Seton Hall Prep Msgr. Kelly recalls his playing days

WEST ORANGE – In its storied football history, Seton Hall Prep has certainly had its share of great quarterbacks.

Heck, people still talk about the play of Mike Ragan who led Tony Verducci’s Pirates to unbeaten campaigns in 1976 and 1977 (21-0-1). Or Zach Keller, who completed a superb career last fall. All Keller did was throw for 4,702 yards and fire 42 touchdown passes.

But without question, the most famous QB in the history of SHP was a kid from South Orange named Mike Kelly, who started for the Pirates in the fall of 1956. These days that youngster is better known as Msgr. Kelly, the president of SHP and the school’s former headmaster.

“We had a decent season in 1956, going 4-4-1,” said Msgr. Kelly, who was ordained a priest in 1966. “It was a nice experience to play for a coach like Tony Verducci.”

Of course Verducci coached 33 years at SHP, winning an impressive 213 games. His teams averaged 18.5 points per game while only allowing 8.1. The Pirates, who moved from South Orange to West Orange in the summer of 1985, had unbeaten seasons in 1962, 1969, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1985.

“I always enjoyed competing in sports,” said Msgr. Kelly, who helped found the SHP hockey program. “I think my biggest moment came in the spring of 1950 when I was playing little league baseball in South Orange.”

In the first game ever of little league ball in South Orange, Msgr. Kelly, a pretty good shortstop, had the initial hit – a single. Msgr. Kelly, whose favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, was on the Glover’s Esso squad. The other teams in the league were sponsored by the Rotary Club, the Community House and the South Orange Businessmen.

On the Dodgers, Msgr. Kelly admired the team captain, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, the guy who had always supported Jackie Robinson. In football, Msgr. Kelly  was a fan of Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas.

“No one has meant more to our school than Msgr. Kelly,” said assistant headmaster Mike Gallo, who played on Verducci’s most famous pigskin squad, the 1976 edition.

Msgr. Kelly, who had the school’s spanking new athletic complex on Prospect Avenue named after him, has always stressed the importance of a good education. That’s a big reason why he’s so respected throughout the Garden State.

“He really is a special person,” remarked Paul McInnis, who has probably done more for high school hockey than anyone. “A person like that doesn’t come around very often.”

PIRATE PLANKS – One of Msgr. Kelly’s teammates on the 1956 grid team, John Murray, is now the chairman of the SHP Board of Trustees… The first season of football at the Kelly Complex will be in 2017.