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October 5, 2010Dan Keefer is trying to savor the few remaining Friday nights with his son, both as Jake Keefer's head coach and father.
The lead man at Baldwin-Woodville High School in Wisconsin has coached his son during a highly decorated prep career. The series of accomplishments featured another milestone Tuesday afternoon when the Wisconsin commit was named a U.S. Army All-American selection during a ceremony at his high school.
"It's just an awesome day," Dan Keefer told Rivals.com. "Jake's a really great kid on and off the field. It's just really gratifying and a humbling experience for Jake and really our whole family. Truthfully, we thought it was pretty incredible just to be one of the players nominated.
"Jake and I have both sat at home and watched the Army all-star game together over the past few years. It's really a dream come true and certainly a humbling thing for everyone involved."
Echoing his father's words, Keefer, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound linebacker, spoke of the good fortune that has come his way over his football journey.
"It's just a huge honor to be one of the players nominated for the game," he said. "I'm truly blessed to have been selected and it's really just a dream come true. I still can't believe I'll be putting that jersey on. There are so many good players and it's great to represent my hometown and the University of Wisconsin at the game. I just want to continue to work hard and take advantage of this opportunity that I've been blessed with and enjoy the experience."
Before earning All-American recognition, Keefer's big splash came during the Badgers' summer camp in 2009. It was on the turf at Camp Randall Stadium - his future home - where the then-junior-to-be turned heads with his ability on both sides of the ball.
"You try to be as objective as you can as a dad and a football coach, but I always thought he was a good football player and the summer prior to his junior year he had a pretty good camp at Wisconsin," said Dan Keefer, who has his team off to a 6-0 start this season. "He performed pretty well and that was an indicator he could play at that level. There are so many good players out there and it's nice that people view him as a top-level guy in his class.
"The great thing with Jake is that he stays hungry and he knows he has things to work and improve on. It's a great recognition and a nice reflection for our team and our whole community. You never do anything alone and he couldn't have done it without his school and community."
Much like his camp performance, Keefer has taken the added attention and exposure in stride and deflected much of the praise on his prep teammates and coaches.
"I remember watching the Army game three or four years ago and that served as motivation for me during my high school career and how I approach the game of football," Keefer said. "I always thought that it would be neat to play in that game but now that the dream is coming true, it still really hasn't sunk in yet.
"But I have so many talented guys around me. As long as we get the win at the end of the night, that's all I'm focused on. The stats and all the recognition have never really meant all that much to me, so this year has been great with my college decision and recruiting out of the way and having everything be all about the team."
In terms of his recruitment, the Wisconsin coaches were able to seal things in late March, as some of the top programs began to take notice of the small-town standout from a school with fewer than 500 students.
"It's always good to look at other schools but the offer Jake was always looking for happened to be the first one that came in for him," Dan Keefer said. "I think he did a good job of weighing his options, but in the end he knew what was right for him. It's been good because the focus now is on getting better each day and being a leader on his team.
"As a head coach I couldn't be happier with the way things worked out. The recruiting process, it can really be a confusing game with dozens of letters a day and everything else that goes with it. I know Jake was relieved; he went through it, made the right choice and moved on. We were very fortunate everything worked out well for us as a family."
Turning back to the All-American selection, Tuesday served as an all-encompassing moment for those around him who made the journey possible.
"I actually got home last night (Monday) and had two missed calls," said Dan Keefer, who was overseeing a junior varsity game at Baldwin-Woodville. "I had a youth coach call and they had a tackle football program that Jake was involved. I let Jake start in sixth grade - he wanted to begin in fifth, but I made him wait that extra year. Well, he told me he was going to be at the ceremony and it was just real neat to talk with him about the memories we've had and how there's going to be a kid playing on TV next year for the Wisconsin Badgers and all that stuff.
"It just shows how things have come full circle and all the people who have made things possible for Jake along the way."
And while Tuesday will forever be special to those involved, Dan Keefer couldn't hold back the proud smile with his son set to begin a new chapter in just a few short months.
"It's tough. You absolutely try and cherish all the moments and make it last as long as you can," he said. "We're going to miss him tremendously as a football player but as a dad, my son's going off to college in a few months. He's a great kid and we are a very tight-knit family. When we go out there on Friday nights my mother is there, my brothers are there and it's a big deal for all of us.
"It's going to be a little different for us so we're trying to enjoy every practice, every game and all the ups and downs this season. But as a dad, I'm going to enjoy everything that goes on in my son's last year of high school.
"I'm just a very proud father, I guess you could say."
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl will be played on Jan. 8 in San Antonio at 1 p.m. (Eastern) and will be aired live by NBC.
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