Utah State's Keeton ready for primetime
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton says he won't be too overwhelmed on Sunday when the Aggies visit Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
He's already been there.
''When I was like 13 I played baseball and we went there for a tournament, and my dad and I snuck on the field,'' he said. ''So this isn't my first time there, but it's my first game.''
Keeton isn't the type to get rattled by 100,000-plus fans anyway. The dual-threat senior quarterback for the Aggies is anxious to make his return from injury before a big crowd and on a national stage.
Keeton hasn't played since last October against BYU, when he injured the ACL and MCL in his left knee and had to sit out the rest of the season.
''It's really about getting back on the field. Last year when I tore my ACL halfway through the season, I had to watch my guys succeed from the sideline. It was tough. I'm a competitor. I wanted to share that success with them on the field.''
The Aggies wound up 9-5 last season, falling to Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game, but defeating Northern Illinois 21-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Keeton's return is already generating a lot of attention, and Utah State already has a website touting its quarterback for Heisman Trophy consideration. He certainly has the Volunteers' interest.
''Obviously, Chuckie Keeton is a Heisman Trophy candidate and very deservedly so,'' Vols coach Butch Jones said. ''He adds a whole other element to the game, not only his speed and his quickness and the ability to make plays with his legs, but he's not (just) a running quarterback. He's a quarterback. He can make all the plays and all the throws.''
Keeton is considered among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, up there with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Auburn's Nick Marshall.
Tennessee defensive tackle Jordan Williams even said Keeton reminds him a bit of Mariota. The Ducks defeated the visiting Vols 59-14 last season in Eugene, Oregon. Tennessee finished 5-7 in Jones' debut season last year.
''We've just got to get somebody in his face,'' Williams said.
In his five-plus games last season, Keeton still passed for 1,388 yards with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also rushed for 241 yards on 55 carries with two more scores.
In 28 games, he has completed 517 passes with 56 touchdowns. In 777 pass attempts, he's thrown just 13 interceptions.
He leads Utah State in career completion percentage at .665. He's second in touchdowns and completions, and he's third in total offense with 7,114 yards.
Over the summer, Keeton worked on getting back into his game, serving as a counselor at the Manning Academy. He worked on getting his feet back after the injury.
''With the injury you have to put the training wheels back on,'' he said, ''learn to walk, then run, then jump and all of that. With football I had to get back to the fundamentals and the basics with my footwork. That's one thing I'm proud to say that's improved.''
Aggies coach Matt Wells has noticed a difference.
''I think he's a little bit further ahead mentally in our offense. I think he's playing faster and everything he does pre-snap is a little more advanced. He feels a little more comfortable in everything that we're doing,'' Wells said.
Keeton said all that's left in his recovery is to go out and perform. The main goal isn't the awards, but leading Utah State to national prominence, the conference championship and beyond.
''At the end of the day, it's all about wins. I don't think you've ever seen anyone win the Heisman and not have a lot of wins behind their name or behind their team's name,'' he said. ''For me, I'm just really honored and humbled to represent my school.''