TAMPA — There is no way to measure the exact percentages of such things, but Keon Keeley says with a grin and a deep baritone, “I’m half Viking.”
The 240-pound Berkeley Prep senior looks down — from a muscled 6-feet, 6 inches — with a face chiseled from granite, and does, in fact, look the part.
Minnesota Viking? Yes. But also a Scandinavian Viking such as Leif Erikson, who is believed to have set foot on North America 500 years before Columbus.
An Erikson descendant? Who knows? The fact is, Keeley’s mother, Janicke’, is 100 percent Norwegian. She moved to America, where she gave birth to her only son, who plays football with tremendous speed, strength and ferocity.
The highlights don’t lie: In 13 games as a junior last season, Keeley collected 61 tackles (34 for loss), 16-1/2 sacks and 19 quarterback hurries.
In a nationally televised 49-24 victory over five-star quarterback Arch Manning and Isidore Newman High in Louisiana, Keeley shone brightest, with two sacks, an interception, three hurries and a pass breakup.
In last year’s Class 3A title game against Chaminade-Madonna, Keeley was a terror, applying constant pressure, collecting four tackles and forcing a fumble.
In the process, he raised himself to the nation’s No. 1-rated edge rusher and one of its top 10 players overall by several recruiting services.
Almost every major college football program has sought his services, from Alabama to Ohio State to Florida, all three of whom remain bright on his radar. Keeley was headed to Notre Dame until August, when he de-committed and re-opened the recruiting floodgates.
He will not tip his hand as to where he is leaning.
In the meantime, he says he is focused on his current team, including his defensive linemates — seniors Brice Stevenson and Xavier Perkins and juniors Titus Bullard and Nikhil Jefferson.
“Those are my brothers, my family,” Keeley said. “Do they look up to me? I don’t know about that. I would say we all look up to each other. Going back to our freshman year, we were all little kids and now to see what we’ve grown into and how far we’ve come as a group, it’s insane how much of a bond we’ve formed.”
No matter who might be considered the leader, the others on the line acknowledge that they sometimes find themselves stepping back after a Keeley splash play to marvel at what they they just saw.
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“He does some things that other people just can’t do,” Bullard said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Added Jefferson, “Sometimes he’ll make a play, and it gets the whole team so energized. It is definitely great knowing he’s there with us.”
As for the white-hot spotlight that has followed Keeley around this season, Keeley hasn’t let it get to him.
“(The attention) has its positives and its negatives, but overall I know I’m blessed to be in the position,” Keeley said. “I appreciate it, and I appreciate all my coaches and family and teammates. I know I am so fortunate to have a solid group of people surrounding me, helping me make a good decision.”
For now, the immediate focus for Keeley and Berkeley Prep (2-1) is Friday night’s game against Tampa Catholic (2-1), a team loaded with talent and looking for redemption after suffering a 38-0 loss to the Bucs last season.
“I’m not taking anything or anyone for granted,” Keeley said. “None of us are.”