You are in their world now, so relax. Belch. Scratch yourself. Neglect your hygiene. When practice is over, throw on the clothes you wore yesterday and the day before. You are among like-minded people. You are in Lakeland, Fla., at the Down and Dirty Camp, a sweltering, collision-intensive three-day immersion in line play for ninth-through 12-graders. The D&D is seven two-hour practices crammed with instruction and head knocking. The participants are proud to be known as mules. (Only those who finish the camp are allowed to purchase a T-shirt bearing the legend AIN'T IT GREAT TO BE A MULE?) It is not for everyone. A few years ago a 6'5", 320-pounder went missing on Day 2. "We found him hiding in the closet in his dorm room," recalls cofounder Kelly Scott. "It's too hard," blubbered the lad. He did not get a T-shirt.
Of the 41 coaches working the second of three D&D camps in July, 21 were from colleges. As they teach, so they are enlightened, making mental notes on who can move, who can take coaching. "When we get into the fiercely competitive drills," says Art Kehoe, "that's when you find out who really doesn't like to hit that much, and who's gonna bring it."
Kehoe, who has coached at Miami since 1982, has been working the Down and Dirty for seven years. His Klaxon voice—"Get a wide base, like a sumo!"; "Throw your hands out like you're trying to rip through somebody's chest!"; "I'm gonna be a pain in your ass till you do it right!"—is a familiar noise here. "Coach Kehoe doesn't get on my nerves," says Joel Rodriguez, a backup center for the Hurricanes. "But the sound of his voice does."
Rodriguez is one of three players Kehoe has harvested from this camp. (Starting right guard Chris Myers, a third-year sophomore from Palmetto, Fla., is another.) That's fewer than one every two years. Why does Kehoe do it? The money these coaches make at the camps is barely enough to cover the beer they drink at the El Kau Kau, a homey hole-in-the-wall not far from camp. "I'm here because I like linemen," says Kehoe. Also, it beats digging ditches.
He was a small fish in a small pond, a 175-pound guard at Archbishop Kennedy in Conshohocken, Pa. Yet Kehoe seemed ungrateful when his coach delivered the news: "I talked to the coach at Stevens Trade School," said Chris Bockrath, "and we can get you in." Kehoe's father was a plumbing contractor; Bockrath figured his son wanted to be one too. At Stevens Trade, in Lancaster, Pa., young Art could get a two-year degree in plumbing and play some ball, boning up on faucets while testing himself against such opponents as Lackawanna Junior College and archrival Williamson Trade School.
There was a small problem: "I didn't want to be a plumbing contractor," says Kehoe. "I'd been digging ditches every summer—long enough to know I didn't want to do it for the rest of my life."
Instead he found a career in a different sort of ditch. After embarking on a U-joint of a journey—from Conshohocken to Laney Junior College in Oakland to Miami—Kehoe played two seasons for the Hurricanes. Since arriving in Coral Gables in 1979, he has been a fixture around the football offices, evolving from player to one of the finest offensive line coaches in the country. Last March, following the Hurricanes' national championship season, in which Kehoe's line yielded all of four sacks in 12 games, Miami head man Larry Coker added assistant head coach to Kehoe's title.
Kehoe combines a dynamic and, well, earthy teaching style with a sharp eye for talent and a willingness to go out and find that talent, even if it means packing his passport. He commands the respect of his players even as he allows them to take their best shots at him, as starting center Brett Romberg did at the team banquet last February. "This is for Coach Kehoe," said Romberg, standing on the dais holding a framed photograph of the O-line, "even though I can't really see him right now because of the glare of the spotlight on his bald spot."
Arthur Francis Kehoe, as incorrigible wiseass Romberg is wont to address him, had a full head of hair when he signed with Miami. His arrival coincided with a modest renaissance in Hurricanes football. (By then Kehoe was up to 235 pounds.) He started two years at guard, protecting future Buffalo Bill Jim Kelly. As a senior Kehoe was a co-captain, roomed with future New York Giant Jim Burt and played on the first Miami squad to go to a bowl game in more than two decades.
Kehoe played a more important role in the Hurricanes' most recent renaissance. Miami's rout of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl last January gave the school its fifth national title since 1983 but its first in 10 years. It marked a rebound from NCAA sanctions that stripped them of 31 scholarships from 1995 through '97 and forced Miami's coaches to be more resourceful than ever. Throughout those lean years, no one did more with less than Kehoe. "The state of Florida has traditionally had great skill players and great defensive players," says former Hurricanes coach Butch Davis, now at the helm of the Cleveland Browns. "But," he adds, referring to Florida, Florida State and Miami, "there haven't been enough talented offensive linemen for all three major programs."