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Friday, August 14, 2009

Balance the key for USU’s Keiaho

By Craig Hislop
Friday, August 14, 2009 3:03 AM CDT
Gary Andersen talks all the time about the “want to” of his new team — their desire — as a measurement of their commitment to the cause in 2009, and it appears a few days into this fall camp the Aggies’ “want to” poster child is Logan High’s own Junior Keiaho.

Judging from Thursday’s first scrimmage alone, there is reason to believe Junior’s upcoming season will bear no resemblance to 2008, his first competitive year with the Aggies.

He is candid about the events of last season.

“I was battling off the field issues,” he said, “but, not only that, I was battling injuries. I tore my labrum, along with my meniscus. I had surgery in January. I played through the season with the injuries. It was hard, but I made it through and I’m glad I did.”
None of this was lost on Andersen in the early days of his off-season re-construction of Utah State football. First, the coach recognized Keiaho’s circumstances as not typical of most of the other 104 football-playing Aggies in that Junior’s married (Anatava) with two children (a daughter Jonilynn and a son Liuaki).

So Andersen took this one head on.

Junior explains: “I had to balance my life being a student-athlete and also a husband and father. Really, it’s just getting everybody on the same page. I admire coach Andersen a lot because he helps with off the field issues like this. He brought in my wife, and we had meetings and we just got on the same page so that everybody can function well. If one thing happens, everybody else knows, and we all can act upon it.

“I’m pretty sure he cares more for my kids than me; he wants to see me succeed for them. Including my wife, my other half, he let us know he wants the best for all of us. He’s a great guy.”

It’s difficult to determine if Andersen’s re-balancing effort in this family’s life or Junior’s rigorous commitment to an off-season injury rehab program is the difference, but this 6-foot-3, 242-pound sophomore was running at the first team right defensive end spot in Thursday morning’s scrimmage and looking like he belonged there.

It’s a demanding position, calling on a range of athletic skills. One defensive set might require him to be in a pass rush attitude out of a three-point stance and the next time standing up like a linebacker, ready to drop into pass coverage.

“We need really good quickness off the edge from Junior,” said defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a, “and so far in camp he’s giving it to us.”

“Junior’s done a very nice job,” said Andersen in Thursday’s post-scrimmage media comments. “He came back off the surgery, he played no spring ball. He did a tremendous job of rehabbing during the summer. He’s a talented young man. The key for Junior is to be the same guy he was today, tomorrow and the next day and he’ll be a fantastic player for us. He’s done a nice job of doing that. I’m very proud of Junior right now.”

Andersen’s been blunt in his assessment that the Aggie defensive line must become tougher if this team is to succeed. In fact, the head coach’s decision to personally spend practice time coaching the tackles only emphasizes the point.

“It’s just him being more demanding,” Keiaho said. “He knows our potential and he wants us to reach it. He challenges us that way: ‘you need to be tougher, you need to put in your time and believe in what we’re putting into this program.’ We all just need to lock in as a D-Line.”

Junior says he has changed his jersey number back to 42 to return to his roots — perhaps a reference to playing state championship football for Mike Favero at Logan — and that cannot be a good sign for the offensive linemen who must deal with him this season.

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