Friendly Competition Pushes Aggie Quarterbacks
April 10, 2012
LOGAN, Utah -
By Megan Allen/USU Athletic Media Relations
Competition, whether conjugated as a noun, verb, or adjective, plays a large role in society, particularly that of collegiate athletics. It is a trait that has the power to bring out both the best and the worst in a student-athlete. It shows spectators what these athletes are made of, and what they are capable of.
In the case of the race for the starting quarterback spot at Utah State, senior Adam Kennedy and sophomore Chuckie Keeton are learning to use that competition to their advantage, while still having a friendly and comfortable relationship.
"When we get on the field, we're competing against each other pretty fiercely, but we know that at the end of the day we're both Aggies," said Kennedy, a native of Elk Grove, Calif. "When one of us comes off, we're there to help each other."
Keeton agreed, saying the competition between the two has built their relationship on and off the field, and pushes them to be better football players.
"We really just push each other, and that's all we see. It's the most friendly competition I've ever been around," said Keeton, a native of Houston, Texas. "I know he'll look after me if I do something wrong. If I do something good, and I'll do the same for him."
Matt Wells, who served as quarterback coach last year before adding the role of offensive coordinator to his title this season, has worked extensively with the two, and wants to see them become the best that they can.
"They're both great kids and great competitors. Football means a lot to both of them. They are sincere in their efforts to study and compete, and that makes my job easier," Wells said. "They are competitive by nature. It's a competitive room, but it's a friendly room. At the end of the day, they're all Aggies."
Head coach Gary Andersen said there are three key qualities he likes to see in his players. He said both Keeton and Kennedy possess these characteristics which have lead to their excellence both on and off the field.
"One, they're both very unselfish kids. Two, they are very coachable and the third is their love for the game of football," Andersen said. "Those are three things that you love to have in any player as a coach."
The unselfishness of the pair was exhibited throughout the 2011 season, as they guided the Aggie offense to new school records for total offense (5,945 yards), rushing yards (3,675 yards), total points (437) and total TDs (60). The quarterback situation was eerily similar to the upcoming season, with Kennedy and Keeton trying to prove themselves, vying for the starting spot.
Both were new to the Aggie scene - Keeton a freshman, Kennedy a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College. With limited time to get to know teammates and learn the playbook, they had a lot on their hands. After a long summer and fall camp, the role of starter went to Keeton, with Kennedy still involved in practice and training.
For the first half of the season, Keeton led the way. The team was at 2-5, but with four of the losses being decided by a touchdown or less.
At the end of the first half in a game at Hawai'i last season, Keeton suffered a neck injury, requiring him to be taken off the field and to the hospital. Without taking a breath, Kennedy jumped into the game and took over, leading the team to their first win on the island since 1966.
From there, the season exploded. Kennedy led the way to winning the remaining regular season games and earning the team its first bowl bid since 1997.
Keeton finished the season ranked fourth in the WAC and 48th in the FBS in passing efficiency (137.4), completing 106-of-174 (.609) passes for 1,200 yards (109.1 ypg) with 11 TDs and two interceptions. The signal-caller also finished fourth on the team in rushing with 293 yards on 68 carries (4.3 ypc) with four TDs.
Kennedy could have led the conference and been among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency at 169.04, which was just behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck of Stanford at 169.69, but Kennedy only played in eight of USU's 13 games (61.5) and did not meet the minimum requirement of 75 percent participation. Kennedy was 76-of-110 (.691) passing for 972 yards (121.5 ypg) with 11 TD's and four INT's. He was also fifth on the team in rushing with 239 yards on 55 carries (4.3 ypc).
Aggie fans everywhere witnessed the support the two had for each other, no matter who was playing. Whoever was on the sideline used it as an opportunity to learn and better themselves as a player.
"I had never really been in a backup quarterback position before, but it gave me a different perspective on how the game of football is. I was able to be in a more supporting role," Keeton said. "I tried to be a good example for the rest of the team, trying to show them that I might have been replaced by Adam, but he was doing great, and I could support him as though I were still playing."
Kennedy was quick to agree when he said he understood why the position had gone to Keeton, but the support was there on both sides.
"Last year it got to where I knew he was the guy, then he got hurt and I took over and he supported me the whole way through," Kennedy said. "Once it's to that point, it's not competition, especially on gameday. There's nothing but support for one another during that time, just trying to win games."
Andersen said he is continually impressed by the way Kennedy and Keeton have handled the sticky situation.
"I take my hat off to both those kids and the way they've handled the competition between them and their spot. Chuckie had success, and Adam handled that really well and was excited for Chuckie and the team. Then it flipped back to Adam for the last half of the year and Chuckie was very excited for Adam and the success he had," Andersen said. "It's great to see those kids compete at a high level against each other, but they put the team first."
The relationship that Kennedy and Keeton have built also carries over to life outside of football. Neighbors and friends, the two can often be found playing video games and just hanging out.
"There's definitely a competitive aspect, but we're good friends. We're able to separate the on-field stuff from the off-field stuff. When he and I hang out outside of football, we don't talk about football," Kennedy said. "We know; everyone knows, our situation. There's no need to make it awkward between us. We understand that and that has brought us closer as friends."
For now, the race is on. The coaching staff will continue to watch and evaluate the duo to determine who will be the best fit to lead the Aggies to another successful season.
"Spring ball is about every player competing for their position. That's what it is for Adam and that's what it is for Chuckie," Andersen said. "It doesn't matter if you're an All-American three-year starter; you're going to be asked to compete in spring."
The coaches are in agreement that they don't know who will have the spot come Aug. 30 when the season opens by the Aggies hosting Southern Utah.