Oct. 2, 2008
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
If you were to tell Eagle senior cornerback Ryan Kelley a year ago that he'd face a life-threatening virus and arguably the best collegiate wide receiver in the coming months, he would probably have thought you were crazy. But that is exactly what has happened over the last few months for Kelley, and he was victorious on both accounts.
Just prior to the start of practice this spring, Kelley spent a week in the hospital battling for his life with a bout of bacterial meningitis. He lost 12 pounds after overcoming the sometimes-deadly disease that put him in critical condition in an intensive care unit, as well as an induced coma, in late March. Kelley made a complete recovery, despite some lingering hearing problems.
With his illness in the review mirror, Kelley turned his attention to Eastern's first opponent of the 2008 season, the Texas Tech Red Raiders of the Big 12 Conference. Not just the Red Raiders as a whole but specifically their star wide receiver and All-American Michael Crabtree.
Kelley and the Eagle secondary held their own against Crabtree, holding him to nine catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Despite being five inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Crabtree, Kelley put up a fight.
After starting off the season 0-2 after the loss at Texas Tech and a near victory at Colorado, the Eagles had a bye week before NCAA Division II Western Washington. Eastern won 52-31, but the Vikings played the Eagles to the wire in a game widely projected to be a blowout. Eastern then kicked off the Big Sky Conference slate with a 45-31 victory against Idaho State last weekend.
The Eagles are now 2-2 and head to Portland State to take on the Vikings this Saturday. The Vikings have won the last two meetings, including a 34-0 shutout in 2006 and an upset victory in Cheney last season that hampered EWU's championship hopes.
Q: Do you feel fortunate to play football again after what you went through last spring?
A: "It's a blessing for me to be here, still have all my limbs and be able to play football. I don't know what I would be doing if I couldn't play. It's great to be around the team and play the game that I love."
Q: You had all summer to think about facing Texas Tech. What did you do to prepare to face Michael Crabtree?
A: "I googled Crabtree and watched some highlights, read about all his awards. I printed out his picture and put it on my wall, so every morning when I woke up during the whole summer I looked at him. When I got lazy and didn't feel like working out I would look at the picture and it made me want to work hard so I can be where I need to be."
Q: How do you think you played against him?
A: "He drove me into the ground a few times, but he is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, compared to my 5-10, 190. But I still held my own. It was good to prepare for an opponent like that. It's not every day you get to play against a Heisman candidate as a FCS player."
Q: After you played Texas Tech and Colorado down to the wire, Western Washington did the same to you. What happened?
A: "The bye week had good and bad consequences. It gave us time to replenish our bodies after two FBS games. But then in playing down against Western we kind of got lackadaisical and we played like it."
Q: You needed another big fourth quarter to beat Idaho State, but how did it feel to get that first Big Sky Conference victory of the season?
A: "We really wanted to beat Idaho State. You always want to win your first conference game to start out on top. And that is exactly what we did."
Q: Is the team hungry to beat Portland State, a team that defeated you 28-21 last year and 34-0 two years ago in Portland?
A: "We are looking forward to going into their house and beating them this weekend. That loss last year kept us from potentially being co-Big Sky Champions, so we are going to go down there and try our hardest to beat them."
Q: What part of football do you like best?
A: "I love to watch our offense, as a former running back. I love to watch Dale (Morris) get the ball and see him cut and slash through the defense. Being a defensive player, I like to get physical and make tackles."
Q: Whose game do you try to emulate?
A: "I like how Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos) plays. I love his technique and how aggressive he is. He isn't like a Deion Sanders type of corner, a finesse cover guy. Bailey, Deangelo Hall (Oakland Raiders) and Fabian Washington (Baltimore Ravens) will all get physical with you."
Q: Best player you've ever played against?
A: "Definitely Michael Crabtree, he is the best overall player I've played against. He's aggressive and he is a talker. If you're a player that lets others get in your head then he will do that. He runs great routes and just finds a way to get open in the end zone."
Q: Best thing about being a Division I football player?
A: "The best thing is just the level of competition. You get to play in front of large crowds and that is something a lot of kids dream of. It's just fun overall -- the people, the atmosphere and the camaraderie of a team."
Q: Who has been the most influential person in your playing career?
A: "My mother. She doesn't even know that much about sports but she always has encouraged me to strive to be better. She always tells me you're as great as you're going to get if you don't continue to work hard. Her main focus is pushing me academically and athletically to always do what it takes to succeed in both."