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Former CU Buffs’ OL Alex Kelley finds new passion

Starter on 2016 team now competing in Strongman competition

Alex Kelley was a three-year starter at center at Colorado and a member of the 2016 Pac-12 South championship team.
Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Alex Kelley was a three-year starter at center at Colorado and a member of the 2016 Pac-12 South championship team.

Sitting around during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, Alex Kelley needed something to do.

“During quarantine, I got really bored,” said Kelley, who played center for the Colorado football team from 2012-16.

Courtesy of Alex Kelley
Former Colorado offensive lineman Alex Kelley has recently discovered Strongman competition.

Browsing through YouTube, Kelley stumbled across a History Channel reality show, “The Strongest Man in History,” in which four of the strongest men in the world travel around the globe taking on historic feats of strength.

“I had a concept of Strongman (competition) and I always thought it was these guys who were 6-feet-10, 500 pounds who could bench press a car,” Kelley said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not that big; I’ll never be able to do that.’

“I watched this show and it kind of brought it all together, like, ‘Oh, they’re big and they’re strong, but I feel like I can do that. I feel like I can be one of those guys.’ That’s how I stumbled upon the world of Strongman.”

A three-year starter for the Buffaloes, Kelley is now putting his athletic focus on excelling in Strongman competition, while also balancing his day job as a special education teacher at Fairview High School.

Kelley will compete in the Tournament of Titans in Denver on Sept. 26.

“It’s really not too different from football,” Kelley said. “You have to figure out how to get that (weight) from the ground over to this platform and put it on that platform. In football, I have a 350-pouind human being who is faster and stronger than me right in front of me and I have to figure out how to push him 5 yards back.

“It’s the same concept of moving these things that don’t want to be moved.”

At 6-foot-3, 340 pounds, Kelley is a big man who anchored the Buffs’ offensive line during their Pac-12 South championship season of 2016. Kelley pursued a professional career and had one last try out in the spring of 2017 with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League, but was one of their last cuts.

“That was the hardest thing for me to get over,” Kelley said of seeing his career come to a close while some he played with or against were in the NFL. “It really took me a couple years to kind of be like ok, well, that’s not the plan for me and I’ll go and attack the next thing.”

The next thing was teaching. Kelley taught middle school computer science for a year but then discovered a love for special education.

“I get so much joy out of being a special ed teacher,” he said. “I get to make high schoolers laugh and occasionally throw in work in there, too, sometimes. I wouldn’t do any other profession, really.”

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Former Colorado offensive lineman Alex Kelley is competing in Strongman competitions and teaching special education at Fairview High School.

Except for his new passion of Strongman. After not making it with the Redblacks, Kelley devoted his time to teaching and stopped lifting weights. It wasn’t until two months ago that he started again.

“I Google searched ‘Strongman competition,’ and I found this one on Sept. 26,” he said of the upcoming Tournament of Titans. “I was like sweet, I’ll do that. The weights seem kind of heavy but we’ll start working and see what happens.”

After only five weeks of training, Kelley participated in a competition in Denver last month and took second place, while qualifying for the United States Strongman nationals for 2021.

“The thing I was focused on that competition wasn’t really on winning; it was to meet a whole bunch of people who could help, lift every single weight that they had there and just kind of get an introduction to this world.”

Despite the three-year hiatus from lifting weights, Kelley quickly starting reaching the maximum weights he lifted at CU.

“I’ve always been strong,” he said. “The first day I walked onto campus at CU, I was bench pressing 405 (pounds) and squatting 500. All the strength coaches I had were like, ‘Alright, you’re strong, good job, but now we need to teach you how to use that strength while you’re running and hitting another human being.’ I lifted some heavy weights at CU, but I never really lifted to get stronger.”

During the past two months, Kelley has reached new levels.

“It’s fun to see where I was two months ago, where I am now and where I’m going to be in a year and a half,” he said. “It’s been wild so far. Every week, every couple of weeks, I’m increasing some lift – my squat or dead lift or overhead press – by 20 or 30 pounds.”

While Kelley is passionate about teaching, discovering the world of Strongman has allowed him to fuel his competitive fire again.

“I’m a competitor and I still knew my body could compete in some capacity,” he said. “When I saw this Strongman sport, I was like, ‘OK, that’s it, that’s what I’m going to do.’

“I get super excited just talking about it. It’s definitely gets me up in the morning.”