“I’m just a small town country boy from Aberdeen, Mississippi. Everybody knew each other and I couldn’t get into any trouble. If I did, my parents gave my neighbors permission to spank me!” reflects Reggie Kelly. “I was raised in a loving community. I came from a family of cooks, not chefs, and we made any excuse to get together and have a big family meal.”
Kelly graduated from Aberdeen High School with honors, married his high school sweetheart, Sheila, and played football at Mississippi State University. “I was drafted in the second round and played under Dan Rives for the Atlanta Falcons, then I went to the Cincinnati Bengals for eight years, then back to the Falcons for my final year in the NFL.” After a successful thirteen-year career, Kelly retired in 2012.
His football career is impressive, but his compassion for people is even more extraordinary. “I have a heart for people. It’s just really that simple,” says Kelly. “I have a heart to see people succeed.” With a surprising push from his teammates, Kelly began hosting free football camps in Aberdeen around 2008. “I was playing for the Bengals and came back home to reward the Aberdeen kids who exemplified academic excellence. I invited NFL stars from around the country to help me out as well. We had a blast!”
When the camps came to a close, Kelly’s teammates and volunteers feasted on delicious southern meals, prepared by Kelly’s family. “They raved about it!” says Kelly. “My teammates weren’t accustomed to good southern food that touches your soul. They were adamant about us putting our family recipes on the market. But I only knew athletics; I didn’t have a degree in the food industry. We decided to take a leap of faith into uncharted waters. I gathered my family secrets, pitched my idea to Wal-Mart, and the rest is history.”
KYVAN Foods, a Soul Food Line, was born. “KYVAN is a combination of my kids’ names, Kyla and Kavan. My wife and I combined the two names to leave a lasting legacy for our kids.” Kyla is eleven-years-old and Kavan is nine, and Kelly is already teaching them the family business. “I enjoy taking them with me to appearances so they can understand customer service, learn how to conduct a meeting, how to be loyal and do things with integrity.”
KYVAN Foods hit the market in 2011, and is sold in stores across around the country. Their tasty Honey Apple Salsa and Sweet Barbecue Sauce are big sellers across the southeast. Kelly smiles, “Our Honey Apple salsa is made with premium honey and delicious apples, then perfectly paired with cilantro and peppers. It is ‘Salsa with a Soul.’ All of these are family recipes – passed down from generation to generation.”
When he is not busy promoting KYVAN Foods, Kelly can be found volunteering and positively changing lives. He coaches youth basketball and flag football leagues, and the impression he leaves on others is astounding. Just last week, a former teammate (who was drafted by the Bengals to take Kelly’s position) sent him a memorable message. It read, “I love you big brother. I appreciate you teaching me how to be a man on and off the field.” Kelly says, “I was truly blown away by that message. Even though he was drafted to replace me, I was never upset or angry. It was a grand opportunity for me to teach and help him grow. My career has never been about money or being in the spotlight, but it’s about affecting lives. His message truly blessed my heart. That is the reason I do what I do.”
Kelly and his family are settled in Atalanta, but travel back home to Mississippi at least twice a month. “Any time the kids get a break, we go home to Aberdeen. It is very important for our kids to know their heritage. We want them to know where their family was born and raised, and details about the great state of Mississippi. And…hopefully I might get them to attend the great Mississippi State University one day!”
Kelly's fans, followers and foodies can follow him on Twitter at ReggieKelly82! Click here to visit Kelly's personal website or you can browse the KYVAN Foods website here! Click here to like his Facebook page!