The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


Free strength program offered to all high school athletes after school

Photo by Jack Hoffman
Coach Mike Kelley talks with two athletes during strength and conditioning after school on Feb. 2.

Training people to be better physically has always been a crucial part of coach Mike Kelley’s life. At 19, Kelley began his journey as a strength coach intern at West Virginia University (WVU). Throughout his career, he’s worked with players who are now in the NFL as well as Special Operations military forces. 

But working with high-schoolers is where he feels he most belongs. 

Originally from Pittsburgh, Kelley’s journey to East Lansing was long and complicated. Kelley first went to Seton Hill University with a plan to play football and a major in graphic design, but he transferred to Slippery Rock University (SRU) to pursue exercise science after injury concerns made him ineligible. 

While at SRU, Kelley commuted to WVU to be a strength coach intern who specifically worked with football players.

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“I wanted to play college football in the worst way,” Kelley said. “I got too many concussions to make that happen. So [training football players] was my way of filling that void.” 

But this didn’t stop at WVU. The next six years were full of constant opportunities for Kelley to strength train others. He landed jobs and internships at various colleges and received his Master’s in counseling from Liberty University and his degree from SRU.

“I would work 40 to 60 hours a week for free,” Kelley said. “That’s something that every coach who coaches at any level has to do. It’s part of it. You go through the wringer [as] a rite of passage.” 

In winter of 2019, he married his wife, who he met at Campbell University while working as an assistant coach for her within the softball program. Just three months later, Kelley was informed that his wife was pregnant. He realized he couldn’t continue to work long hours to be present with his soon to be family. 

“During COVID I realized I had to make sacrifices,” Kelley said. “What kind of dad do I want to be? What kind of husband do I want to be?” 

Ultimately what brought Kelley to East Lansing was his wife’s offer to coach the MSU Softball team. She accepted the offer, and soon after they moved to East Lansing. 

“I knew that coming here was a new opportunity for me and I really thought about what kind of person that I wanted to be,” Kelley said. “The overarching thought I had in my head was, ‘What do I want my legacy to be?’”

Kelley was offered job opportunities at MSU by many athletic directors, but ended up declining them all in favor of substitute teaching around the area. 

Kelley proposed his idea of a strength and conditioning program to every athletic director he met while subbing. Plus, he scoped out each school’s potential for the program. Ultimately, he saw the most in East Lansing. 

“This is someplace that I think is special,” Kelley said. “You can ask Nikki Norris herself, I was annoying and I knew it. I was purposefully not going to take no for an answer.” 

Once Norris agreed to implement Kelley’s vision at ELHS, Kelley jumped straight into training student athletes during the summer of 2023. 

The program was broken up into three groups: boy’s varsity football, all-boy high school athletes, and all-girl high school athletes. During these sessions, athletes would split time between the turf to work endurance and the weight room to build strength.

Athletes complete a bench press exercise while at a strength and conditioning session on Feb. 2. This exercise was the main focus of the set the students were working on. (Photo by Jack Hoffman)

As the school year began, the program morphed into everyday sessions. The program now combines all genders and sports into each individual session. 

The exercises Kelley selects for the workout of the day are carefully put together to focus on one range of motion. 

“The three [focuses] are vertical, horizontal, and change of direction,” Kelley said. “Those are the things that I use to make my days a little bit more efficient and [then] I can categorize [the exercises].”

However, one of the most important aspects of these sessions is that every one of them is completely free. Kelley sought to do this to give every participant that “private-trainer” experience that not all athletes have the ability to take part in on their own.  

“I feel like I’m the best trainer in Lansing right now,” Kelly said. “I can say that wholeheartedly because I know where I’ve been, who I’ve worked with, what I’ve done and who I know. I want to give kids here the best opportunity possible, for free.”

Even though Kelley has the most  experience with training male football players, he’s found that he prefers to train female athletes. 

“As I branched out, I [found that] I really like working with female athletes because there’s not as much ego,” Kelley said. “[Female athletes] are more coachable. If I tell them to do something they’re like ‘yeah, that makes sense, that’s reasonable.” 

At Kelley’s sessions, there are 20-30 male athletes and five to 10 female athletes. Due to this ratio, Kelley wishes to encourage more female athletes to come in and at least give it a try. 

“If you’re going to be afraid, you’re always going to be afraid unless you take that first step,” Kelley said. “At the end of the day, [strength training] is going to be good for you. It’s going to get you outside your bubble a little bit.”

Kelley hopes to grow his program outside of EL to expose it to other schools around Michigan. However, within EL, he envisions a transformed weight room complete with brand new equipment and more training space.

In the end, the main goal Kelley wants his athletes to strive for is to take ownership over their own potential. He wants these athletes to see themselves getting better and feel proud about doing so, no matter who they are.

“I want you to be able to control how consistent you are and see [how] hard work pays off,” Kelley said. “This is the only place I think that people will tell you hard work sets you up for an opportunity. It doesn’t guarantee success.”

Sisters Caddie Martin (11) and Laila Martin (9) prepare to workout with the bar during strength and conditioning on Feb. 2. The two attended workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to prepare for their spring lacrosse season.

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About the Contributor
Belle Potter
Belle Potter, Staff Writer
Belle Potter is in the class of 2026 and is a staff writer for Portrait.  This is her first year on staff as a sophomore. Belle's favorite thing about journalism is being able to accurately share and tell the unique stories of all the students and staff she has the pleasure of speaking to here at ELHS.   When she's not in the newsroom, Belle enjoys swimming, makes jewelry, drawing, watching movies, and hanging out with her friends.

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