TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As of early Saturday evening, Derrick Kelly II hadn’t seen his little brother in more than two years. And he wasn’t expecting to see him any time soon.
So when Kelly’s pregame warmups for last week’s Garnet and Gold Game were interrupted by the image of Derrickus Kelly on the Doak Campbell Stadium, Kelly couldn’t help but smile.
In a prerecorded video, Derrickus Kelly, stationed with the Navy in Hawaii, apologized to Derrick that he couldn’t be in Tallahassee for the big day, but wished his older brother good luck nonetheless and vowed to try to make it to a regular-season game this fall.
At this point, Kelly, a senior lineman from nearby Gretna, couldn’t help but think something might be up. After all, these types of videos – in which servicemembers overseas greet friends and family back home before sporting events – have become wildly popular in recent years.
And they usually end with a surprise visit from a dad, mom, sister or brother, along with happy tears for everyone involved (and, more often than not, happy tears for millions of viewers on social media channels, too).
“I kind of had an idea after that, that he was about to come out,” Kelly, 22, said with a shy smile. “Even then, I had no idea.”
Kelly didn’t want to get his hopes up, but after spending two years’ worth of football games and holidays without his younger brother, he couldn’t help it.
A few moments later, before the video had even finished, Kelly’s hopes became reality as Derrickus Kelly, in full uniform, came sprinting out of the north end zone tunnel.
The two met at midfield and shared an embrace more than 24 months in the making.
TEARJERKER ALERT: East Gadsden grad and @FSUFootball lineman Derrick Kelly got a surprise visit from his brother, who serves in the Navy and who Derrick hasn’t seen in two years. @abc27 pic.twitter.com/sRsckW0vFr
— Alison Posey (@AlisonPosey14) April 15, 2018
“It was very emotional for me,” Kelly said. “I had no idea going to the game. My mind was focused on the game, primarily. Then when he came out, I just felt it in my heart.
“Saturday was the first time I’ve seen him since he left.”
The Kelly family all got to share in the surprise, too.
Derrickus, 20, coordinated his trip with Kelly’s girlfriend and an aunt, and the three of them were the only ones who knew what was coming.
Which means that, from her place in the stands, Kelly’s mother Frederica McCloud was just as shocked as her oldest son.
“When she first saw it, she started crying,” Kelly said. “Then when he ran out of the tunnel, the tears really started coming down.”
She wasn’t the only one.
“I teared up myself,” Florida State coach Willie Taggart said. “For his brother to surprise him like that, I thought it was big-time. And we appreciate his brother and everything he does for us and our country. I know that just probably made Derrick’s day, knowing his brother was here.”
As the oldest of five children, Kelly has always felt a close bond with his siblings.
“Like white on rice,” as he put it.
He was the one who looked out for them, kept them out of trouble and made sure they stayed on top of their schoolwork.
Which made it especially difficult when one of those siblings left home.
Both Derrick and Derrickus starred as athletes at East Gadsden High, Derrick as a lineman on the football team and Derrickus with the football, basketball and track teams.
Derrickus initially planned to pursue athletics, maybe even follow his big brother to Florida State. But his path veered in a different direction, and when Derrickus embarked on an initial stop in Chicago at the outset of his Naval career, the two brothers realized it might be awhile before they were together again.
“It was very tough on me,” Kelly said. “Because I’ve always been that protector. I was the true definition of a brother’s keeper.”
Derrickus still has four more years in his commitment to the Navy. And, according to his older brother, he “loves it,” and is considering a long-term career in the service.
Which means family reunions might be few and far between for a while.
For now, though, Derrick, Derrickus and the rest of the Kelly family are enjoying each other’s company – Derrickus’ leave time runs through the end of April – while cherishing the memory of a special moment inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
“I was just worried about when I’d be able to see my little brother again,” Kelly said. “And he showed up.”