The Hail Mary pass -- that last-ditch prayer of a play that wins the game and brings an entire state to its feet in a burst of unbridled, fist-pumping joy -- belongs to Dawes Middle School now.

It’s the pass all those pre-teen quarterbacks at the after-school program want to throw, to have fall into the waiting arms of their receiver -- the perfect reenactment of the moment that makes football radio announcers go slightly mad in the story-telling.

The guy those Dawes students call coach -- the director of the sports and recreation academy at the school’s Community Learning Center -- gets it.

Heck, he lived it two short years ago when the Huskers were trailing Northwestern 24-21 and the back-up quarterback -- the Nebraska boy wearing a No. 12 jersey -- threw a Hail Mary that landed in the arms of teammate Jordan Westerkamp.

Yeah, that quarterback.

Ron Kellogg III retired his jersey, graduated with degrees in sociology and ethnic studies and did a stint as a businessman at an Omaha insurance agency, a job he had long enough to realize sitting at a desk was not for him.

He heard about the job at Dawes, applied for it and started in June. Now he’s the guy they call coach, the one with a whistle hanging out of his mouth shouting directions in the gym or outside after school.

Kellogg said he liked the idea of taking on something he could make his own, developing a program, expanding sports opportunity for the students. There aren’t many such opportunities for Lincoln middle schoolers, he said, not like there were in Omaha where he grew up.

“Lots of kids don’t know if they’re good at sports because they’ve never tried,” he said. “I’d like to find an avenue for kids to participate at a competitive level.”

That can be particularly tough at a school like Dawes, where more than half the students are on the federal free- and reduced-lunch program and club sports may not be affordable.

Kellogg, who will add the title of school athletic director to his duties next fall, is hoping to increase the opportunities through intramural sports and Community Learning Center-affiliated sports camps.

His new position will allow the school at 52nd Street and Colfax Avenue to try out a co-mingling of the Community Learning Center sports academy and intramural sports.

Karen Bell-Dancy, the Community Learning Center supervisor who hired Kellogg, said strong family values and his experience as a college athlete make him a great fit.

His experience as quarterback has taught him to be analytical, thoughtful, disciplined -- and understand the meaning of teamwork, she said.

“That’s how he’s able to cultivate the leadership he exemplifies with the student body.”

After school, the learning center at Dawes is divided into three academies -- sports, recreation and wellness; arts; and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Students pick an academy each quarter, and spend an hour and a half in after-school clubs and activities related to those before doing homework.

Under Kellogg’s direction, the students play a variety of sports three days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the sports club focuses on football and basketball.

The kids may be all about the Hail Mary, but Kellogg isn’t.

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He understands the connection, but sees them get frustrated when it doesn’t work. Sometimes he takes them inside to the smaller gym to get them to focus on precision and shorter passes.

He emphasizes teamwork, respecting each other and communication, ideals that go beyond sports. It's less about the game and more about the way you participate, he said.

“That’s the stuff I really harp on,” Kellogg said.

He lets the students devise their own offensive and defensive strategies, and he makes sure everybody gets to play. He switches teams around, alternates players so everybody gets a chance. He’ll pair the more accomplished athletes with the less, and if not everybody’s getting a chance to play, he’ll take over as quarterback.

The kids, Bell-Dancy said, like and respect him.

“He’ll have a group of 30 and they’re all engaged and participating,” she said. “They really try to impress him. ... It’s not about the athletics, it’s about the effort. They see him give such a high level of himself.”

He draws on things he learned as a college athlete, including the importance of education.

“They’re all not going to play college football,” he said. “I harp on education as the big key.”

He didn’t come to this gig to boast about his college football days, he said, although the kids love to show him his own highlight videos.

"I did it (college football), and it was great. But I have another life to live,” he said.

And he loves this part of his life, looks forward to going to work every day, although it's challenging. Humbling.

His parents, frankly, were a little surprised he landed in a job like this. This is the son, after all, who has a fear of ending up on an airplane with a screaming baby.

But he's been focused on community service for years, named three times to the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team in college.

And he likes the kids, thinks exposing them to competitive sports builds confidence, helps everybody find their niche on a team.

Darian Pigford, a seventh-grader, thinks that focus on supporting each other and working together is what makes Kellogg a good coach. 

Seventh-grader Bakya Malloy agrees that Kellogg is an "awesome" coach, but not because of one Hail Mary pass.

“He gets us,” he said. “He’s a fun person to be around. That’s why we like him.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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