published Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Keenan Hale picks Syracuse

  • photo
    Keenan Hale lifts weight every day in the weight room at McCallie in Chattanooga, Tenn., to prepare for his college football career. Hale is scheduled to sign on Wednesday with Syracuse University.
    Staff photo by Jenna Walker

Keenan Hale had never been to Syracuse University. He knew little about the New York school’s football program and even less about its campus.

Yet the McCallie senior committed to Syracuse coach Doug Marrone halfway through the 2010 high school season. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver decided against waiting on possible offers from Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Air Force, Duke, LSU or Tennessee.

“Syracuse was the only one that had offered,” he said. “In talking with [Syracuse] coaches I felt it would be a good fit for me. I discussed it with my parents. I wasn’t getting a lot of major attention, and the season was half over. If something else had come along I might have considered it, but I also knew if I got hurt I definitely wasn’t going to get any other offers.”

Hale’s decision was made easier because the school offers a pharmacy program, and that field is one he’s considering for the future. Too, Syracuse assistant Greg Atkins made it clear that Hale would have to stay on top of his studies.

“Coming from a college prep school, they made it clear that I would need to do well in class,” he said. “They told me if I didn’t I’d be working with tutors instead of practicing, and they just hired a former department chairman to work with the higher academic guys. They had a plan in place for the team and for me, so I felt everything would be good.”

He knows much more now about Syracuse than what he learned while attending a Syracuse game at Pittsburgh when he was a freshman, especially after visiting the school.

“The week I went was the first weekend they’d had snow, and they got six inches,” he said. “It isn’t like the same weather here. I really enjoyed it. I slipped a few times on the ice, and I know I’ll need to make sure I have some boots when I go back.”

Anticipating 10 inches of snow today, Syracuse officials canceled a signing-day bash for season-ticket holders. That didn’t quash Hale’s enthusiasm.

“I’m excited. I think they would actually like me to get some playing time next year because they were short on receiving this past season,” he said. “I’m fine [with a redshirt] although I wouldn’t mind helping the team out the first year if I get the opportunity.”

Hale doesn’t know how the Orange found out about him, other than guessing that Marrone, a former Tennessee assistant, might have gotten word about him through that connection.

“When they first called they said that had seen film on me, which weirded me out,” Hale said. “I didn’t even know they knew about me.”

McCallie athletic director Bubba Simmons, who has succeeded Rick Whitt as the Blue Tornado football coach, said Whitt described the situation best.

“He said that as a sophomore Keenan was an athlete that was playing football,” Simmons said. “Then as a junior Keenan understood what it meant to be a football player, and then as a senior he showed that. I think Syracuse saw that.”

Hale, a member of the Times Free Press Dynamite Dozen who caught 50 passes for 810 yards with six touchdowns, is likely to compete also for the Syracuse track program. He is a state champion high jumper with a personal best of 6 feet, 8 inches.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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