ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A third ankle surgery finally brought to an end Kane Keirnan’s playing days on the gridiron as a sophomore at Illinois State University in 2009-10.
Not sure about his next move, the 2008 Glenbard West graduate pondered what life would be like without football. That’s when Redbirds head coach Brock Spack asked him to stay on as a student-coach.
Three years later, the 23-year-old is an offensive graduate assistant at New Mexico University.
“Coach Spack knew that I wanted to get into coaching,” Keirnan said, whose initial ankle injury occurred when he caught a pass and turned upfield as a member of the scout team his freshman year. He subsequently suffered injuries in preseason camp and spring ball as a sophomore.
“He said, ‘How about this? We will keep you on scholarship as a student-coach.’ He gave me the opportunity to get in the game at a young age.”
Keeping Keirnan around was an easy choice for Spack.
“He’s got a great passion for football,” Spack said. “And he’s a very smart guy. You could see he would be a good coach. He has a bright future in coaching.”
After graduating from ISU in 2012, Keirnan received his next break with the help of former Purdue wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield, who also was on the ISU coaching staff in 2010. When Stubblefield took a job with New Mexico last year, he was able to get Keirnan an interview with Lobos head coach Bob Davie, formerly of Notre Dame.
Keirnan was brought on as a graduate assistant and is working toward his graduate degree in sports administration by taking six hours a semester plus three this summer.
“I’ve always wanted to coach, and for a while, I thought it would be at the high school level,” he said. “But when I got the opportunity to be involved at the college level, I wanted to go for it. What drew me to the college game is you get a chance to truly impact these players’ lives. I’m a direct example of that.”
While he loves what he is doing, the life of a college football coach is definitely challenging. Keirnan said his days often start at 5:30 a.m. and end at midnight.
“When practice is over, the players go home but the coaches don’t,” Keirnan said. “It’s a grind, but part of that is being one of the bottom guys on the totem poll. But I could be doing a lot of worse things than sitting down talking football with guys that love it as much as I do. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun.”
Keirnan credits Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet for rekindling his passion for the game.
“I’ve taken things I learned at ISU and definitely things I’ve learned from Coach Hetlet. He gets the credit for making me fall back in love with football my senior year of high school.”
After recently spending time in Glen Ellyn, Keirnan has since returned to New Mexico. Two-a-day practices start on Aug. 1.
“In the three seasons prior to Coach Davie, we were 3-33,” Keirnan said. “Last year in his first year we were 4-9. We are building some good momentum. And we have an awesome group of guys. All they want to do is win and turn this program around.”