Utah State football: Chuckie-for-Heisman hinges on opener

First Published Aug 30 2014 10:47AM      Last Updated Dec 29 2014 04:58 pm

(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton poses for a portrait during media day press availability at Romney Stadium in Logan, Utah, Aug. 4, 2014.

Logan • Seeing his image and the words "Chuckie4Heisman" plastered on the front of notebooks at the Mountain West Conference's media gathering prompted Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton to say he was going to pass out the notebooks to his teammates.

"I'm going to make sure they take them to class," he joked.

While Keeton's good-natured take on all the publicity has made him a popular media figure in college football, Utah State's Heisman campaign is no joking matter.

Never before has the school launched such a publicity campaign for a player. There are the 1,500 notebooks that have been printed and mailed to media outlets, a dedicated website (chuckiekeeton.usu.edu) that details his bio and athletic achievements and an infinite number of videos, tweets and other social media onslaughts planned by the Utah State athletic department.

The way the Aggies see it, they've never had a player like Keeton on their roster — a guy who not only has the athletic ability to succeed against premier teams but also an engaging personality and catchy name Heisman voters love.

He could be Logan's own version of Johnny Football, only kinder, wiser, and just maybe, even better on the field.

"He is a win-win for us," said Doug Hoffman, Utah State's associate athletic director over media relations. "He is charismatic and a great player and it will help us get the message out not only about our program, but the entire university."

The closest such campaign the Aggies had was in the 1960s when the Aggies publicized Merlin Olsen as a candidate for the Outland Trophy, which he won. However, the school didn't have all the social media outlets the Aggies have now and plan to use in the coming weeks.

"It's free," Hoffman happily notes of the social media blitzkrieg he wants.

So too, in a way, is the publicity that Keeton could get if the Aggies beat Tennessee. The Sunday season opener in Knoxville gives Keeton a unique opportunity to showcase his skills, since the game was moved to a Sunday night so it could be televised on the SEC Network.

He'll have an audience of hungry football fans curious to know more about a quarterback whose fame is growing.

"As soon as that game was moved to a Sunday night, I started hearing, 'Oh yeah, Chuckie Keeton, didn't he almost beat Auburn?'" said national college football analyst Tony Barnhart. "People recognized it right away this is a big game and Tennessee fans are worried."

The Heisman campaign is in full force now, but it has been a long time coming. The Aggies actually planted the seeds of the Heisman campaign back in 2012 when Keeton and the Aggies were in the midst of the program's record-breaking season.

Then-coach Gary Andersen and Hoffman met and decided to start the Chuckie PR machine with the goal of launching it full force in 2013. So, as the 2012 season wound down, Andersen started referring to Keeton as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

"We didn't even throw the Heisman name out there," Hoffman said. "But coach Andersen wanted to make sure people started regarding him as one of the best quarterbacks in the country."

Hoffman and his staff were still in the planning stages of the Heisman campaign in the spring of 2013 when he received a phone call by some students from Miami who wanted to publicize a Heisman contender as part of their class project. Their pick was Keeton, a guy from a small school nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, not from some glitzy California school or power league.

"We knew we were on the right track," Hoffman said. "That kind of legitimatized things."

The students started the twitter account Chuckie4Heisman, an account the school continues to maintain with 1,043 followers.



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