Kelly brothers begin a battle for playing time
For the second consecutive year, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team opened its winter scrimmaging with a grudge match against the Denver Pioneers.
It’s an informal game where sweatsuits and pinnies are worn in place of uniforms and no official stats are taken, an atmosphere drastically different than the NCAA quarterfinal game where the teams last faced each other — and where Denver won.
“Our goal was to become a deeper team in case somebody does go down,” said UNC coach Joe Breschi.
Part of that mission was placing different players in positions where the team’s starter can comfortably stay the entire season.
For senior Frankie Kelly, that meant playing the third quarter in UNC’s Faceoff X position — a role that has historically gone to senior R. G. Keenan, a former All-American and the 49th pick in the 2014 MLL draft .
“I know my job as a reliever coming out of the bullpen if (Keenan) is having a tough day or needs a breather,” Kelly said. “And I’m happy to do that when I can.”
Frankie Kelly was replaced by his brother, freshman Stephen Kelly, during the fourth quarter.
Frankie and Stephen were born three years, one month apart to a family rooted in lacrosse. Their cousin, sophomore attackman Patrick Kelly, is also on the UNC team. All three played lacrosse at Calvert Hall in Baltimore, Md.
“As I was being recruited, I had (Frankie) here, my cousin here, so it definitely became a factor,” Stephen said. “I mean, it wasn’t the pure decision why I came here but it definitely was a factor, and I’m so glad I’m here.”
Families who play lacrosse at UNC are common in the annals of the Tar Heel men’s lacrosse program.
The Bitter, Holman and Hunt brothers all played for UNC in recent years and many sons follow in their lacrosse-playing fathers’ footsteps to Chapel Hill.
What sets Stephen and Frankie apart from the tradition of brothers playing at UNC is that they’re both at UNC at the same time playing in the same position that their father introduced to them.
“Growing up with our dad, who was a faceoff guy in college and after college, too, we’d always do it together in the backyard,” Frankie said.
Sometimes, the two would practice facing off against each other, their father acting as referee. He’d blow a whistle, and the Kelly brothers would go live and compete for the ball.
There isn’t much room for competition now that both Kelly brothers play for UNC, but there was a time when Stephen and Frankie looked to 2014 as the season when the freshman and senior would play against each other.
“I remember when I committed as a junior in high school, (Stephen) was in eighth grade,” Frankie said. “Our dad played at Cornell, and as soon as I committed, (Stephen) said, ‘Good. You can go to Carolina and I’ll go to Cornell, and I’ll beat you your senior year.’ But he ended up down here, and I’m happy for it.”
Now, Frankie is fairly confident he could take a faceoff against his little brother, and the two look to each other as resources rather than opponents.
“We used to always rely on our dad,” Stephen said. “He taught us everything.
“Now we have each other.”