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NFL draft: Chargers select UCLA RB Joshua Kelley in 4th round

The Eastside High grad, who went from a walk-on to leading the Bruins in rushing the past two years, fills a void for the Chargers.

Running back Joshua Kelley called UCLA numerous times asking for an opportunity to join the football team. This time, a different Los Angeles team called him to stay.

The Chargers drafted Kelley on Saturday with the 112th overall pick of the fourth round in the 2020 NFL draft.

Kelley gives the Chargers the power element they needed after running back Melvin Gordon joined the Denver Broncos last month.

“I love outside zone, I love gap schemes, power,” Kelley told reporters after being drafted. “I just love running in between the tackles. I like doing that a lot. That’s something I take pride in myself. I also think I’m versatile, so hopefully I get to use my skill set, but I’ll be doing whatever it takes.”

The selection of Kelley is the latest sign that the Chargers are transitioning into a run-heavy offense as they move forward from the traditional passing scheme they had for many years with quarterback Philip Rivers, who now resides with the Indianapolis Colts.

Kelley was the Chargers’ third selection of the draft. They selected mobile quarterback Justin Herbert with the No. 6 pick and traded up to draft linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 23. The Chargers relinquished their second and third-round picks to the New England Patriots in the Murray trade.

Kelley referred to himself as a north-south runner, but he also showed flashes of being a standout receiver out of the backfield in limited opportunities with UCLA. His power and versatility should complement 2019 breakout star Austin Ekeler, but Kelley will need to compete with Justin Jackson for the second running back spot.

The Lancaster native is no stranger to competition. Kelley went from a walk-on at UCLA to leading the team in rushing the past two years. He left a full scholarship at UC Davis because he wanted to bet on himself.

Kelley made calls to UCLA and USC asking for an opportunity to walk on. Kelley said USC immediately shut the door on him, but UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster showed interest and asked him to send his highlight tape.

“It took a process,” Kelley said. “I had to keep calling and calling. I was persistent and it paid off.”

Kelley, a 5-foot-11, 219-pound running back, is UCLA’s first running back to be drafted since 2016, when Paul Perkins was taken with the No. 149th overall pick in the fifth round by the New York Giants

After transferring from UC Davis after his sophomore season, the Eastside High grad had a historic career at UCLA. Kelley concluded his Bruin career with 454 rushes for 2,303 yards and 24 touchdowns and became the eighth running back in program history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Kelley finished the 2019 season ranked second in the Pac-12 with 96.4 rushing yards per game and was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top walk-on or former walk-on player. He was voted as the team’s MVP by his teammates for his senior season as well.

Three years after he hounded UCLA with phone calls, Kelley will stay home.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Kelley said when the Chargers called. “That was awesome. That was cool. I’m excited. I can’t wait to make them right. To make them feel like they made the right choice.”