Kelly excelled almost immediately. At the age of ten he nearly won the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
In high school, he was a star on both the basketball and football teams. He led the football team at East Brady High to two state championships and had his jersey retired after graduation. Although he was recruited by Penn State's legendary coach Joe Paterno, Kelly chose the University of Miami where he would be able to play quarterback rather than linebacker, which Paterno had suggested.
Once at Miami, it didn't take very long for Kelly to assert himself. Ironically, his first start, in the eighth game of his first season, came against his hometown favorite Penn State. After leading his team to a 26-10 upset, Kelly was made starting quarterback the following year. Kelly led his team successfully and in his senior season was in the running for the Heisman Trophy.