His response, in many ways, was poetic. After all, it’s the unexpected that put him in this trying situation in the first place.
But when Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton rummaged for the appropriate words to describe his improvisational, chaotic and wildly successful style of play, he provided a window into his mindset.
“For me, it’s the unexpected,” Keeton says, virtually beaming through the telephone while talking about his playing style. “Everyone knows how a play is supposed to look when everything happens perfectly fine. But when things don’t go that way…”
Let’s stop it there for a moment, because this part’s important. This is where Chuckie Keeton approaches glorified Manziel-ian air.
They are very different players despite their master's degrees in impulse production, but each warrants your utmost attention on every single dropback. It’s for this reason I implore you to bookmark Keeton. Set your DVR, study the schedule accordingly and do whatever it takes to see his each and every play.
You’re likely to witness something you’ve never seen before, like when he lost his shoe mid-play against Utah and still managed to calmly pick up 16 yards and a first down.
He doesn’t garner the same consideration that Manziel or other great improv artists do nationally, but much of this is because he plays in the Mountain West (and formerly in the WAC). Still, his cult-like following has grown each year. With every magical escape and touchdown pass—every unexpected moment—he has become increasingly difficult to ignore.
The unexpected had been good to the 6'2", 200-pound QB through his first three seasons, although it turned on him on Oct. 10 of last year.
Late in the first quarter against Utah, BYU defensive tackle Remington Peck wrapped his arms around the QB trying to deliver another highlight-reel moment. Unable to escape the tackle, however, Keeton fell almost straight downward.
There wasn’t a pop, according to Keeton; no warning signs for the serious injuries that he has since heard plenty of. Instead, it was more of an intense stretch, followed by intense pain and then a tsunami of concern.
“It was definitely a different type of pain that I had never felt before,” Keeton said on the injury. “I didn’t hear a pop, but I was hurting immediately after that.”
When Keeton went down, he had played only 20 quarters in the 2013 season. In that time, he had nearly a 70 percent completion percentage—good for fourth nationally—and accounted for 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Most quarterbacks would sell their non-throwing shoulder for a 20-touchdown, two-interception season. It took Keeton just five games and 11 minutes.
And then, in one awkward fall, college football’s most exciting talent was sidelined for the rest of the season.
The stretching sensation Keeton felt turned out to be his left knee’s ACL and MCL giving way. His season, as brilliant as it was shaping to be, was shut down following surgery.
“We were having a pretty good year,” Keeton said. “At first it was a very difficult thing to deal with.”
But it got easier. The competitive makeup of the athlete set in. His on-field mindset morphed to the therapy room. He spent countless hours rebuilding a knee that had made so many defenders look foolish over the past few seasons.
As Utah State continued on without its star, Keeton continued on his road to recovery with a realistic approach at what just happened and what had to happen next.
“I know a lot of people wanted to feel sorry for me, but I didn’t worry about it much,” Keeton said. “I understood the situation, the severity of my tear and there really wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
So he worked tirelessly for seven months straight.
Keeton was unable to participate in Utah State’s spring practice, although he was finally cleared for football activities last week. While his progress is undeniable, he’s not quite ready for game action yet. If the Aggies were to play tomorrow—they don’t—Keeton acknowledged that he might still be on the sidelines.
“We’re trying to be smart about this,” Keeton said on his status. “But I feel good about my knee and the doctors feel really good about where we are right now.”
Even though “cleared” is accompanied by fine print, Keeton doesn’t care. It’s progress. He remembers the post-surgery days, the days when he struggled to even walk: like putting a 35 mph governor on a Porsche 911, the injury has only made him hungrier to see the field again.
He remains patient, but he’s also itching to return.
“If I get hit 17 times, I’ll just take it,” Keeton laughed when talking about his desire to see the field. “I’ll be okay with anything that happens from now on, because I’m just thrilled to be where I’m at. It’s been such a long journey.”
The journey, while turbulent, has by no means halted his development. Despite his inability to take more reps and throw passes to a rebuilt group of wide receivers, Keeton hasn’t changed his offseason routine.
As he has since his freshman season, Keeton once again studied all his “bad” plays. His offseason included an examination of every incompletion, sack and interception from the previous year.
Perhaps it was a bad throw, or maybe it was simply a missed protection. For whatever the reason, he wants to know why it happened and ensure the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
While this year’s examination was somewhat abbreviated due to injury—and also because the pool of mistakes was somewhat minuscule—the assessment of his game has continued.
“I was a little too quick to get out of the pocket,” Keeton said after reviewing his game. “I have to be more patient and let plays develop. It has really come through with all the film that I’ve watched.”
The film, therapy and recovery will run right into fall practice, at which point Keeton is expected to be 100 percent. It’s at that point the journey will turn its focus to a new chapter, one that is familiar in many ways.
Keeton’s first start of his career came at Auburn in September of 2011 as a freshman. He played well in the 42-38 loss—scoring twice while completing 70 percent of his passes without an interception. In his final year at Utah State, he’ll get a crack at the SEC in Week 1 once again.
“It’s coming full circle for me personally,” Keeton said.
The Aggies will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on one of the hottest programs in the country. As if his return wasn’t going to be anticipated enough, Keeton will take on Butch Jones’ Tennessee Vols in prime time.
“This is a known name, and being able to play a program like Tennessee is a big deal,” Keeton said. “It’s also going to set the tone for our season.
“If we play well and get a win, it’s going to set a standard.”
For Keeton, this will also present an opportunity to grow his cult following at an exponential rate, all in one evening. He’ll be able to give NFL scouts something to think about, a next step he doesn’t run from but one he isn’t worried about right now.
Right now it’s about Tennessee and the opportunity to increase the brand awareness of Utah State. He’s more concerned with that than grabbing the individual fanfare that has been mysteriously absent.
While the perception of the school has drastically changed in the QB’s first three seasons—especially when the team went 11-2 in 2012 under current Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen—it’s not where it should be. Not for a program that has lost to USC, Wisconsin and Utah in the past two years by a combined 9 points. The Aggies have also beaten Utah in this time.
“We’ve given everyone excuses to not back us 100 percent,” Keeton said on the lack of respect for the program. “We have the opportunity to get everything we want—get our recognition. Until then, it’s our motivation to do great things.”
Motivation is not a problem with Keeton, not after he has spent the last seven months rebuilding his body and fine-tuning his unmistakable craft. He has put everything into this comeback, and he’s making the most of his final season as a collegiate quarterback. Now it’s a question of what happens next.
It’s the next chapter of the unexpected. And Keeton wouldn’t have it any other way.
Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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