By Robert Lucke
It was the second quarter of the Apple Cup, the football game between Washington and Washington State. ABC was carrying the game nationally and Keith Jackson was doing the play by play. Suddenly a new quarterback came in for the Washington State Cougars and Jackson said, "Here comes Matt Kegel from Havre, Montana. He is the quarterback of the future for Washington State and they are putting him in every second quarter. That makes a lot of sense to me."
Not only that, but Jackson pronounced Havre correctly.
Kegel has been going to Washington State in Pullman for the last 2 1/2 years. He knows that he is the quarterback of the future for the Cougars.
"For sure I am going to be the man in 2003 and I will have chances to compete for that job next year," Kegel said.
With a record of 9-2 this year, the Cougars are heading for a bowl game. Kegel and the Cougars will be playing Purdue in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31. CBS will broadcast the game at 10 a.m. MST.
"I would really like to do the playoff system like they do in basketball instead of the way we do it," he said. "I think it would be a lot more fun."
At 6 foot 5 and 230 pounds, Kegel is thinking about the NFL after college, but just in case he is majoring in sports management with a minor in sports communication. He is a sophomore on the football field but a junior in school.
"I would like to go into pharmaceutical sales and come back to Montana if I don't play in the NFL. I really miss Montana, the outdoors, hunting and fishing," Kegel said. "I would like to continue playing football for a couple of years after college but if that falls through, I would like to come back home."
Kegel quarterbacked the Blue Ponies part of his sophomore year and all of his junior and senior year. While there, his football coach helped him build a highlight tape that he sent to each PAC 10 and Big 10 school. Every school he sent a tape to offered him a scholarship. He chose Washington State because it fit his quarterback mold best.
"That was the right choice even though it is difficult to sit beside someone who is just a year older," he said. "But how successful he is helps me. Driving down the field and making points. It's what it's all about. They do let me play in the second quarter of each game and I played one half of one game.
"I like Pullman and it is close enough for my family to visit. After you leave, you start missing them, and being at Pullman I am close enough that they have lots of opportunities to see me."
Kegel was home for Thanksgiving and had the opportunity to hunt for a week with his friend Ricky Brown, although Kegel had already gotten a five- point bull elk on the first day of hunting season this year. In fact if he wasn't playing football, he just might be hunting or fishing. It's in his blood, he thinks.
Then there is Pullman. Surrounded by wheat fields blowing in the wind, it is not much different than Havre.
"Pullman has an atmosphere like Havre. It is a small and close-knit community that loves football. And like Havre, it is a college town," Kegel said.
There is but one downside to living in Pullman for Matt Kegel.
"That would be not playing as much as I want to, but I have come to realize there are a lot more important things to life than football," Kegel said. "I am an athletic kid and I am going to do things at quarterback that have not been done, but having a family and being happy is most important. I think that too much football makes you angry and unhappy."
When he was younger, Kegel's hero was John Elway, quarterback for the Denver Broncos. So the Broncos were his NFL team. Not so anymore. After Elway retired, the allure of the Broncos sort of wore off. And, after all, Kegel's cousin, Ryan Leaf, is the quarterback these days for the Dallas Cowboys. So they have become Kegel's new NFL team.
Kegel's mother and Leaf's mother are sisters. Leaf is still big in Kegel's book even with his rocky start in the NFL.
"You know Ryan Leaf has never hurt anyone. The worst he has ever did is damage with his mouth," Kegel said. "He is very competitive and Montana should be proud of him."
And always when Kegel thinks of football, he thinks of Havre and the Blue Ponies.
"I still thing my high school years are my best so far. I wish I could go back and do my junior and senior years again," he said. "Sports are a big deal here. We have a legacy. The Blue Ponies are always contenders."
In most towns, athletes like Kegel have maybe a couple of families to count on for support. In Havre, Kegel has five or six families he is close enough with to call the parents Mom and Dad.
Then there is his friend Ricky Brown. Kegel calls Brown his friend and brother. Even though one is now in South Dakota and the other is in Washington, they still call each other three times a week and Brown goes to Cougar games when he can.
"Friendships are just great and there are lots of great friendships from Havre," he said.