By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
Fatherhood did not come easily to Regan Keo. One might say it hit him like a blindside tackle.
His first son, Isaiah, who was conceived before Keo and then-girlfriend Diana were married, lived only about a month before Sudden Infant Death Syndrome stole him away.
Regan and Diana Keo were blessed with another son, Ivanhoe, shortly thereafter, but he was born premature and battled illnesses for most of his first 12 months. Sometime around his first birthday, Ivanhoe went into a seizure that temporary left his body limp as his parents looked on.
Seeing his child in that state, Regan Keo recalled last week, “freaked me out. I thought that’s all I could do: have babies that can’t live.”
Already having made a vow to give his future children the guidance that he lacked during his own promising athletic career, Regan Keo was only more sure of what he wanted to do with his life.
“It made me want to help kids more,” Keo said.
Today on Father’s Day, Regan Keo can expect contact from his seven children — including his oldest, 32-year-old Ivanhoe — as well as three younger kids still living under the same roof. He made good on his promise to guide athletic careers in the right direction, not only for his children, but also for countless relatives and other kids who have learned from him over the years.
But it was 25-year-old son, Shiloh, a graduate of Archbishop Murphy High School, who attained the goal Regan felt he should have achieved a generation ago. Shiloh Keo is about to begin his second season with the Houston Texans of the National Football League.
“Before he made it,” Regan Keo said last week, “I could only dream and imagine. Now, I can live that dream through him.”
Shiloh Keo said making it to the NFL was the pinnacle of a joint venture between father and son. It was also the fulfillment of a dream that predated his own birth, one that Regan Keo felt should have happened a generation earlier.
“He’s more excited that his children have an opportunity like this than he ever would have been for himself,” Shiloh Keo said of his father. “I don’t think he regrets any of the decisions he’s made in his life.”
For Regan Keo, the dream began sometime in the late 1960s, when he stood out in several athletic arenas and started realizing he might have a career in sports. After winning a state wrestling title in the heavyweight division and starring on the gridiron at Inglemoor High School, he went on to the University of Washington, where he says he was in position to start as a freshman defensive lineman before getting kicked off the football team. Keo once told a story about getting cut after an altercation with Jim Lambright, a defensive assistant who later became UW’s head coach. (Last year, Lambright did not deny the possibility that the incident happened, but he added that he has no memory of it.)
To this day, Regan Keo believes he could have made it to the NFL if he’d had the right guidance along the way. After seeing his own football career come up short, he made a vow to help the next generation, starting with his own children.
First Ivanhoe, who went on to play college baseball, learned from his father. Then a daughter ended up playing softball in college. On and on it has gone, from the oldest to middle child Shiloh to a current 7-year old who Regan says is the most athletic of the bunch.
Through tough love and constant backyard drills, Regan tried to bring out the best in each of his children and give them the coping tools he never had. Regan Keo has coached all of his children and many others as well, whether it be on the football field, the volleyball court or in sports like softball and baseball.
“He was always hard on everybody,” said Shiloh Keo, who grew up in Bothell and Woodinville while his father was living and coaching there. “At the same time, when I look back, he was extra hard on his own kids. He didn’t want us to have any excuses.
“He taught us how to be winners — when you win, you have fun. No one has fun when you’re losing.”
When the Texans selected Shiloh Keo in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft, it marked the athletic high point for both father and son. Shiloh was at home celebrating, while Regan was — of course — coaching. Regan Keo was in the third-base coaching box when fellow parents erupted in the stands when news came down that Shiloh had been drafted. Regan Keo looked up at them and immediately broke down in tears.
A couple of hours later, he returned home, embraced his son, and the tears flowed again.
“It’s like we both accomplished a huge goal that day,” Shiloh Keo said via telephone last week from the Texans’ practice complex. “Ever since then, it’s been a great experience for the both of us. Both of our dreams were accomplished that day.”
To this day, Regan Keo is always the last person Shiloh calls before a game and the first one he calls after it.
Shiloh said his father is still pretty hard on him, offering no-nonsense critiques as well as advice when he feels it’s needed. But Regan said the phone calls have become less necessary since Shiloh got to the NFL. He remembers calling his son once last year, only to get the sense that Shiloh didn’t need his tutoring anymore. His son was all grown up.
“One day,” Regan Keo said, “he was like, ‘I know that, Dad. You don’t have to tell me.’ That hurt; that honestly hurt. But I know that means I don’t have to worry about that one. He’s in a good place.”
And yet Shiloh Keo said he still leans on his father’s advice and role modeling — and not just when he’s on the football field. Nine months ago, Shiloh and wife Keanna had a son, Kruz, who brings a much more important job title than being an NFL player could ever carry.
Shiloh Keo expects to raise his son in much the same manner that his father raised him. There’s no Father’s Day gift that could be more special.
“We’re so proud of him,” Regan Keo said. “For people who don’t have this feeling, it’s huge. It’s beyond huge.”
Preparation, Regan Keo likes to preach, is one of the keys to performance. And thanks to a dad who showed him the way, Shiloh Keo feels prepared for the journey known as fatherhood.
“I thank God each and every day for things He’s put in my life,” Shiloh Keo said. “The most important thing in my life is family.”