For the college football fan scuttling belly-down on hot sand toward the oasis of September and the onset of America’s beautiful game, the end of July, not August, is what marks the real close of summer. August is for getting your mind right, for stalking newsstands in anticipation of the release of preseason magazines, for honing unprosecutable-yet-specific threats against the pets and houseplants of your least favorite rival fan bases. It’s also home to the time-honored annual rite of picking out guys on rosters who you’re positive — positive — are on at least their 17th year of NCAA eligibility.
We’ve all had that moment, right? You hear a player’s name on the radio or stumble across it in print, and it goes right by you for a second because he’s a fixture, has been a fixture, for as long as you can remember. (As long as you’re not remembering too closely.) And then: record scratch. Wait, J.W. Walsh at Oklahoma State? Still? Are you absolutely positive Malcolm Mitchell hasn’t been playing for Mark Richt since Mark Richt arrived at Georgia in 2001? What are you going to believe, the stat sheet in front of your face or the truth in your heart that says Keenan Reynolds has been at Navy since the invention of the forward pass, and that’s why they don’t like to throw?
In an unscientific survey of players we want to tag like rare sharks in order to discover their powers of bending time as we know it, one name pops up more than any other. Chuckie Keeton has been quarterbacking at Utah State so long that he’s already got a welcome back post dedicated to him on this site, from a whole year ago. Chuckie Keeton has been at Utah State so long that his first head coach at the college level is now two jobs removed from Logan. Chuckie Keeton tops this list in our collective consciousness, for both the most enjoyable and most unfortunate of reasons.
There are earthly explanations for this phenomenon. You feel like you’ve had Braxton Miller in your life forever because you knew him as a high-profile recruit, the top-ranked player at his position, long before he donned the scarlet and gray for Ohio State. Joel Stave can project that kind of eternity because he first caught playing time as a redshirt freshman at Wisconsin, back in 2012. And while you probably weren’t on hand to witness Keeton’s first collegiate start, unless you’re either among the most ardent of Auburn faithful or related to a 2011 Utah State football player by blood, you probably do remember the scare he put, as a true freshman playing a road game in the SEC, into the defending national champions.
It took two Auburn touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game for the Tigers to avoid following up a title game win with a home opener loss to the Western Athletic Conference. All that put Keeton on our collective radar early. He keeps pinging it, though, because terrible things keep happening to his knee ligaments.
This time last year, we were trumpeting his return from a season-ending ACL/MCL tear, rejoicing at video of him cutting this way and that, reveling in his very kinetic energy. Three games into last season, we lost him again. In February, Keeton was granted a medical hardship, one more shot at stringing together a complete season. He’s ours, again, for the next few months, and now I get nervous just watching that video up there loop, like maybe the next time he lands on the mat will be his knee’s undoing, again.
But he keeps getting up, no matter how many times that clip reloads. Now can he keep on getting up for 12, 13, 14 games more? A simple plea sent up to the cosmos, a pagan prayer to the trickster gods who’re even now warming up to puppet our heartstrings from September to January: Just let this happen, just one more time. Let the repairs hold fast. Let him run as fast and as far as he ever has, and then just a little bit farther. Let there be only blue in front of him (and green). Free Chuckie, universe. You owe him.