The rock 'n' roll quarterback
Before I/Say goodbye/Throw it all away/I'll remember yesterday
For nearly six years, Kelan Luker craved a hit. Late last year, he began wondering if he could withstand another one. On the tour bus and backstage at shows, Luker, the bass player for veteran hard-rock outfit Submersed, sensed a disconnect. He no longer joined his bandmates when they drank and peppered their stories with four-letter words. Sure, he'd done all that before, and he had no qualms about his buddies enjoying the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but his head, his heart and his right arm yanked him in another direction. Finally, during Submersed's last tour this past winter, Luker approached the band's manager, his older brother, Seth, and bared his soul. He planned to quit the band. Go back to school. Get his degree. Oh, and he might play football again.
"Really?" Seth said. "You're 27 years old."
Luker knew he had turned his back on his gift. The good lord had strapped a rocket launcher to his right shoulder, and Luker had chosen to use that magic arm to play for a group that arrived on the scene three years too late to be what its record company wanted -- another Creed. So, after living a Behind The Music documentary that never passed the 20th minute, the pride of Stephenville, Texas, returned home, where a new version of his old life awaited. He would throw a football again, but this time with a different purpose in mind.
On Saturday, Luker will take the field as the backup quarterback when the Division II Tarleton State Texans face Southwestern Oklahoma. Milam Stadium in Weatherford, Okla., is a far cry from the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where Submersed played before more than 20,000 fans on Dec. 31, 2002. It also doesn't compare to SMU's Gerald Ford Stadium, where Luker played for the Mustangs until the confluence of a neck injury caused by a vicious spring-practice hit and an impending record deal made him hang up his cleats and pick up a guitar. It doesn't matter to Luker, a junior, that he sits behind sophomore Scott Grantham on the Texans' depth chart. Luker is at Tarleton to learn. After he gets that degree, he plans to coach. And someday, on a team bus bound for another away game, Luker's players will lean close, and he'll tell them a story about the quarterback who became a rock star and then a quarterback again.
He could throw that speed ball by you/make you look like a fool
Luker probably seemed more of a rock star in his Stephenville High letter jacket than he ever did on stage. Stephenville always has produced quality quarterbacks -- former Tennessee and Texas A&M signal-caller Branndon Stewart, Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Kolb and current Ole Miss starter Jevan Snead are alums -- but some folks believe Luker was better than all of them. In 1998, he threw for 4,697 yards and 49 touchdowns and led Stephenville to the Class 4A state title. Luker's total yardage mark for that season still stands as the 12th best in high school history, ahead of stars such as John David Booty, Rick Mirer, Brodie Croyle and Koy Detmer.
"He only played about half of every game," Seth Luker said. "He'd get his 300 yards and get pulled. It could have been a lot more yards."
How dominant was Stephenville during Kelan Luker's senior year in 1998? He watched the final quarter of the Yellowjackets' 34-7 win over La Marque in the state title game at Texas Stadium from the bench with a huge grin on his face. In 1994, the Lukers had moved to Stephenville, a town of about 15,000 about 110 miles southwest of Dallas, from tiny Valera, Texas. There, patriarch Alan had coached Panther Creek High to six-man football state titles in 1992 and 1993. Seth, then a 255-pound junior, was too big to play six-man, so Alan moved the family to a town where Seth could play on the line and use his size to his advantage. Alan also knew his younger son would benefit from the move. At 13, Kelan already had a stronger arm than any six-man player Alan had coached. He just needed the correct environment.
That environment was Stephenville High, where coach Art Briles won state titles in 1993 and 1994. Long before the spread offense became the rage, Briles had the Yellowjackets lining up in five-receiver sets. But to make his offense work, he needed a quarterback who could deliver the football quickly. He found one in Kelan Luker, whose release made a snapping mousetrap seem slow.
"He's got the quickest release of any guy I've ever been around," said Briles, who after leaving Stephenville turned Houston from a laughingstock to a bowl team and is now the coach at Baylor. "He's got an amazing arm, and he gets rid of the ball faster than I thought could be possibly done."
That made the QB everyone called Luke Daddy a pretty popular guy in Stephenville. "Our football team pretty much ran our town," said T.J. Davis, a Stephenville grad who played guitar alongside Luker in Submersed. "We were a pretty small town, and football in our town was everything."
It did not, however, put Luker on the top of most college wish lists. He got his share of attention -- Colorado and Oklahoma were among the programs to show interest -- but his 6-foot-1 frame didn't match the blue-chip quarterback prototype. Luker chose from a relatively small group of schools and picked SMU so he could stay close to home and close to Seth, who attended North Texas in nearby Denton.
Luker competed for the starting job as a freshman but lost out to Josh McCown, who is now the backup for the Carolina Panthers. That same year, Luker bought his first guitar. His roommate loved to stay up late playing country music. Luker, a Smashing Pumpkins/Metallica fan, didn't necessarily appreciate the genre, but he loved to jam.
Luker redshirted his sophomore season and won the starting job entering the following year, in 2001. In his third game, he nearly led SMU to an upset of N.C. State. Late in the game, Luker threw a lateral while being dragged down deep in SMU territory. The ball bounced off the referee and got smothered in the end zone by the Wolfpack's George Anderson for the clinching score. After that 26-17 loss, Luker was replaced by David Page. Luker played sparingly the rest of the season, and SMU coach Mike Cavan was fired with two games remaining. After the Mustangs limped to a 4-7 finish, Phil Bennett was hired. Luker seemed a lock to win the starting job when Page quit the team with a year of eligibility remaining to become an accountant. It turned out, however, that it would be almost seven years before Luker took another snap in a game.