Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden

Keeler makes it big -- all of a sudden
May 28, 2012, 12:45 am

When you've visited a half-dozen college campuses, weighed all of your options and finally decided to make a commitment, effectively putting an end to the grueling recruiting process, you can afford to relax, take a weekend off and go fishing.

Which is exactly what Barrington's Jack Keeler did. There he was, catching a Northern pike on a lake in Barrington Hills. "Fishing is like a hobby. I go three times a week...bass, pike, bluegill," he said.

After all, he didn't much care for the recruiting process. "I didn't want to wait to make my decision. I wanted to get done with recruiting. What didn't I like about it? All the worrying over what will happen next," he said.

So the 6-foot-7, 290-pound offensive tackle was elated and relieved when, after visiting six other schools, he made a trip to Wisconsin and came home a Badger.

"My family went to Wisconsin. The academics are fantastic. I like the guys on the team and the coaches. They offered me while I was visiting. The whole deal was fantastic. I had visited six other schools and nothing else measured up. I could see me at Nebraska but Wisconsin was my favorite."

Keeler was influenced by Barrington teammate Dan Voltz, a senior offensive tackle who also is committed to Wisconsin. "I talked to him before I committed. He helped me out and reassured me that I was making the right decision," he said.

When it came down to it, he chose Wisconsin over Nebraska. When it comes down to it, Keeler and Voltz might be battling for a starting job on Wisconsin's offensive line. Curiously, Voltz was well known after his junior season. Keeler was not. But he has made the most of what exposure he has been able to get, landing 19 offers.

"I went to a Barrington game last year," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "I went to see Dan Voltz, who I had rated as one of the top 100 players in the nation. But the kid who was most impressive was Keeler."

"He has blown up all of a sudden," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "He is a legitimate 6-foot-7, 290-pound tackle with great athleticism and flexibility. He has room to mature and develop. College coaches see that he has a great upside."

Sanchez didn't know much about Keeler when he transferred from Cary-Grove to Barrington after his freshman year. Sure, with his frame and size, he had potential. But he needed to get acclimated to his new environment. It took some time. He wasn't promoted to the varsity as a sophomore and didn't start right away as a junior.

"Then the light bulb went on," Sanchez said. "All of a sudden, everything came together for him. He displayed his potential to play at a high level. You never know when the light bulb will go on for a kid. But he had success and got confidence."

Keeler said he finally figured it out. "I just figured out I was the biggest guy on the field and that I can take down anyone. It kind of clicked. I'm a big guy who can stay low and finish well. I have good hands and a good attitude," he said.

It took time for college coaches to assess Keeler's talent and come to the conclusion that he is a major Division I prospect. But offers from Illinois, Miami, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and others proved he was a keeper. He wasn't the most highly rated or the most publicized player in what has been characterized as one of the richest crops of offensive linemen ever produced in Illinois. But he could be the best.

"It was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be that big," said Keeler, referring to all the recruiting hoopla. "Nebraska was the first Big Ten school to offer, at the end of February. From then on, it started to snowball. I knew I was the real deal."

But he thinks he can be even better. He didn't make all-conference last year. So he is highly motivated to earn all-conference, all-area and all-state recognition in 2012. With that in mind, he has begun five-times-a-week workouts at a new strength and conditioning facility in Barrington, Crossfit.

"I'm upgrading all of my skills, trying to be a better football player," he said. "I say to myself: 'You are a great football player but you have room to get better.' My goal for next season is to have the best season of all."

Which means he might have less time to go fishing.