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Courtesy: TKJ Foundation
Weekend edition March 29, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Former Vol Football player organizes ‘Camp 24’ through the TKJ Foundation

Camp 24 was created to carry on the legacy of Fulton High School student, Zaevion Dobson.

Sports have always served as a pivotal avenue for students to connect with something larger than themselves. They open doors to fresh opportunities, foster personal growth, and instill a sense of teamwork.

For Todd Kelly Junior, football was his driving force during his high school years at Webb in Knoxville. As a 4-star recruit, ESPN ranked Kelly #5 nationally as a safety, and he was also considered the #3 overall prospect in the state in 2014. Naturally, he chose to continue his football career at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).

His time at UTK was marked by considerable success. During his freshman year, Todd played in every game and led all freshmen in the SEC in interceptions. He then transitioned to strong safety in his sophomore season. He was so successful; that Kelly was being considered as a draft prospect.

In 2016 he made a poignant, meaningful gesture to change his jersey number from #6 to #24. This change was in honor of his late family friend and local hero, Zaevion Dobson.

Zaevion tragically lost his life in December 2015 while shielding three girls from gunshots in Knoxville. Despite being only a sophomore, Zaevion had already left a profound impact as a leader at his school. He wore the #24 jersey for the Fulton High School Football team.

“I knew his family, and I wanted to honor Zaevion in all that I did. That’s ultimately, why I decided to change my number,” Kelly said.

Kelly represented #24 for one season before a career-ending knee injury altered his trajectory.

“Sometimes life gives you reality checks,” he said. “I worked my whole life for this one thing, then suddenly everything changed, and I had to find something new. My life wasn’t going to be football anymore.”

Now, Kelly is a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Knoxville. It’s an opportunity he credits to “someone taking a chance on him.” He loves the work he’s doing, the relationships he’s forming, and the opportunities for growth at his company.

Despite his positive career shift, Kelly felt a void in his inability to continue honoring Zaevion in the same way he had on the football field. He and his wife started brainstorming ways to bring Zaevion’s name back to center stage.

Camp 24 was the result of a “road trip brainstorm,” and a desire to intertwine Zaevion’s name with the sports community. Kelly designed a camp where students from all over the city, but primarily East Knoxville, could attend, learn about football, make friends, and hear from community leaders.

“The goal is for these kids to see people who look like them in leadership roles; like executive directors, CEOs, presidents, councilmembers, etcetera,” Kelly said.

Courtesy: TKJ Foundation
Courtesy: TKJ Foundation

In its inaugural year, with only two months of planning, Camp 24 saw over 50 participants. Kelly and his wife even personally financed the venture.

After the early success, he established a 501c3 organization, the TKJ Foundation, to further empower youth through sports and secure support from local sponsors. In 2023, the camp served over 100 kids aged 7-14.

In the camp’s third year, Kelly aims to double attendance again with more than 200 participants.

“It’s more than just the athletics of running some football drills,” Kelly said. “It’s about having the right attitude, teamwork, learning life skills, and nurturing leadership qualities,” Kelly explained.

The program also includes a classroom component where participants learn about Zaevion’s legacy and how to be leaders in their communities.

Looking ahead, Kelly is committed to expanding Camp 24 in all aspects, from increasing attendance and securing more business sponsorships, to enhancing community awareness.

“As we add more fuel to our tank, the more we can do with Camp 24,” he said. “I want it to touch many lives and be a place where kids can come and feel heard and supported.”

This year holds particular significance for the community, as it marks Camp 24 in the year 2024, coinciding with what would have been Zaevion’s 24th birthday year. The camp, scheduled for July 13, will host special speakers and surprises in honor of Zaevion.

When asked about his aspirations for the future of Camp 24, Kelly emphasized mentorship.

“We want to stay in contact with these kids after the completion of the camp. We hope there’s a level of accountability and motivation to achieve something great – whether that’s as a pro-athlete, community leader, business executive, or any other role they choose.”

To learn more about Camp 24, visit the website.

If you are a business looking to sponsor Camp 24, visit the sponsorship page.

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