By JASON KING
Championship ring or not, Harding Academy’s Seth Keese left a definite impression on the hearts of the Wildcat faithful.
For his efforts this season, Keese is the Leader offensive player of the year.
The senior quarterback/safety capped off a stellar career on a bad note when he threw a game-ending interception against Rivercrest in the final minute of the 3A state championship game. It was just Keese’s fifth interception of the season.
But as time passes, Keese will be remembered most for the amazing things he did on the field as a three-year starter for the Wildcats.
Keese had 3,550 yards of offense this season. He completed 182 of 282 attempts for 2,297 yards and 20 touchdowns, and rushed 172 times for 1,253 yards and 21 more scores.
He led the Wildcats to their second straight 2-3A Conference championship and a perfect run through the league and he continued to shine through the playoffs.
Keese’s junior season ended on a sour note when the Wildcats traveled to Fountain Lake for the 3A semifinal round in December 2009.
Keese tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee when he was hit out of bounds on the third play. He showed his toughness as he finished the game, but was not quite himself as Fountain Lake won and took the state championship the next week.
But the injury only made Keese’s accomplishments this season more impressive.
Fully rehabilitated, he got revenge in the season opener when he went wild on Fountain Lake with 147 passing yards, 151 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the way to a 28-20 victory in the rematch.
Fountain Lake returned to Harding Academy in the state semifinals, but Keese dominated again, completing 15 of 23 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns and another 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Wildcats won 33-15 to complete their season sweep of the Cobras, and punched their ticket to the championship game for the first time since 2002, when Keese’s older brother Caleb led Harding Academy to a Class AA championship under former coach Tommy Shoemaker.
At 6-0, 200 pounds, Keese’s size may be the only blemish on his resume as a major college prospect. But NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools have shown some interest, particularly Ole Miss, which invited Keese to Oxford, Miss., for a couple of visits.
However if Keese were to land a major college scholarship, it would most likely be as a defensive back. NCAA Division II Harding University, which shares its field with Harding Academy, has offered a full scholarship to Keese to play quarterback.
Keese’s selection as offensive player of the year helps round out a talented group of local players named to this year’s all-Leader team.
The group includes Cabot tight end Rod Quinn, who was used primarily for blocking in longtime coach Mike Malham’s run based Dead-T offense.
But when not flattening would-be tacklers, Quinn got the occasional chance to show off his route-running and good hands.
Panthers tackle Jared Dumais also made the team after a strong senior season that began with a stellar performance against Jacksonville.
Beebe senior center Jordan Goss makes the list after helping the Badgers to a 5A-East Conference runner-up finish this year. Goss also had a high percentage as Beebe’s kicker, and was the most consistent player at that spot in well over a decade.
Other linemen included were Brandon McKinney of Lonoke and Sylvan Hills’ Alex Smith, the only player to be named to both the offensive and defensive teams.
Cabot running back Spencer Smith and Beebe’s Colby Taylor line up with Keese in the all-Leader backfield.
Smith, a two-year starting senior, led the Panthers with 154 rushes for 726 yards and nine touchdowns with a 4.7 per-carry average. Taylor, also a senior, led the Badgers with 129 carries for 1,497 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Sylvan Hills junior Anthony Featherstone is one of two all-Leader selections at wide receiver, along with another junior, D’Vone McClure of Jacksonville. McClure led the Red Devils in receiving with 58 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns.