On Sunday, the football team won its first game of the season 33-15 against Bowdoin, but new Head Coach Aaron Kelton isn’t dwelling on that success. “We take each game one at a time,” he said. “We try not to even focus on rivalries because we would be exhausted. Everyone is a rival to Williams, and we focus in on who our next opponent is. We deal with each rivalry as we come to it. Winning is important for us. Every game is important. You only get eight opportunities.”
Kelton plans to help the team capitalize on its opportunities this year, building on the tradition of excellence and winning record left by former head coach Mike Whalen. In mid-May, Kelton was named the new head football coach, leaving his position as defensive coordinator at Columbia to replace Whalen, who left to fill the positions of head football coach and assistant athletic director at Wesleyan.
Thus far, Kelton seems every bit the amicable, intelligent and confident man he is billed to be. While I was waiting to speak with him, he stood on the sidelines of Cole Field listening to a small group of people. Throughout the few minutes I spent observing him, he never interrupted or spoke over anyone who was talking to him. He listened and gave each person his full attention – a practice reflected in his person-centered approach to managing his team.
“I met [the team and staff] during the interview process, and that was different than I am normally used to,” Kelton said. “I knew a lot about them. I did my homework, so I knew who pretty much every one of them was as a football player, but what was important was getting to know them personally. They didn’t know me, and they were trying to feel me out. It gave me a chance to know those guys, put a name to a face. It was a nice chance for us to share some moments as human beings. Not as coach and player, but as people.”
Kelton said that he is focused on two main objectives this season: winning and teaching. “Teaching life skills through football is very important,” Kelton said. “When [the players] are on the field, I want them to win. When they are in the classroom, I want them to win. There is something to be said for people who want to win all the time – that makes you successful in school and all throughout life. Athletics are some of the best teaching tools we have in this country, and I want to use them properly in order to make sure that our players win all the time.”
In coaching a game that can at times get overcomplicated, Kelton’s strategy involves having a positive attitude and sticking to the basics.
“It is really a belief system,” he said. “Hard work and preparation are important but a lot of the battle is believing you can compete and then going out and doing just that. Also, people overanalyze it a lot, but football is still football. You still have to run, throw and tackle. Part of my philosophy is that you need to be fundamentally sound. You will always be in the game if you believe in yourself, and you can do the fundamentals well.”
Kelton demands from himself the same excellence he demands from his team. A tri-athlete in high school, Kelton represented Wellesley High School in baseball, basketball and football. He started at quarterback and did so again at Springfield College, experiences which have helped him to become a great defensive coach.
“The transition [to coaching defense] was easier for me because I was a quarterback,” he said. “At times I think it gives me an advantage because [as a quarterback] you study defense all the time. I also know what offenses are trying to do to because I spent so many years trying to do the same thing.”
During his tenure at Columbia, Kelton took advantage of opportunities to work with NFL coaching staffs through the league’s summer internship program. Over the course of the past few years, Kelton has worked with the coaching staff of the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals.
Although moving to rural Williamstown was a change for Kelton and his wife, Charlotte, and daughter, Kelsi, the process has been a smooth one.
“The transition to Williams has been great,” he said. “Everyone has been so welcoming and kind to my family. It feels great to be here, and it is something that I have been preparing to do for a long time.”
Focused and driven, Kelton brings a certain confidence, intensity and passion to the team that comes from being very good at what he does. With these attributes, as well as his extensive experience as a coach and player, Kelton appears to be poised to lead Williams football to another successful season.