 47 of that coming on a tackle-shedding touchdown run that helped the Bison earn a 20-13 victory.
"That's what I needed, a touchdown," Kelly said. "That's the biggest confidence booster in the world."
When Howard (4-4) plays at Norfolk State (6-1) Saturday, Kelly probably won't carry the ball as much as he would like.
"We only have three healthy, experienced running backs, so we can't afford to call too many running plays," Coach Floyd Keith said. "Last week, we called 42 passing plays. How many (passing plays) we'll call Saturday depends on the situations and who's available."
Richard Vickers and Paul McGlone are the only other running backs who have seen extensive playing time.
The Bison gained a total of 332 yards against Virginia State, mainly because of Singleton's receptions and some fine blocking by the offensive line, led by John Bilberry.
"The blocking up front has been much better the last few weeks," Jim Tsilmos, Howard's offensive line coach, said. "Our problem has been penalties--holding and clipping calls. It's good to see some downfield blocking, though."
Norfolk State was unbeaten before losing to Virginia Union, 51-0, last week. Norfolk had given up only 514 total yards and 32 points before its most lopsided loss in years.
"Everyone went flat at once," said Norfolk State Coach Dick Price. "We just didn't execute at all. We'll have to do a better job this week if we expect to beat Howard. We'll have to stop Singleton, for one."