CALDWELL, NJ--For many years, Jim Kelly served as a coach and educator in his home town of Nutley, NJ. Kelly, who graduated Nutley High, and later was the head football coach and long-time assistant softball coach at this alma mater, made a career change two years ago when he became the new head football coach at Caldwell University.
Caldwell began playing sprint football in the Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL), which boasts a very high talent level of schools, including the United States Military Academy, in West Point, NY, the Naval Academy, in Annapolis Md., along with Ivy League powers in Cornell and UPenn.
Caldwell began playing in the CSFL in 2017. Kelly came on board a year later, and in 2019, the Cougars finished 2-5 and played its most competitive level of football.
"I'm really happy with the direction of the program," said Kelly, who guided the Nutley Raiders as head coach from 1998-2003. "We were very competitive in 2019. Against UPenn, we were down, 21-20, in the fourth quarter and were tied with Navy, 10-10, in the fourth. We won two games, as well."
Caldwell defeated St. Thomas, Aquinas, 26-0, on Sept. 21 and followed that win with another shutout, 43-0, against Alderson Broaddus the following week. The final four games of the season included games with Army, Navy, Chestnut Hill College and the University of Pennsylvania.
Sprint football provides a high level of competition to college athletes. The main difference in sprint football is the weight level of a player.
There are two divisions. Army, Cornell, Mansfield, Post University and St. Thomas Aquinas make up the North Division while the South features Caldwell, Alderson Broaddus, Chestnut Hill, Navy and UPenn.
Kelly has found that sprint football does have a place with most of the athletes he meets with.
"No question, our numbers are good," said Kelly. "It's a hard-nosed kind of game, full pads, everything like football the kids played in high school, as well as those who play at other colleges. We've made a lot of progress and we're hoping for another good year of recruiting players."
The Cougars had 65 players on its roster in 2019, with a good mix of New Jersey-based talent. Caldwell ranked third in its league in defense and rushing. Armani Bermudez, a sophomore, led the league in yards per carry, with an average of 7.7 yards.
Another player, Frank DeMaio, himself a native of Nutley, led the team in receiving and was honored by the CSFL with All-Academic accolades this fall.
"What we're trying to do is give a prospective player the chance to play a high level of college football, as well as get an education and prepare for a successful life, after college," said Kelly. "That's what it's all about. You're not going to play football forever, but these can be really exciting years for a prospective player. It's not easy. You have to work hard in the classroom, as well as on the football field.
"You'll get the chance to play at places like West Point and the Naval Academy, which are historic sites, for sure."
Caldwell will open the 2020 season at Cornell University next fall and will also play at Annapolis, among the seven regular season games.
"When you see a young man like Frank DeMaio not only play well on the field, but earn All-Academic honors, that shows what can be done with hard work," said Kelly. "There are others, too, who continue to do well on the field and are performing well in the classroom. I'm excited about the new season and hope to continue the success we had this past season."