Back when he was standout safety at the University of Idaho, Shiloh Keo was hanging out with teammate Virdell Larkins and Larkins’ cousin.
That cousin happened to be Marshawn Lynch, and the running back had a message for the young defensive back out of Archbishop Murphy High School.
“I remember one time he was saying, ‘Man, if you make it to the league, you ain’t tackling me,’” Keo said in a phone interview. “And I was like, ‘All right, we’ll see. We’ll see.’”
Well today, we actually might see what happens if Lynch and Keo go head to head when the Seahawks play the Houston Texans.
Taking on Lynch in the open field is no easy task — just ask Tracy Porter about his meeting with Lynch in the 2010 playoffs — but Keo is used to doing things the hard way. In high school, he transferred from a 4A school, Woodinville, to a 2A school, Archbishop Murphy, because his mother is, as he puts it, a stickler for academics and Keo was “kind of slacking off and not staying on top of my school work.” His friends at Woodinville told him his small-school football team wasn’t on their level, yet he was still good enough to earn a scholarship at Idaho.
“That was part of the chip, the motivation to prove to my friends that, hey, I belong here,” he said.
By NFL safety standards, Keo is not particularly big (he’s listed at 5-feet, 11-inches and 208 pounds) or fast (he ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the NFL combine). However, he was impressive enough with the Vandals to end up a fifth-round pick in 2011.
“I was always the little guy growing up,” Keo said. “But if you ask people who knew me growing up, you wouldn’t say my game is little by any means. I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder.
“I had to do it the hard way going through smaller schools. When you come out of a small school from college to the pros, you really have to shine out there on the practice field. … It’s been a great experience, a great run, and I’m hoping to make this a long career here in the NFL.”
Through his first two seasons, Keo mostly made his impact on special teams and was named a special teams captain last year. With Ed Reed sidelined to start this season, Keo started Houston’s first two games.
Now that Reed is back, Keo is again playing in a reserve role — though he is involved in the defense in certain packages — but he showed enough in those first two games to impress his coaching staff.
“He’s much improved,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “He operated as the starter the first two weeks, got an opportunity and I think he took advantage of it. I think he proved that he’s very capable of that. You never know how things are going to pan out, but Ed is back. Shiloh is still playing a great deal in dime and those types of things.
“He’s a heck of a special team’s player for us; he’s just a very clean, good draft choice that I think has got a bright future. Being able (to show) that he can handle starting those first two weeks I think adds to his future.”
That immediate future means a showdown with the team he grew up cheering for as a kid.
“I was a big Seahawks fans,” Keo said. “We’d watch the games, having barbecues. I grew up in a big family and we were a football family. We love all sports, but football was the big passion, and we always root for the home team, so I was a big Seahawks fan.”
Keo has 20 or so family members and friends coming to Houston for the game. He wouldn’t have minded a chance to play at home, but part of him is relieved the game is in Houston and not Seattle, where those 20 ticket requests would turn into hundreds. And as happy as he’ll be to play in front of family and friends, he does have one rule.
“My family, that’s all they ever talk about, how the Hawks are doing,” he said. “I’m excited to be able to play in front of a lot of my family, but I told them, they better not be wearing no Seahawks gear.”
No, the only Seahawks gear Keo wants to see is on the field Sunday, and if a No. 24 jersey happens to be coming his way, well that’s just one more chance to prove somebody wrong.
“Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity this week to go head on with Marshawn,” Keo said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.