I used to work with this guy named Matt. He was really funny. No, I mean REALLY funny.
Did you see his story, In Carl We Trust, on KETV in 2008? Let’s just say when Carl Pelini was later hired by Florida Atlantic as their new football coach, the University started printing T-shirts reading CARLFENSE. Seriously–KETV photographer Tyler White bought one. And it is awesome. And now Matt Schick is an anchor at ESPNU. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
A few years earlier Matt also put together a story called West Coast Defense, featuring Nebraska Blackshirts Corey McKeon, Stu Bradley and Bo Ruud. Just a few games into the season in 2005, the Husker defense had scored HALF of Nebraska’s touchdowns. four huge Pick 6’s. Matt’s look into this trio’s ‘secret to success’ on the field was HILARIOUS–one of my favorite stories of the season.
#13 Corey McKeon, photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics
That, and his explosive play on the field, was how Husker Nation was introduced to this guy, Corey McKeon. McKeon had a monster season as a sophomore in 2005, leading Nebraska with 98 tackles and at the time, marking his name as second-best in school history for tackles for loss. This was the best of times; success on the field alongside the Blackshirts who were also his best friends.
“We had so much fun doing it, that’s what really mattered to us,” McKeon told me in a recent interview. “If we can go out and have fun and make those kinds of big plays, that’s what Husker Football is all about.”
Ironically, McKeon’s most memorable game was not one of those fun plays, it was the heartbreaking loss to Texas Tech in 2005.
“At the end of the game they were going for the game winning drive, we were up by 4 and I tipped the ball right in the red zone,” said McKeon. “Our defensive lineman, I’m not gonna name his name because he’s still a lot bigger than me and could come whoop me, he intercepts it. In those situations, you’re just supposed to fall down because the game is over. He runs by me, you see my hands out on the field telling him to stop, he runs by me, their running back forces a fumble, they get the ball back, they get the next touchdown.”
McKeon says that loss, while tough to swallow, was against a great team; a game that came down to the wire. That, he says, is what you remember the most.
In a way, it’s fitting the Texas Tech game stands out for a player like Corey McKeon, a guy who ended his career at Nebraska in the midst of controversy and arguably, one of the darkest eras of Nebraska football. In 2007, the Huskers lost 7 games (they went 2-6 in Big 12 play), head coach Bill Callahan was fired and McKeon often took a stand, never mincing words defending his teammates and coaches. This was the worst of times.
“The best part about Husker Nation is also the most difficult part,” McKeon said, noting he doesn’t regret his outspoken nature while with the team. “They are so involved, we need them so much and the second they’re not there for us, even an inkling, it takes it’s effect because Husker Football is as much about Husker Nation as it is about the players and coaches.”
McKeon also told me at the height of the controversy, he consulted the sports psychologist, frustrated about everything going on, especially with his Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Cosgrove.
Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star
“Coach Cosgrove fought for us year after year, he did so much for us,” said McKeon. “He was a player’s coach and no, his schemes didn’t work out the best all the time, but he was always there for us personally. Even if we weren’t performing well on the field, he always had our back. I think that’s what got to me the most.”
McKeon has two pieces of advice for today’s players; one is to cherish the good times on and off the field. Those same buddies he had two-a-days with, who went through the same losses he did, remain some of his best friends.
His other suggestion is to realize the impact all Huskers can have, both now and in the future. It’s something McKeon sees firsthand as an Ollie Webb Center board member and Executive Vice President of the group. His wife, Erika, organizes the annual fundraising gala.
Both, associates with McKesson Pharmaceuticals, say they came to Ollie Webb hoping to learn more about something they didn’t have much experience with, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When we followed around the McKeons for our interview at Ollie Webb, they shook hands with students, checked out their artwork, and joked about which Huskers they like best. (One student’s, no surprise, Ameer Abdullah.)
Thanks to the Ollie Webb Center for the photo!
The teenagers and adults get to be with friends for art activities and events, to learn computers and programs, and to work on life skills like how to keep a budget. Erika McKeon calls their interaction with Ollie Webb life changing.
“Seeing the families that are [at the gala] and seeing the kids come up and perform on stage and just show us how happy they are and how appreciative they are for what we are doing, it’s just amazing,” said Erika.
Ollie Webb’s AJ Taylor performing at the 2014 Fundraising Gala
The McKeons stress how powerful Nebraska football can be and how they hope players from all eras, especially the 2014 squad, use that to make a difference. Corey notes that when he reaches out for auction items or other help, former players and the University are often the first to step up.
Autographed portrait donated for the 2014 Ollie Webb Fundraising Gala
“You’re going to come back to your community and want to impact it,” said McKeon. “Husker Football is the number one way to do that.”
And THIS is how Corey McKeon hopes to impact you now, years after his name covered message boards and newspaper articles across Husker Nation. When I contacted him about being part of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series, he agreed, IF we also made the story about Ollie Webb. Shoot the story there, let he and Erika talk about what the organization is and how it’s helping people in our community, and hopefully draw some attention to THOSE names and faces, like the young woman at Ollie Webb who smiled and waved when Corey McKeon recognized her from the gym.
It’s not the kind of story we always get to share, but in this post of best of times and worst of times.. it’s certainly GREAT.
To learn more about #13 Corey McKeon, check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.
Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Classes of 1971 & 1997, Bill & Jesse Kosch!