After Years of Wrongful Imprisonment, Greg Kelley Granted Full Eligibility to Play for EMU
Kelley was wrongly convicted and years of his life are just gone. The NCAA is letting Kelley fulfill his dream of playing college ball at Eastern Michigan with full eligibility.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! Greg Kelley’s a 25-year old freshman safety for the Eagles this year. The reason: he was convicted for serious crimes he didn’t actually commit, and it took six years of fighting back against the system to clear his name. In efforts to give this man his life back, he’s received full eligibility by the NCAA.
Eastern Michigan welcomed Greg Kelley to its football roster over the weekend. Kelley was recently granted full eligibility by the NCAA after he was wrongly convicted for years after a 2014 child sexual assault case. If you’ve seen the Showtime documentary “Outcry”, then you know Kelley’s story of how he was involved, and how six years of his life were erroneously taken away from him.
Kelley, 25, was a high school football player in Texas that didn’t get a ton of FBS offers, but UTSA wanted him. Specifically, Neal Neathery wanted him to play the Rover spot on defense. Kelley committed to the Roadrunners, but was arrested during his senior year over a sexual abuse allegation that didn’t have enough evidence to rightfully lock Kelley up for 25 years with the possibility of parole. I haven’t seen the documentary, but it sounds like it was just sloppy work that got a kid with dreams put away with years of his life absolutely wasted.
Once he finally got out, Kelley tried to walk-on at Texas, but the Longhorns unfortunately decided to not take walk-ons this year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Neathery, the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in his fifth season at EMU, still wants Kelley to play in the same rover position from high school, and now he’s on scholarship with the team. He’ll be able to practice with the team after he serves a 2-week quarantine.
Kelley will wear #28.
More details, from ESPN:
"I've got this opportunity to seize to play football," Kelley told ESPN in February. "It's what I love. And I believe you should do the thing that makes you happy and gives you peace. I want to be free. I want to close this the right way."
"We believe that much of Greg's youth has been taken away from him and we want to give him the opportunity to live out his dream of playing Division I football," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said Saturday.
Kelley enrolled at the University of Texas in January with the hope of walking on with the Longhorns. He attended a tryout in February but was informed this month that Texas will not be adding any new players to the roster this fall. A 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety, Kelley told ESPN he is excited to "shake off the cobwebs" after seven years away from football and will play at the same rover position at EMU that he played in high school.
Since he moved back to Austin last fall, Kelley has been working out with former Texas running back Jeremy Hills, an elite football trainer. Hills, who trains NFL players including Earl Thomas III and Landon Collins, said he was blown away by what he saw after he initially offered Kelley a chance to work out with him as a favor after following his case in the local news.
"You really start looking at Greg and realize not only can this kid move well, he'll probably play on Saturdays at a big-time program. Like, I realized this wasn't charity work. This was an actual ballplayer."
Kelley's case dates back to 2013, when he was a standout football player in Leander, Texas, who was committed to UTSA. He was arrested during his senior year based on a sexual abuse allegation by a 4-year-old child in an in-home day care at a home where Kelley was staying with a friend and his family.
Kelley was convicted and sentenced to 25 years without the possibility of parole, despite the lack of any physical evidence. He was released on bond in 2017 when Shawn Dick, a newly elected Williamson County district attorney, reopened Kelley's case based on evidence from an appellate lawyer and a subsequent investigation by the Texas Rangers that found fault with the investigation.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Kelley's conviction last November, writing that "the system failed him, for it convicted an innocent man." Weeks later, a new judge in the Texas district court where Kelley was originally convicted held a hearing and said, "I declare you innocent, and you are fully exonerated."
For Kelley, finally earning a scholarship is the fulfillment of a goal that he's long held, dating to his childhood.
"I know that these past six years I had to prove myself to save my life so I can prove myself that I can play ball," he said.
EMU Athletic Director Scott Wetherbee, via The Detroit News:
"Mr. Kelley is an exonerated man in the eyes of the law, and an eligible student-athlete in the eyes of the NCAA," Eastern athletic director Scott Wetherbee said in a statement Saturday." I encourage you to look into his background with the significant coverage that his story has generated, so you can get a full understanding of the case. As with any student-athlete, we would provide him the same academic and personal resources that are provided to all within our institution, and will hold him to the same standards as every other student-athlete on campus. Eastern Michigan is not looking to become part of a story in which it does not belong, but rather to serve as the first chapter in the next facet of a young man's life. We look forward to helping Mr. Kelley succeed in his academics and on the playing field."
This is an awesome story for Kelley, no matter the destination. The system took years out of this guy’s life that he’ll never get back and now the NCAA’s giving him the green light to let him play four years and live out his dream of playing college football. It’s unfortunate that every time you search his name on Google, you’re going to instantly see a lot of stories say a lot of words with his name in the same sentence, and he doesn’t deserve that. The lasting negative impacts from losing years of your life are limitless, but it’s awesome that EMU wanted to take him on and give him the chance he’s deserved.
The MAC hasn’t moved from its August 8 decision to postpone fall sports to the spring, so it doesn’t look like Kelley will be able to suit up for a game until the spring, or we hear otherwise, but it’ll be a great moment for him when that time finally comes.