Utah State football: Can Keeton become one of the best ever?
Boise • The newfound fame and the adulation. The All-WAC honors. The moniker of being the best quarterback in the state of Utah and the hope of someday playing in the NFL.
Chuckie Keeton doesn't quite know what to make of it all.
Utah State's star sophomore quarterback shows no hint of arrogance. His parents Charles and Lavern Keeton raised him to be humble, to handle being good at what he does by working even harder.
Success never has been easy to achieve for Keeton. While many of today's best in college football have received star status from day one, Keeton still remembers battling Trent O'Connor over multiple years for the right to be the starting quarterback at Cypress Creek High in Houston.
When told many of the schools in Texas wanted Keeton to convert to wide receiver or defensive back during the recruiting process, he simply laughed and gave his usual quiet answer.
"I didn't know they wanted me at all."
Utah State is nationally ranked, 10-2 on the season and one win against Toledo on Saturday away from cementing one of the best seasons in school history. Entering the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and beyond, Keeton has a legitimate shot at becoming one of the greats in Aggie history.
Statistically, Keeton has already set two single-season records one for touchdown passes and the other for all-purpose yardage by a quarterback. Yet for all of the gaudy numbers and for everything he's done for Gary Andersen's offense, Keeton's breakthrough year would have rung hollow had it not been for all the winning.
"Honestly, that's the only thing that matters," Keeton said. "If we lose on Saturday to Toledo, it's kind of all for nothing. Do I think I can end up as one of the best to ever play here? I think it's possible. But it all depends on the guys around me, because I can't do much without them. Football is a team game, and we are going to lose a lot of productive guys around me who need to be replaced."
Watching Keeton play, the poise and maturity are evident. His dynamic play-making with his feet and his much improved throwing motion are apparent. He rarely turns the ball over. And as wins over Utah and Louisiana Tech proved, Keeton possesses the ability to turn his game up a notch when the pressure is most intense.
As an underclassman, Keeton commands as much respect from his peers as anyone on the team. For as much talent as he has, Keeton has emerged and thrived from adversity. When he arrived on campus, he beat out Adam Kennedy as a true freshman for the starting role. When he suffered a scary neck injury last year against Hawaii and Kennedy led the Aggies to a bowl berth by winning five straight, Keeton had to fight for his job again.
"That could've been a Wally Pipp kind of situation," Charles Keeton said. "But Chuckie was just determined to improve. He put in the work, and it's paying off for him. He's got an 'it' factor that's pretty special."
Football has been one seemingly never-ending challenge of silencing the doubters for Keeton. Twice he won the job from O'Connor in high school, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and running for more than 1,000 as a senior at Cypress Creek.
Despite that, the Texas schools showed little interest. Texas A&M liked Keeton, but settled on someone named Johnny Manziel. Texas found David Ash. Baylor showed some interest, but never offered a scholarship. Eventually, Keeton committed to Air Force.
A recruiting trip to Logan on the night Utah State upset BYU in 2010 changed that for Keeton. He decided to become an Aggie.
"That was a stroke of luck for us," senior wide receiver Matt Austin said. "He has the chance to be one of the best to ever do it here. And he's a better person than he is a player. He's got a focus that takes him beyond the field."
The next two years could push Keeton in with the all-time greats in USU history, players such as Merlin Olsen, Anthony Calvillo, Emmitt White, Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner. With Austin and Kerwynn Williams gone, Keeton will be the face of the Aggies in their inaugural run through the Mountain West Conference.
Keeton this summer will work with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr., who famously coached Cam Newton the year before his national title campaign at Auburn. He won't have to fight for attention next season, as many know who he is. For the first time, he will have a bulls-eye on his jersey from the start, instead of being the underdog.
"Chuckie's a special young man," Andersen said. "My feeling is that he will get better and better. He works hard, and he certainly has the potential to be one of the best."
Chuckie Keeton file
• 3,144 yards passing
• 29 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions
• Has thrown for more than 300 yards five times this season
• Has set school records for passing touchdowns and all-purpose yardage in a season
• Ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency
• Has 527 yards rushing