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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Football: Players return to field after injury

Eastern red-shirt senior fullback Chip Keys was the Panthers’ leading scorer last season with six touchdowns through the first four weeks of the 2007 season. Three of those touchdowns came against Indiana State on Sept. 22.

One week later the Panthers lost all production from the biggest back in their rotation as Keys suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Southeast Missouri. Keys was in crutches after halftime, and four days later Keys was set to have surgery on his injured ankle.

Now Keys is back on the field and again a crucial aspect of the Panthers’ offense. Eastern head coach Bob Spoo said if Keys remains healthy this season he could be the Panthers’ “ace in the hole.”

Keys is used as a blocking back in Eastern’s two-back formation and also as a receiver out of the backfield. But he does the most damage in the Panthers’ jumbo formation with red-shirt senior Trent Steckel at fullback and Keys in the tailback spot.

Eastern offensive coordinator Roy Wittke said Keys’ multi-dimensional ability to line up at several different positions – including fullback, tight end and tailback – would make good use of the Panthers’ use of different formations and personnel packages.

“He’s a guy that, with his size and strength, will be a more than capable blocker for us but will also give us another dimension in our run game with a true, big back type of guy,” Wittke said.

But just short of one year ago, Keys was on the Panthers’ sideline on crutches and in a boot instead of on the field making plays. He said his first thoughts after being told he would miss the remainder of the season was to get the surgery out of the way and then see what else would need to be done to get back on the field.

“The surgery was very successful, and I got some hardware taken out,” Keys said. “From then on it was just getting back in shape and hitting the weights hard this summer.”

Injuries on top of injuries

Red-shirt junior wide receiver Adam Kesler has yet to play a full season as a Panther. As a true freshman in 2005, Kesler was an all-purpose player for Eastern. He compiled receiving yards, rushing yards and return yards.

Then a foot injury sidelined him for five games.

The next season was more of the same. Kesler had some receiving yards but did more damage as a punt returner and a kick returner. He played in 10 games in 2006 but missed three because of another foot injury.

The 2007 season, though, was the worst. Kesler didn’t even play one game in a Panther uniform.

“It was extremely hard because I worked really hard all through winter conditioning, all through spring ball, got my starting spot and the third day of (fall) camp I tear my ACL,” Kesler said. “And after both my feet injuries – before that I had two stress fractures – it’s just been tough.”

Kesler is back on the field for Eastern this season in roles he has become quite familiar with. He is the Panthers’ starting punt returner and gets reps as a flanker, or inside receiver. But Kesler’s return to the field wasn’t as quick as he thought.

“I kind of rushed getting back a little early, and my knee has kind of been swelling up a little bit,” Kesler said during fall camp. “It’s been a hard recovery, but it’s definitely paying off. I’m probably feeling as good as I have in a year.”

Adding depth to the secondary

Red-shirt junior free safety Seymour Loftman had a 2007 season much like Kesler. Both used medical red-shirts, but Loftman’s was used following his shoulder surgery after the 2006 season.

Loftman returned to the field during spring practice and is now the Panthers’ starting free safety, adding not only depth to Eastern’s secondary but also experience.

“Once you get the pads on, it’s OK,” Loftman said during spring practice in April. “I’ve got to be ready to hit again. I’m a little behind on technique.”

Loftman has caught up on his technique and his hitting thus far this season as he leads the Panthers with 22 tackles through Eastern’s first two games.

He had a team-high 15 tackles and one interception against Illinois on Saturday.

“It’s big for my confidence,” Loftman said about his performance against Illinois and being healthy again. “I felt like I was going to have a big game. Two years ago I played very well against Illinois.”

And he did. Loftman had 10 tackles, one fumble recovery, one pass broken up and one quarterback hurry in Eastern’s 42-17 loss on Sept. 2, 2006.

Scott Richey can be reached at 581-7944 or at [email protected].

Football: Players return to field after injury

Football: Players return to field after injury

Senior fullback Chip Keys makes a block for senior wide receiver Quinten Ponius Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Keys returned to the Panthers’ offense after his 2007 season was ended by an ankle injury.(Amir Prellberg

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