A self-described tomboy who had never picked up a pair of pom-poms before landing her breakthrough role as high school football cheerleader Lyla Garrity, she now cheers on her fiance, Derek Jeter.
Kelly, 29, was born in Los Angeles and raised in Albuquerque by her mother, Maureen Kelly, who had previously worked as a Las Vegas showgirl. As a child, Kelly says, she saw little of her father, Rick Dufay, who played guitar with Aerosmith during the recording of 1982's "Rock in a Hard Place."
"The rest is history," said Kelly, whose friends call her Mink, or, in moments of levity, Stink. "He's my best friend in the whole world."
Kelly joined her father in Los Angeles, rejected the urging of her friends to become a model - saying she didn't have the body type - and studied to become a surgical assistant. She worked as a surgical technologist for four years and took acting classes on the side before scoring her role on "Friday Night Lights."
Kelly, who sometimes sports bruises from her hobby, wake boarding, which is similar to water skiing, said of her character: "We both have a strong will to fight for what we love and what we believe in."
Kelly has had roles on the television show "What I Like About You" and the films "(500) Days of Summer" and "The Kingdom." Before Jeter, she briefly dated John Mayer.
Asked two years ago by Men's Health what she looked for in her leading man off screen, she said: "A man has to be passionate about something. He has to be focused and genuine. He has to have drive. I really believe that our careers are our first loves. And I think a career should be as important for him as it is for me."