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Thanks be to Josh

Although Middletown's Josh Keeney defers to his line when discussing his rushing numbers, the senior tailback is the main reason

Although Middletown's Josh Keeney defers to his line when discussing his rushing numbers, the senior tailback is the main reason

November 29, 2002|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

MIDDLETOWN, Md. - On the eve of the Class 2A state championship game, better known as Thanksgiving, Josh Keeney will split the day between practice and eating.

He might have even requested an extra turkey be on hand at home as a way of saying 'thanks' to his linemen, those that have helped pave the way to deserved All-State recognition.

While his 4,000-plus career rushing yards places him in the top 15 all-time among Maryland backs, Keeney's long-standing relationship with fellow seniors Bryan DeMoss, Ryan Cutsail, John Boyle and Brian Cosgray that goes back to the sixth grade when they played football in the Middletown Valley Athletic Association has elevated him there.

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Keeney, who rushed for over 1,900 yards as a junior, set a goal of hitting 2,000 this year. Heading into his high school finale, he has 2,380 through 12 games as part of his 4,192 career yards.

Now in the upper echelon of Maryland's star running backs, Keeney recognizes that he has had great success in his scholatic career, which culminates Friday in the Class 2A state final against Hereford at Ravens Stadium.

"I owe a lot of thanks to the linemen that have been so great," Keeney said following practice Tuesday. "I set goals at the beginning of the year and we had trust in each other reaching it. You have to set goals each year to get better."

DeMoss, one of Middletown's stellar linemen, speaks for his colleagues along the line - the ones that don't get the amount of press for gaining yards and scoring touchdowns.

"We don't get the ink but that goes with the territory," DeMoss said. "Josh gives all of us credit."

"Without us, he understands that he wouldn't gain all the yards he has. We all know you block and run to win football games."

Coach Tim Ambrose, who has coached the entire Keeney clan during his 29 years at Middletown, supplied the following praise on Keeney:

"He doesn't worry about stats. He's a tough kid and I don't think I've coached anyone tougher than him. He was a good ninth-grade player and he was running over people as a sophomore and he has not stopped. He has consistently gotten better. He has a John Riggins-type football mentality."

Keeney, who gained 180 yards in his first varsity performance against Thomas Johnson, had a football in his hands as soon as his father, Rich, could get one there.

"He gave me a football but he didn't tell me, or make me play football," Keeney said.

But Josh picked up on family history and, along with his classmates, was on his way.

"We were playing as early as sixth grade together," he said. "We were taught good fundamentals and just kept on working hard.

At 6-foot and tipping the scales at a solid 210 pounds, the weightlifting he began in eighth grade has been instrumental in his growth and his eventual prowess of bowling over would-be tacklers.

"I was short and stout and not as tall when I was younger," Keeney said, noting that he even had to lose some weight in his pre-high school days to make the roster. "I started lifting weights, grew some, and working all year around to be a better football player was my main focus."

The daunting No. 44 has yet to receive a plethora of calls from college recruiters, which leaves many in area circles perplexed. Most reasons come from the fact that Keeney is not blazing-a-foot as a tailback.

"The rap is on his speed so I'm not surprised," Ambrose said. "We as coaches saw him as one that was not very fast when the season started. He wasn't going to run a 4.5 40 but he is only about .2 off. I'll tell you he has gained speed as the season has gone on and he is durable."

The lack of recruiting efforts somewhat dismays Keeney also, but downplays the fact that colleges are just finishing their seasons.

"There are probably many tailbacks that are better than me to play Division I," Keeney said. "I'm not cocky about it, but I'm the top rusher in the state this year. I'm a little disappointed. I have the frame that I can put on 15-20 pounds and be a good fullback if I can't be a tailback."

Wherever he ends up going to college he'll be parting ways with his two best buddies, Cutsail and DeMoss.

"It will be tough because we've been best friends," he said. "We've built up trust and that will have to be done all over again in college."

In the meantime, there is one more time to put on the Middletown uniform tomorrow afternoon.

"Everyone has stepped it up in practice and we have a great feeling," Keeney said. "We have a great feeling and a chance to be the best in 2A."

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