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Exceeding expectations drives McKeever

Russell McKeever competes at the National Preps Collegiate Showcase on Nov. 21, 2020. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo
Russell McKeever competes at the National Preps Collegiate Showcase on Nov. 21, 2020. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo

It’s not about meeting the standards for Bellarmine senior defensive end and outside linebacker Russell McKeever.

It’s about surpassing those standards and surpassing those expectations, ensuring everything is more than met in every venture of his life.

“I don’t want to be the guy that meets expectations,” McKeever said. “I want to be the guy that exceeds those expectations. Just all the people around me through Bellarmine and just the football process have inspired me the most.”

With those individuals and teammates at Bellarmine, that mold of doing more than required got ingrained into McKeever’s mind, lifting him into a standout player in the ever-challenging West Catholic Athletic League.

McKeever’s teammates look at him as a leader. So do those in his linemen group. And so do his coaches and trainers.

“I’m the guy always lifting the most weight,” McKeever said. “I’m one of the guys that are one of the faster guys out there. They look at me as a leader, which inspires me to again be the best player I can be.” 

Yet those aspirations were not always something McKeever drove towards.

He didn’t put on the pads until freshman year at Bellarmine, starting out as a tight end. He wanted to be a receiver, but the coaching staff saw his size – McKeever is currently 6-3 and 230 lb. – and thought he would be better utilized at the tight end position.

Those first days as a tight end were more centralized on blocking in Bellarmine’s previously run-first offense. Then he transitioned to the junior varsity level as a sophomore, and despite a call up to varsity in the summer leading up to that season, McKeever felt he was better served developing on the JV squad that year.

The first couple weeks, McKeever was a tight end, but the late addition to JV saw the chemistry not be as fluid compared to others who were on the roster the whole time. So, McKeever switched to defensive tackle, racking up 10-plus sacks – including three in the final game.

A star was born.

“And the varsity guys are like hyping me up and saying, ‘Dude, you would have been so good for us on varsity. If we made playoffs, you probably would have gotten called up,’” McKeever recalled. “Junior year came around and I was one of the bigger guys on the d-line, and they were like, ‘Dude, you have the build to be a college athlete. You just need to put the work in.’”

While McKeever said the work ethic wasn’t quite there junior year, as he deemed he “just kind of went through the motions,” he’s utilized every opportunity since then to his advantage during this extended offseason.

His focus this offseason was shredding down the excess fat and increasing his speed/athleticism. He slimmed down from 235 to 215 lb., and from there started adding more muscle weight in addition to that speed to play more of the defensive end and outside linebacker position this season.

And all of that extra work has him shining at various camps and showcases, most notable the Best Coast Showcase and the National Preps Collegiate Showcase. 

“With that I’ve been training with my cousin who goes to Valley Christian and we’re both defensive linemen who both want to transition to being pass rushers, so we both share the same trainer, Greg Marshall, and we do a ton of weightlifting,” McKeever said. “And with that we also go on the field to work on positional group stuff as d-linemen, just working on our get offs and just overall athleticism as pass rushers.” 

Since then, the recruiting process really heated up for McKeever.

The varsity letterman added three recent offers from Gustavus Adolphus College, Linfield and Pacific University – all of which are Division III programs. Additionally, McKeecer said he’s received other Division III interest from Kenyon and Puget Sound, along with Bellarmine assistant Brennan Ronald saying schools like Claremont Mudd, Lehigh, Murray State, Pacific Lutheran, Redlands, Scripps, St. John’s (MI), San Diego and UC Davis showing interest or following McKeever on Twitter.

“For what I’m looking for in a college it’s just a college that suits me and fits me the best as a person and as a player,” McKeever said. “I prefer something close to home, but if they give me the full ride I’m going to wherever. In terms of Division I recruiting, I’ve had coaches from UC Davis, USD. 

“And then coach Ronald has been a huge help with it. He’s chipping in. Says like, ‘Hey, Air Force Academy is looking for a d-lineman with a 3.5 GPA. You’re literally that guy. Put yourself out there.’ I’ve sent them a couple DMs here and there, and I’m trying to get myself out there to hopefully bring in one of these big name D1 offers that I’m really striving for.”

McKeever, who holds a 3.51 GPA, wants to major in either biology or psychology – following in the footsteps of his sister, who is a surgical tech.

“She’s taught me a lot about the medical field, and the fact that I also mentioned psychology, the fact that I don’t really want to be a surgeon or a pediatric doctor,” McKeever said. “I’m kind of focusing more on the mental side of medicine, so being a psychiatrist, being a therapy or being a therapist. That’s what I really want to do. Being able to help people better themselves as people.” 

For his senior season, though, McKeever aims for a top three finish in the WCAL, hopefully in the form of a perfect record. He wants wins against Mitty and Valley Christian – two teams his class has never beaten while at Bellarmine. 

“And with that for me as a d-lineman it’d be awesome to win Defensive Player of the Year, but just to make the WCAL first team as a defensive end, defensive lineman, that would be awesome too and just to be known throughout the WCAL as one of the more dominant defensive lineman,” McKeever said. “That’s what I want to do – get a lot of sacks, get a lot of forced fumbles, get a lot of tackles for loss and just being that force on the defensive line. Those are my biggest goals for this year.”

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