COLUMBIA — It’s not uncommon for sports teams to huddle up around one player who gives a rousing speech or leads a chant.
What is probably uncommon, though, is for that player to parody a movie while in the middle of the huddle. But that’s exactly what Rock Bridge senior Matt Kelly does before his team’s soccer games.
Rock Bridge (26-3) vs. Nixa (24-3)
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
The winner will advance to play in a semifinal match against either Francis Howell Central or Oakville on Friday, Nov. 18 at Blue Springs South High School.
In an imitation of King Leonidas in the film "300," Kelly stands above his kneeling teammates and yells down toward the other 10 starters, “Gentleman! What is your profession?”
Kelly's teammates yell back, "Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop" as they stand and surround him.
“I don’t know if it intimidates the other team,” Kelly said. “It might just get a good laugh out of them. It’s just something fun to do to kind of get our mind off the game for a second.”
“It gets us really jacked up for the game," junior forward Ryan Stanowski said of the routine.
Kelly said he got the idea for the pregame chant from former Bruin Brady Wulff, who last season led the team in it’s "Boomtown" cheer prior to games.
“I don’t know if he adopted that to try to loosen his teammates up or to get them intense for the first 10 minutes, or if he did it just to have a funny thing to do pregame because we had this whole Boomtown thing last year," Rock Bridge coach Kyle Austin said. "I don’t know what it was, but it’s worked. And far be it from me to question it.”
Kelly said he’s not exactly sure when he started doing the chant, but he thinks it might have been five weeks ago at a tournament Rock Bridge played at Kickapoo High School.
It was in this tournament that Rock Bridge won 2-0 against previously undefeated Nixa High School. The Bruins have since advanced to the Class 3 quarterfinal, where they face Nixa again. Rock Bridge (26-3) hosts the Eagles (24-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rock Bridge High School.
Kelly's pregame chant has become increasingly important as the Bruins have advanced through the state playoffs as the state's top-ranked team.
The chant, Austin said, is “the epitome of Matt."
Kelly has found a good balance between fun and focus, teammates say. Stanowski said is antics keep the team loose but also get them focused on the game
“He really lightens the team up and really gets us relaxed," junior Tyler Bales said. "He gets us focused when we need to be, but also he has a good time when it’s appropriate and really just loosens the team up and gets us prepared.”
Kelly leads Rock Bridge in scoring this year, but it wouldn’t matter how good of a soccer player he is, Austin said. His teammates would still look at him as a leader.
“It’s the personality and it’s the person behind those skills that I think really wins him the respect of his teammates," he said.
Bales described Kelly as a great guy with a great sense of humor, and he thinks that allows Kelly to connect with everybody he meets.
“He’s hanging out with everyone; it doesn’t matter who it is," Bales said. "He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s friendly to everyone, and everyone wants to be friends with him.”
“He’s always got time for everybody, and he’s always there for everybody.”
Kelly said those things are just part of his personality.
“I’m very outgoing," he said. "I love to talk to people. I’m kind of a people person.”
“He respects every teammate he has,” Austin said. “Whether it’s a freshman coming up and playing with us just to fill a spot or whether it’s a senior starting next to him. He takes them all seriously and treats them with the utmost respect.”
One of the teammates Kelly has had the most affect on is Stanowski, who will be the team’s senior forward next year after Kelly graduates. He'll have underclassmen looking to him for guidance, just as he looks to Kelly now.
Last year, Wulff and the other team captains influenced Kelly's leadership tactics, but he said he didn't feel obligated to take up an active leadership role this year.
“It’s just like, naturally, I’m kind of a leader,” Kelly said.
Many things come naturally to Kelly, his coach said.
“He’s one of those kids that just excels at anything he tries,” Austin said, adding that Kelly will be successful in whatever he does after his time at Rock Bridge.
Kelly said he is unsure of his plans after high school and is waiting for the season to finish before he makes any definite decisions. He said his soccer career will continue in college, but he is unsure whether he will choose his college based on soccer.
“He could very easily go on to star at some school athletically," Austin said. "Or he could just as easily be the president of a frat."