Chandler Kelsch wreaks havoc for Miners

The senior is at the forefront of a suffocating Park City defense

Park City linebacker Chandler Kelsch pressures the quarterback during Park City's season-opening win over Wasatch last month. Kelsch, a senior, has been a key piece for Park City's defense this year.
Park Record file photo

Park City senior Chandler Kelsch has made an impact on both his opponents and the outcomes of the Miners’ football games so far this season. And he made it clear from the very beginning. 

During the Miners’ season-opening win against Wasatch, the senior linebacker was wreaking havoc all over the field. Three Park City defensive linemen applied pressure on a third down in the third quarter, while fellow senior linebacker Brayden Beyer feigned a blitz before dropping back into coverage. Amid the chaos, the seas parted and opened up a giant hole in the middle of the field. 

Kelsch sped through the gap like a heat-seeking missile, untouched on his way to the passer. Wasatch’s quarterback attempted to sidestep past Kelsch, but the senior made a last-second adjustment and grabbed the passer’s legs. That was enough to trip up the quarterback for Kelsch’s second sack of the night and force one of many Wasatch punts.

The senior ended the night with 16 total tackles and his two sacks. Two weeks later against Green Canyon, Kelsch recorded two more sacks and eight total tackles. Along with Beyer, Kelsch provides the Miners an experienced, physical presence to Park City’s stout defense in the middle of the field. The Miners suffered their first defeat last week in a 21-14 loss to East, but they’ve only given up 44 points in four games heading into Friday night’s homecoming matchup against Murray. 

“Having him and Brayden inside, two seniors, like that, makes me look pretty smart as a linebackers coach,” Park City head coach Josh Montzingo said. “I’m super blessed. I can’t say enough, having those two guys just kind of calms everything down. And then having a great (defensive) line in front right now, they’re super athletic. That’s a big part of what those linebackers are able to do is that disruption up front, too – the package together. Really, really lucky and blessed to have those guys.”

Kelsch led the Miners in sacks last season as a junior with seven, and he’s more than picked up from where he left off last season. From Montzingo’s perspective, Kelsch came on strong at the end of last season and used that as a foundation for his play this year.

“By the end of the year, he was a completely different player than he was at the start,” Montzingo said. “You could see the growth and the maturity throughout the season – a lot of lessons learned. He took all of those lessons last year and has just taken it to another notch this year. You can now see the confidence coming along with the lessons from last year and playing at a speed that I think he’s enjoying right now.”

Kelsch has come up with several clutch tackles this season to help the Miners’ defense get stops, but it’s a process for the senior.

“First thing’s first, you’ve got to do your job,” Kelsch said. “And if they’re coming to you, just make the tackle. I tackle lower, make a lower tackle, so I just tackle their ankles, and it works out for me. But it’s different for every person.”

The senior also excels at making critical open-field tackles to prevent big plays. Opponents have a tough time breaking away from him and Beyer at linebacker.

“Open-field tackles are hard to make, that’s no secret,” Kelsch said. “I feel like they’re big tackles. But at the same time, like I said, it’s from the boys making those plays to make it out to me. You’ve got to know how to tackle, and you’ve got to trust your boys to make the plays for you.”

Kelsch pairs his tackling prowess with a knack for the mental side of the game. His athleticism and mental process allow him to make plays just by being in the right place at the right time.

“He just has really good instincts,” Montzingo said. “That, and lessons learned from last year, knowing what he can and can’t do, what he should and shouldn’t do. So, he’s not trying to do too much. He’s also staying within the scheme of the defense and knows that his athleticism will shine if he does that.”

From a defensive scheme standpoint, Kelsch adds a little bit of everything for the Miners. Park City has been using two safeties, which gives Kelsch more responsibilities. But he’s excelled so far in his role and has played a large role in the Miners making the lives of opposing offenses miserable. 

“That backside linebacker’s incredibly important because they’re going to be having a lot of opportunities to slip things from behind and make a lot of one-on-one tackles,” Montzingo said. “You have to have a sure-handed tackler that’s going to do that. He’s everything you could ask as far as that’s concerned. Plus, he’s done a really great job of rushing the passer.”

Chandler Kelsch goes low and wraps up a Wasatch player for a tackle.
Park Record file photo

As the sacks pile up, Kelsch continues to develop as a pass rusher. Plenty of hard work in the offseason and some help from his teammates have turned him into a wrecking ball. 

“Last year, I got a lot of rushes, defensively got sent off the edge a lot,” Kelsch said. “I feel like my pass-rush moves have gotten a little better. Speed’s, like I said, got a little faster. So, it’s a little bit easier to get to the quarterback. And the boys on the edge getting the pressures. Really why I’m getting the sacks is from the (defensive) linemen.”

Just like his instincts, some of his pass-rushing ability is natural. 

“Pass rushing sometimes, you can work on some certain skills and techniques, but a lot of it’s just feel,” Montzingo said. “Timing, knowing when to go, being able to slip this small, little gap or beat someone with your feet. And he just has a good knack for doing that and kind of taking advantage of his quickness and size against a bigger lineman and being able to make the guy look unathletic, as Chandler’s pretty athletic.”

Kelsch draws inspiration from the New Orleans Saints’ Demario Davis, his favorite player, as well as former Utah linebacker and first-round draft pick Devin Lloyd and current Ute Lander Barton. He might not be exactly like those guys, but he doesn’t have to be for Park City.

“He’s such a smart player,” senior Jack Stouffer said. “His reads are really good, so he knows where to go every play. He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays like he’s the biggest guy, so that’s good.”

Stouffer and Kelsch are close friends, and Kelsch and his teammates up front make Stouffer’s life in the secondary much easier. 

“Our defensive line is actually pretty good this year, so we get a good pass rush,” Stouffer said. “It takes a lot of stress off the (secondary), too.”

Off the field, Kelsch is a good example for the younger players on the team to follow. Over the years, Stouffer has gotten to know him pretty well. With so many returners from last year on the defensive side of the ball, chemistry has been a major strength for the Miners as well.

“He’s definitely a shier type of kid,” Stouffer said. “But I love him. He’s super funny, he’s outgoing, he cares for people, stuff like that.”

“He’s not necessarily a rah-rah guy, but he’s willing to talk when it’s necessary,” Montzingo added. “But also (he) just leads by example. He comes to work every day, he practices the way he plays, and that’s the highest compliment we can give. Both him and Brayden in there, they have high expectations for the younger guys. And, I think, they’re kind of setting the example for the next guy up.”

Kelsch is on pace to break his sack total from last year while leading his team on and off the field. With him and Beyer, the Miners are rock solid in the middle of the field. Opponents have figured that out the hard way this year. 


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