Hebron's 'Renaissance Man' Plays The Entire Field

October 28, 1990|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff writer

If anything, Nathan Kealey is an anti-cliche.

Take his conflicting off-the-field image. At first glance his braces and short hair appear to reveal your basic boyish-looking 17-year-old senior.

That impression is jarred by the medium-sized ring hanging on his left ear and his slight ponytail.

Kealey's topics of conversation range from his football exploits at Mount Hebron to points far away.

He remembers the details surrounding his stunning 55-yard field goal last month, for instance. But he also enjoys talking about the two-week trip he took alone to Europe as a sophomore. He's as fluent speaking French as footballese.

His eyes light up equally at the prospects of playing college football or lacrosse, or both, and of mastering hotel management. To him the football field is a creative extension of the classroom, where he maintains a 3.05 grade point average.

Mark Cates, the athletic director at Mount Hebron High School and the assistant coach for the Vikings, describes Hebron's most talented player this way.

"I picture Nathan wearing a suit with a pair of tie-dyed jeans," Cates says. "He's a very eclectic person, a creative kind of person. He's not your run-of-the-mill type of guy who does things one way. He's not your stereotypical football player. He's like an artist. He can make something out of nothing or he can add something to what's already there."

Head coach Steve Benninghove takes the assessment one step further.

"Nate is a Renaissance man. He does a little bit of everything," he says. "He's a ladies man, he's a good student. He'll probably end up an actor someday.

"And he's our glue. He holds everything together on the field," Benninghove adds. "What difference does he make? Instead of 3-4, we'd be 0-10 without him. The best way to describe him is he tips the scales in our favor. You name the position, he'd be one of the best two or three in the county at it."

Kealey is all the other things coaches drool over. He's the guy who usually gets to practice early to work on his kicking and stays late to work on his passing. He's the take-charge guy in the offensive and defensive huddles, the ever-demanding perfectionist on the field.

And his performance through the first seven games lends plenty of support to Benninghove's evaluation. The 6-foot, 180-pound Kealey, the son of a retired Army lieutenant colonel, has turned in one of the more versatile displays the league has seen in years.

Begin with the fact that Kealey is basically a handyman in shoulder pads, who rests only during halftime and time-outs. As Hebron's quarterback/safety/kicker/punter, he's the county's lone four-position player, and he's the best the Vikings have at each spot. He's been on the field for every play in five games.

"I've thought about the fact that I do a lot of things, but I just do it because I like it," Kealey says with a shrug. "Other people on our team (of just 18 players) do a lot also. We've got other guys on three or four teams. I figure why not?"

What's intriguing about Kealey's vital contribution is how weak much of it appears under the scrutiny of statistics. He's completed just 15 of 53 passes (28 percent) for a mere three touchdowns. He's averaged only 2 yards per rush in 59 attempts to manage three more TDs. Defensively, his four interceptions stand out, but his 29 solo tackles and 23 assists seem pretty ordinary.

Yet the statistics hide moments like the two busted plays Kealey turned into touchdowns against Owings Mills in a 26-21 loss. Or the game-saving tackle he made with a minute remaining last week to secure a 22-18 victory over Howard.

The stats don't show the hit he laid on Oakland Mills' Korey Singleton -- the league's leading rusher -- knocking Singleton out of the game in a 21-6 loss to the Scorpions. They don't show he's been sacked only three times in two years. They don't show he's usually in the right place at the right time.

"I'd love to have him (Kealey) on our team," Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet says. "As a quarterback, he's real elusive. He's mentally tough. But he really impressed me on defense. He roams the field looking for good shots."

"You can't use stats to explain him," Benninghove says. "He doesn't have the passing stats, but you'd better prepare for him to throw. When Chris Leinhauer (linebacker and defensive captain) got hurt against Wilde Lake, Nate stepped right in to call the signals."

"I guess the statistics are lying," Kealey says. "I can't go by my stats. There's got to be something else besides them. It's not what I do on big plays so much. It's more what I do on a bunch of nice little plays.

Fortunately, there hasn't been anything big that I've messed up."

One area Kealey has excelled in -- statistically and all -- is kicking.

Besides averaging a solid 35.3 yards a punt, he's booted four field goals in five attempts. He's proved his 55-yarder was no fluke by hitting from 41, 36 and 35 since. Each went toward a winning cause.

Kealey had some kicking experience last year, but he picked up valuable pointers when, at Benninghove's urging, he attended a two-day kicking and punting camp at the University of Maryland last summer. Now he's the most respected kicker in the league.

On top of all this, Benninghove and Cates say Kealey is by far the best receiver on the team. Kealey switched from receiver to quarterback in midseason last year -- only his third season playing the sport -- and proceeded to lead Hebron to a 3-1 finish. He stands a good chance of leading the Vikings to a 6-4 finish, which would be their first winning season in six years.

"I want to score some more points. We haven't had that big offensive day yet, the kind of day I'd like to have," he says.

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