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Oregon Football

Q&A: Former Oregon WR Keenan Howry

March 13, 2020

Oregon is a program that built a reputation at one point for finding a lot of ‘hidden gems’ in recruiting and making them into big-time football players. This was a huge part of the success of Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti in their time at Oregon. Two key figures that helped put Oregon football on the map.

One of the keys to their success was getting into Southern California and attracting talent to Eugene. And one of those pieces happened to be going all in on Keenan Howry from Los Alamitos. 

Howry turned in his sensational play at Oregon into a two-year run with the Minnesota Vikings. Now he’s up to real life, like most of us, and updated where things are currently at for him.

Hello, Keenan. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. How have you been? What keeps you busy nowadays?  

KH: Hello. I have been pretty good, Chris; just hanging out working. Been working on getting a company up and going. I am working with a friend to grow his real estate and mortgage broker company, and once we get that up and running and I pass my exams, I will take that over. 

So that has been consuming a lot of my time recently.  

Good to hear. Sounds like a lot of work; good luck! If we can go back to when you were in high school, I was curious what your recruitment was like. What age did it start, and did you enjoy the process?  

KH: My recruitment was a little bit weird. 

I didn’t get much recruitment from the non-Pac-10 California schools. The main one was University of Nevada-Reno, which at that time wasn’t even FBS; they were FCS. And one of the reasons why? It was my head coach’s alma mater. 

I started getting recruited around my junior year. That was my first year starting for the high school team. 

After that season, I came into the football office and there was a big box with a bunch of letters that had been sent from the all the different schools. Going through, it was so cool to get letters from big-name schools that they had some interest in me -- schools like Michigan, Pittsburgh, Florida State -- and just seeing all the different schools that at least showed some interest in terms of sending a note out, which was really cool. 

Around my junior year (1997) is when that all started. So, at the point I would send all the information in, and I then started getting calls from schools. Who really ended up recruiting me at the time was mostly inside the Pac-10: Washington State, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. 

Outside the Pac there was Colorado -- which now is in the Pac-12 -- Colorado, Kansas, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Kind of a weird, eclectic mix. No other West Coast schools were recruiting me. I thought schools like San Diego State, Fresno State or Boise, Utah, Utah State or some West Coast schools would have. 

The process was fun, just being able to interact and talk with all the coaches and do all the fun stuff that comes with the recruiting process. 

It does sound fun. Which Duck coach was your main recruiter?  

KH: At Oregon, the main guy recruiting me was Tom Osbourne. He was a tight end/special teams coach at the time -- a real fiery guy. He loved getting out and recruiting. He was responsible for Orange County, so he spent all his time up here recruiting me. That was really the first thing I fell in love with Oregon was coach Oz.  

As my junior year went on, I started talking with all the different coaches of the schools recruiting me. Going into that summer, you could start to see certain teams that were falling off and not really recruiting me. You could see that Washington fell off, not really as interested. Arizona -- kind of the same thing.  

Really, going into my senior season there where only a handful of schools that were really recruiting me, so my list got really short. In the Pac-10, the schools were Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State. Outside the Pac-10 was Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky and Wisconsin. … 

So that summer, my parents and I decided to take some road trips and visit all the schools -- or as many as we can. We first went to Washington, but as I said before, they had kind of fallen off. So, after that visit it finalized it for me; didn’t really feel the love. 

Then went and visited Washington State. Coach Mike Price was the head coach at the time, coach (Mike) Levenseller was the offensive coordinator and was recruiting me along with coach (Kasey) Dunn. Coach Price showed me an awesome time, made me feel welcomed, a place that he wanted me to be at. This was the head coach recruiting me, and he personally gave me my first official offer from them, so that meant a lot.  

We then went to visit University of Oregon, got to see the facilities, hang out with coach Osbourne and coach Chris Peterson, who was the receiver coach at the time. Got to meet all the guys. Tony Hartley was a receiver there at the time who had gone to my high school, so I had a little bit of a connection with him; met with him and got the lowdown. 

Last visit was to Arizona State. Had a good time on the visit and watched their summer training. That was my recruitment up to my senior year. As my senior year went on, I narrowed it down to the schools that where really pushing for me, felt the most love. You want to be appreciated; you want to go to a school that really wants you. 

I had narrowed it down to Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State and Kansas – surprisingly -- and Arizona State. As my senior season went on, Arizona State kind of fell off, not really recruiting me, and had a visit scheduled that didn’t really happen, so (I) took them off my list. 

Kansas and Kentucky (were) in the same boat; it was just a little too far away to see myself going to school at, and the program was not really on the rise. Good programs, just not on the level of an Oregon or Washington State. Plus, those two were closer to home. 

When did you decide you wanted to commit to Oregon?  

KH: It came down to my final three of Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. Oregon had offered me during my senior season, along with Oregon State. Then the schools had their in-home visits. 

Coach (Mike) Bellotti, coach Peterson, and coach Osbourne came in at separate times to visit, just telling how much they want me to be there. Same from Oregon State; coach Mike Riley was the head coach came in, and coach (Mike) Johnson, who actually used to be the receiver coach at Oregon was at this time at Oregon State. Again, telling me they were really high on me, and wanted me to come to their program. 

Same with Washington State; coach Dunn had come by to visit. So, for me it was a tough, a tough final three to choose from. As we got towards the end of the season, I started taking my official trips -- November and December. 

Washington State was my first -- had a really good time and enjoyed myself up there. Then right before the end of the year, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley accepted the head coaching job with the San Diego Chargers. 

Coach Johnson called to let me know and to let me know he wasn’t going anywhere, and that they still wanted me to be there, but he understood. He said he didn’t know what’s going to happen in terms of who the new head coach is going to be, what recruiting plans are, very honest and upfront. To this day I still respect coach Johnson a ton for being honest with me.  

At this point I removed Oregon State, so now it comes down to Oregon and Washington State. At that time, I felt Oregon was on the proper progression for me. I felt they had so much room to grow within the program, just beginning I could see the type of growth I wanted in a program, coming on to the national stage quick. It was just a vibe I got inside the program, the facilities, the players. 

So, I went ahead and made my commitment to the University of Oregon and really just didn’t look back. And really just loved the choice of the decision, and the rest is history. 

Had you not picked the Ducks, which school would you have ended up at?  

KH: You know, had I not gone to Oregon I would have definitely gone to Washington State. Their offense fit what I was, and what I did in high school: spread three and four wide receivers all the time, going balls to the wall, throwing the ball but also being balanced. Felt like I could go out there and shine. 

Really, I tell people this all the time: Both of the schools were really close, but Oregon was the better school. 

Realistically, the only reason I chose Oregon over Washington State is because on my recruiting visit to WSU, I am sitting down talking with coach Price. It’s me and my dad sitting there, along with coach Levenseller. 

We are all in a big conference room, and they had just showed me my highlight tape from my high school seasons, and then highlights from Washington State, with Ryan Leaf and Drew Bledsoe, along with a bunch of their wide receivers they had. And they let me know they wanted me to come there, be a part of this program. They had big plans for (me), and I felt it would be a good place to be. 

Then coach Price said they wanted me to come in, redshirt my first year, put some weight on me, let me get acclimated to college and by the next year really take off. And that kind of completely ended if for me with them.  

The thing is, through my whole recruitment and time playing football, that was always the big thing -- that I was so small, he’s too small -- and not being recruited by University of Southern Cal and UCLA and having them tell my high school coaches -- Hue Jackson, who is a big name from the NFL and college -- had told one of my coaches that I just wasn’t fast enough for my size. He was upfront about it. I have since spoken to Hue about this after I saw him a couple of times in the NFL. 

At UCLA, it was kind of the same thing; I didn’t meet what they look for in a receiver: too small, not sure if he’s going to fit in. Granted, UCLA had some really big receivers at the time, but that was why they weren’t recruiting me. 

So to hear that from WSU, a school I really wanted to go to, to hear that I would need to redshirt because I wasn’t big enough -- all I wanted was an opportunity to come in there and play, especially with all the receivers WSU was losing at the position. I think I could have been the best receiver on that team coming in as a true freshman.  

Oregon was willing to give me that opportunity. Coach Peterson was open and upfront with me. He told me I would have the chance to come in and compete from Day 1, and if you’re good enough to play, you will play. As it turns out, that was the case; (I) was able to come in and play right away. 

That was one of the funnier things. We go into Washington State to play, and they literally had another freshman wide receiver who was their third or fourth wideout and returned punts, so I really taken aback that they thought they would have to redshirt me. And I knew I was a better receiver then that guy, or any receiver they had. 

And the fun thing was, I scored a touchdown my freshman season against them.  

Can you share a funny recruiting story, not necessarily about you, that you experienced or heard about?  

KH: I would just say the recruitment to Oregon; it was nothing (like anything) I had heard about. 

So, we get picked up -- my high school teammate A.K. Keys and Kevin Mitchell, who went to Mater Dei down here in Orange County -- we all get picked up by a private car service, taken to the airport, this really small airport, and board a prop plane to Riverside. 

We get there, and no joke -- it was probably one of the scariest flights I have ever taken in my life. It was windy, the plane is going back and forth all over the place with turbulence, and we landed in Riverside all of us were like: holy crap, that was scary.  

At Riverside there is this jet on the run way, and we get on the plane with all these other recruits -- Onterrio Smith (was) on the trip. We get on the plane, and there is a phone in there, which was just crazy for us at the time. This was 1999, so unheard of. To be able to sit in the jet and take a direct flight to Eugene was amazing. 

I mean, it wasn’t a selling factor for me; that wasn’t going to make my decision to go to Oregon. I was excited about the football stuff, but I had heard stories about how many times they would have top recruits being flown in from Los Angeles, because there was no direct flights to Eugene, then have to have a layover in San Francisco and because of the fog a lot of  times couldn’t get back out -- causing them to miss the trip, causing chaos. 

It was kind of fun to be in on the inaugural recruiting season when they started using a jet. 

What was the best part about your time on campus as a student-athlete? 

KH: It was definitely the people, the people you come across on campus. 

My big thing about going to college -- (it) was nerve-racking and intimidating. Being down in L.A., you know how big the college and campus at UCLA and USC are. How was I going to navigate a college campus, get from class to class, with all the people? 

Getting to Oregon and the campus isn’t huge at all. It was intimate, being able to interact with all the other students and student athletes. That was the biggest takeaway, being able to meet all the types of people, people I still have contact with to this day, being able to share those memories. 

Yes, the football memories. But being on the campus for those four years was memorable to share with the students. I have the worst memory when it comes to faces. I still run across people that tell me they went to Oregon at that time, share their memories. 

That’s what I loved, being a student-athlete during that time. 

If you could change anything about recruiting and/or being a student-athlete, what would that be? 

KH: I can’t really say I could. I know it’s such a different recruiting process now compared to 20 years ago, changing with the time, keeping up with technology. I am sure they are doing some great things recruiting-wise for these kids nowadays. 

I know when I was in high school, there were so many good players that would fall through the cracks because there was no platform for them to get looked at. Now, with all the 7v7 camps, social media, I think a lot more kids have the opportunity to be seen and get recruited and be able to get scholarships. 

I can’t tell you how many guys that would walk on that I knew couldn’t hold a candle to some of the guys I had played with or against. I would suspect that has since changed. 

Have you had any contact with coach Mario Cristobal since he took over? They really seem to be trying to create a family atmosphere and value former Ducks. Can you tell me any interactions you have had, and what your feelings are in regard to the direction of the program? 

KH: I have not had any contact or interaction with coach Cristobal yet. I will probably reach out to him in the next couple of weeks or months, as soon as I can. But I love the direction he is taking in terms of valuing family. 

I believe he went to University of Miami, if I am not mistaken. You see what type of family life and atmosphere they had there, so I am guessing that is what he is trying to bring here? I think it would be awesome if we could. I think that’s something we always want. 

After talking with former players, it has kind of been lacking, especially for some of the not-so-heralded players. They kind of feel like they get left in the weeds; they don’t really feel that family vibe. Being able to come back to games, the hoops you have to jump through to get a ticket or whatever -- I know it has soured a lot of ex-players feeling towards the school or the football program. 

I know it has started to change, and the school is doing some good things -- asking guys to come back and doing good jobs with the alumni and not just about monetary: donate X number of dollars, etc. … Just reach out to guys and have them come back and treat them the best they can.  

I feel like they have been doing a better job over the last five to 10 (years) to have guys come back and being part of the family, be a part of what they have going on now. But like I said, coach Cristobal and staff, people within the athletic department, are making a change to get older guys back into the program -- and it’s only for the betterment of the program, make it stronger. Maybe bring some older guys in on the coaching staff is one way to complete and make the full circle. 

But yeah, he is turning it around; in just his first two years to cap it off with a Rose Bowl win is a great start. He has always been a great recruiter, going back to FIU and Alabama, now here. Two really good coordinators to get the most out of the team, so he can be more the hands-off CEO of the program, and do some good things for the program. 

Hopefully, we can keep him around and not let some other big programs poach him away from us. He has a good thing going that I would like to continue for the program.  

Thanks Keenan. Really appreciate your time. Go Ducks!


Tags: Football, Oregon
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