When we look back at the 2021 recruiting class, many will know those who found college homes overcame several obstacles during their recruiting journey.
With no spring evaluations or summer camps, prospects continued to work towards their goals despite the lack of showing college coaches the growth many made to their game.
For Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter defensive lineman James Keighley, a handful of schools took notice of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior who announced his commitment to Valparaiso University on Friday afternoon.
First Star Football Report spoke with Keighley about the struggles and ending his recruiting journey.
“Today is great, and I got all the stress out,” said Keighley. “It’s good to make the decision and not have to worry about finding a home for the next four years. I didn’t exactly know at the start of the season where I would go because of not having camps due to Covid, but I found they were great coaches and great people from the first time talking with them. They stayed with me throughout the entire process and connected with me almost every week. Early on, I felt I created a bond with them.”
During their recruitment of Keighley, helping the Crusaders was their ties to Ohio, especially Southwest Ohio. Head coach Landon Fox was at the University of Dayton before taking over the Crusaders program, and defensive coordinator Brian Dougherty played his prep career at Alter.
“Coach Dougherty played with my uncle (Hank Keighley),” explained Keighley. “He knows how hard Alter kids work in the offseason and during the season. His knowing the work we put in here at Alter helped with my recruitment. I knew he understood where I was coming from and how I work.”
What sold Keighley on Valparaiso?
“The academics, coaches, and current players at Valpo made me feel at home,” he said. ” Stepping on campus made me feel like it was the place I wanted to go. I plan on studying business but am undecided on the type of business degree I want to earn. I also know I want to minor in entrepreneurship.
“I was able to get everything explained to me in talking with some of their players and several of their business professors through Zoom. Having those contacts helped me choose Valparaiso.”
While 2020 might be a year many will want to forget, Keighley knows overall he looked fondly on his days at Alter but is ready for what is next.
“It’s crazy how fast it went,” he said. “Remembering all the great moments I’ve had at Alter is something that will always be with me. But at the same time, I’m ready to start a new chapter.”
Helping Keighley reach his goal was a former under the radar football recruit John Conner who went from West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West to a walk-on at Kentucky before being drafted by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
“He was a big factor in my development,” explained Keighley. “He helped me pick up my speed and size. I went to him at the end of my freshman year, and it helped me go from 160-pounds to a good 200-pounds before the next season. He then kept helping me put on size, strength, and speed. His knowledge from playing college and in the NFL helped me.
“I would drive 30-minutes south three times a week to work with him and then three times a week at school. I was disappointed they canceled camps as I couldn’t show coaches my new size and strength.”
While everyone is still living under a cloud of Covid, Keighley knows he’s got work to do.
“For now, I’ll be training four times a week,” he said. “I’ll be working on my diet, speed, and strength as I get ready to report to Valparaiso in August.”
First Star Football Report listed Keighley as one of our Hidden Gems in the 2021 Recruiting Class and said the following about him in May of this year.