Thursday, January 18, 2007

Othello's Eddie Keele finds meaning in injury

Eddie Keele’s football season and college athletics career ended on Sept. 16.

After tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament, Keele’s dream of playing professional football was in serious jeopardy. Perhaps worse, he wouldn’t be able to take the field for the better part of his senior season, one that held high hopes for the BYU Cougars.

As he lay on the field in Boston, both knees were in pain. Though the injury to his right knee is what cost him much of the season, the left one felt worse at first.

“I thought maybe I had strained something, but nothing bad,” Keele said. “It didn’t really hurt that bad.”

The next morning though, Keele knew something was wrong when he noticed extreme swelling.

The week after the injury, Keele said he had already come to grips with the season-ending injury. He said he was fine. But he was not fine.

Keele later admitted that he had alternated between feeling fine and feeling depressed for the first weeks after the injury. He and his wife, Jennie, cried for a couple of days.

“It was almost harder for her [Jennie] than it was for me,” Keele said. “I’m still a little upset when I think about it. I was shocked for a week straight and didn’t know what to think about it.”

He went with Jennie to his hometown of Othello, Wash., for a few days to shake off the bitter disappointment that accompanies a crushed dream. He didn’t visit anybody besides his family.

Eventually, Keele came to grips with the situation.

“There was a lot of crying the first few weeks,” Keele said. “But now I’m OK.”

Keele still has hopes of playing in the National Football League. Keele said he has made contact with about 15 agents, but at the present time is focusing on rehabilitating his knee. Despite the injury, Keele’s conversations with agents have continued at their normal pace, he said. Perhaps the injury is less crucial to an offensive lineman than it would be to a player who must cut and change direction more often, such as a running back, Keele said.

For a quarterback or running back, racking up big statistics in yards and touchdowns are measuring sticks for performance. Keele’s success on the field, however, can be measured with one number – zero. As in zero sacks allowed in the 2005 season.

This stat is one of the reasons why Keele has gotten looks from agents. And Keele still does what he can so his football career may progress. In fact, Jay Omer the head strength and conditioning coach for BYU athletics, said Keele’s work ethic has helped him add 30 pounds to his bench press since his surgery in September.

BYU’s starting right guard, Travis Bright, said because of hard work, he expects Keele to soon improve on the 535-lb. mark on the bench.

“He comes in well before anyone else to do his rehab,” Bright said. “He’s probably one of the hardest-working guys on the team; he’s always that person that’s going to do that little extra.”

Bright also said he and Keele push each further when working out. Keele is also careful to put in the necessary time to study offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ plays, Bright said.

Despite the importance place football has in Keele’s life, he recognizes the other important aspects of his life. Keele’s beliefs and support system have been paramount to his ability to cope with the injury. Faith and family fuel him. He even found a silver lining to his injury: more time for church responsibilities. Hours after arriving home from the Boston College game, some of Keele’s ecclesiastical leaders called him to be a counselor in his elders’ quorum.

“Things happen for a reason, and I’m trying really hard to do what I’m supposed to,” Keele said. “Tearing my ACL is not the end of my world. I can keep working and hopefully fulfill my church callings. I’ll do better at school and be a better husband, hopefully, and focus on things that matter even more [than football].”

Jennie Keele, who is a starter on BYU’s basketball team, praised her husband for how he has handled adversity and maintained his priorities.

“He’s always been positive and he looks for the best in everything,” Keele said.

Eddie Keele returned the compliment, saying his wife helps him stay optimistic and confident.

“She always tells me how good I am,” Keele said. “It helps me feel tough.”

Working through hard times usually leads to some kind of good result, Keele said. He has seen others deal with difficulty. For example, the father of one of Keele’s friends and teammates passed away recently. While Keele has had his own set of hardships, he said they are nothing compared to what his teammate goes through.

The injury may open up avenues for Keele to achieve other dreams, such as coaching, teaching and working in the field of pharmaceuticals. If he is unable to make a living from football, he would prefer to work in pharmaceuticals because, as he said with some embarrassment for fear of sounding selfish, he’ll need the money. If he is already financially established, Keele would prefer to coach and teach at a high school.

It’s no surprise Keele would want to work at a social job. The smile on his face while he teaches P.E. and Health at Timpview High School (Provo, Utah) for his internship shows Keele loves to be around people, Bright said.

At Bright’s first college game, Keele was the first person to calm his nerves.

“He said the right things,” Bright said. “He told me to treat it like it was just another practice.”

Whether Keele is lending a comforting word to a teammate, or cracking jokes at offensive line meetings, Bright said Keele gives the team a calm assurance.

“[With Keele], you get the feeling everything’s going to work out,” Bright said. “He’s going to do his job…and the team feeds off that confidence.”

It’s that same confidence that lets Keele know – happen whatever may – everything is going to work out fine.

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