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Bledsoe of the Berkshires
Marty Burns
November 15, 1999
NFL scouts are intrigued by the skills of Williams quarterback Sean Keenan
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November 15, 1999

Bledsoe Of The Berkshires

NFL scouts are intrigued by the skills of Williams quarterback Sean Keenan

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It's a full hour after his team's 42-13 victory over Hamilton College on Oct. 30, and Williams senior quarterback Sean Keenan, still in uniform, is reliving one of his proudest athletic moments. "It was a big game, against one of the best teams in the country," says Keenan, sitting on the aluminum bleachers at Williams's now-deserted Weston Field. "I got to compete against some of the best players in Division III. It was a huge thrill."

Keenan, one of the top small-college quarterbacks in the nation, is not talking about his performance in that day's rout, in which he completed 12 of 18 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns while barely breaking a sweat. Nor is he speaking of his other feats on the gridiron, which helped lead the Ephs to a 15-game winning streak that ended last week in a 33-28 loss at Wesleyan. Instead he's talking about his role as a key reserve on the Williams basketball team, which advanced to the '98 Division III Final Four. "My role was to come off the bench and be a defensive guy," he says. "Just try to slow down the other team's best player. We finished third in the nation. It was a great experience."

For Keenan, being sixth man in hoops is every bit as satisfying as being the Man in football. It's why, coming out of Phillips Exeter Academy as a highly touted quarterback four years ago, he passed up a chance to play Division I-AA football in the Ivy League for the smaller stage of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. "Some Ivy schools called, but when they found out I wanted to play basketball as well, they backed off," Keenan says. "I love basketball. It was very important to me to play both."

Williams football coach Dick Farley is glad his school could oblige. Keenan, a 6'3", 175-pounder from Rutland, Vt., owns virtually every one of the school's passing records, including career completions (279), attempts (483), yards (3,988) and touchdowns (34). Last year he led Williams to an 8-0 record and was named New England Division II—III offensive player of the year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston. "He's the best we've had here in a long time," says Farley, who has an 87-13-3 record in 13 seasons at Williams. "We've always had kids who performed well. But Sean has things that are god-given."

Standing tall in the pocket, with 20-20 field vision and a cannon for a right arm, Keenan is a virtual Bledsoe of the Berkshires. Against Hamilton he calmly guided his team to three straight first-half touchdowns, spreading the ball to five receivers, making checks at the line and once tucking the ball away and scampering 13 yards for a first down. "At this level he's a dominant force," says Hamilton coach Steve Frank, whose team dropped a 21-14 heart-breaker to Williams two years ago when Keenan, then a sophomore, came off the bench to direct three straight fourth-quarter scoring drives. "We've had kids in this league go to the NFL before, but you don't see many quarterbacks like him."

Scouts from the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and two other NFL clubs have trekked to Williams-town, some 135 miles west of Boston, to see Keenan. While it's rare for a Division III player to make it at the pro level, at least one scout believes Keenan has the physical tools to merit an invitation to training camp. "He's got size, good arm strength; he's extremely accurate; and he moves his team downfield," says Rams scout Ryan Grigson. "Because of basketball, he plays football only three months a year. But I like him a lot, better than some of the [Division I] guys I see on TV on Saturdays."

Keenan is no slouch on the basketball court, either. Although he has averaged a modest 2.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in his three-year career, he is a tenacious defender who's not afraid to leave a little skin on the hardwood and has been a contributor for teams that have finished a combined 73-13 with two Final Four appearances. "We'll ask him to guard guys who are 6'7" or 6'8" and outweigh him by 30 or 40 pounds," Ephs coach Harry Sheehy says. "He doesn't mind. He'll just battle and battle, and he'll never complain."

Keenan, a political science major, says he loves being a role player in basketball and can't wait for the hoops season to begin. Even with a possible NFL future at stake, he says he doesn't regret forgoing the Ivy League for the opportunity to play two sports. "I've had the chance to do things I might not have been able to do at a bigger school," Keenan says. "I just enjoy it a lot. Sometimes I marvel at how well it has all worked out."

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