Chad Kelly silences the doubters with MOP caliber season

By Kristina Costabile, CFL.CA

Chad Kelly heard it all.

He heard the doubts. He heard the criticism. He heard the questions. All of it. He heard it.

In the off-season after hoisting the Grey Cup last November, the Toronto Argonauts lost their starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson as he moved on to a new opportunity south of the border.

The team decided to go with Kelly as their No. 1 QB heading into the 2023 season, following his heroics in the championship game at Mosaic Stadium and carrying just one career CFL start in his pocket.

And that’s when the chatter began in the media and amongst CFL enthusiasts, with most questioning Kelly’s lack of experience to lead the Boatmen in their championship-defending season.

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It was hard, the Argos pivot said, to not hear the noise, but he decided that instead of drowning in the negativity to use it as fuel to his fire and show everyone that they were wrong about him.

“My friend said something last night that kind of stuck with me, he was like, ‘a lot of people wrote you off and it’s hard not to see it on social media,’” Kelly admitted after his team’s practice on Wednesday.

“He’s like, ‘you actually overcame all those things because people tried throwing you down saying, ‘oh, you’re not able to do this, you won’t be this, you won’t be that.’ But you persevered. You showed these people that it doesn’t matter if you rip me down or tear me down, I’m still going to be able to go to work every day, try to get better, do whatever I can and become the best player I can.’”

It’s kind of funny in a way, looking back on those headlines from this past winter, knowing what we know now.

Kelly’s been nominated for the league’s Most Outstanding Player, earned a CFL and Division All-Star nod, and has led his Argos to tying a franchise-record in wins with 16.

We’ve seen his arm strength and his accuracy on full display this year as he’s thrown for 4,123 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. He’s excellent with his legs, too, running for another 248 yards and eight majors (second-most in the CFL), and has been able to scramble out of the pocket to extend plays when things start to break down.

The Kelly-led offence finished first overall in turnovers given up (27), interceptions thrown (15), and fumbles lost (five). The unit was also second in offensive points with 29.3 per game and in offensive touchdowns (56).

Not too bad for someone who didn’t have much time playing in the Canadian Football League.

“He’s got all the tools,” running back Andrew Harris said, while also noting that Kelly is the ultimate competitor.

“He can make all the big throws, he’s really quick getting the ball out, and he can run the ball. He has that intangible. The way he thinks about the game and how he sees it is really what separates him and especially being so young. You add all those things up and that’s what amounts to the success has had.”

With the cloud of doubters around the 29-year-old’s head before the campaign started, Kelly says remembers a moment during that time that he decided he would ignore them all. Well, he catches himself, there were two moments. Actually, he corrects again, three.

“(The first was) when someone said I didn’t have it, who has played up here,” said Kelly, who wouldn’t share exactly who he was referencing. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”

The second was when head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said the team was going to a Toronto Maple Leafs game and Dinwiddie told Kelly he would join them and said, “you’re going to be the guy.” That made Kelly feel like he had the confidence of his head coach to lead the squad moving forward.

“Third was Drew (Andrew Harris) called me halfway through the off-season,” remembered Kelly. “And he was like, ‘hey, if you’re here, I’m coming back.’ I was like, ‘alright, perfect. Let’s do it.’”

That call, Harris remembered, was the veteran wanting to let Kelly know that heading into the year, their success wouldn’t all be the quarterback’s load to carry. They’d all be there for him, as a team, as they rowed together to steer the ship towards the ultimate goal.

“I think that he needed to know we had his back, guys like myself and guys like AJ (Ouellette),” Harris said when asked about that call to Kelly in the off-season. “(I wanted him to know) that him being the quarterback, it wasn’t going to be on his shoulders. A lot of times, when you come into a starting quarterback role, you put that pressure on yourself and it becomes heavy. It’s a lot of weight to carry.”

While those doubters from the winter have been silenced, there’s still one tough critic still looking at every move Kelly makes: himself.


At Wednesday’s practice, Kelly didn’t feel like he had the best outing, he threw a few interceptions to his defence. So when things wrapped up, the Argos pivot forced himself to run sprints at the bubble-covered Lamport Stadium before he could call it a day.

“If I do something I don’t like in practice,” Kelly said. “I need to make up for it with some sprints.”

Like a punishment? “Correct,” he stated.

Whatever his tactics are, sprints or otherwise, to make sure he’s at peak performance, they’re working. And he’ll have to be at his best this weekend in the matchup against the Montreal Alouettes with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line.

Montreal’s defence has been stellar this season, forcing 48 turnovers, second in the league just behind Kelly’s Argonauts (54). Last week the Als didn’t allow the Tiger-Cats to score more than field goals and held their No. 1 receiver, Tim White, to no catches on just three targets.

“I was looking on their roster, they’re built very well,” said Kelly about the group that includes in-season signings of Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon, who both made an impact in last week’s win over Hamilton.

“They have a lot of great players they invested in on defence and they’re playmakers, all across the field. The D-line, linebackers, safeties, corners, half backs, they’re all good.”

Now it all comes down to this: Saturday’s Eastern Final at BMO Field, a place Toronto was undefeated in 2023, where Kelly and his Argos are just one win away from playing in the 110th Grey Cup.

If they do it, what a way that would be to silence the doubters for good.

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