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Not just some passing fancy


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To the unfamiliar football fan, it would appear that Havre High School senior Justin Kegel has to live in the large shadow of a highly successful older brother.

But that fan would be more than unfamiliar, he would be wrong,

Justin's older brother, Matt, starred at Havre High as a standout quarterback and basketball player, and is currently a backup quarterback at Washington State University.

Matt led the Ponies to a state runner up finish in 1998 and another playoff appearance in 1999. He is possibly the most prolific passer in Blue Pony football history.

Despite all of that, Justin isn't worried about shadows, living up to Matt's reputation or trying to make people forget about Matt. Rather he embraces it.

Kegel is very grounded about the influence of his older brother in his life and on the football field. He doesn't worry about being the younger sibling of a Havre High superstar. He certainly isn't bothered by the comparisons and the expectations. In fact he is not only proud of it, he relishes in it.

"My brother was a great athlete and he is a great guy. I love him unconditionally." Kegel said. "Growing up in his shadow has been a positive influence for me. Everything he did on the football field has inspired me to do what I have done so far."

And his brother is still helping along the way. Kegel says Matt calls him on Friday before every game no matter where he is or what he is doing.

Although Kegel first started playing quarterback in the seventh grade, he attributes watching his brother's teams succeed on the football field to really inspiring a passion for not only the quarterback position, but the game of football itself.

It wasn't always easy at first. There were some struggles, but his breakthrough came when he reached high school. During his freshman season, he really started to feel comfortable at quarterback and learned a lot by watching Matt quarterback the Ponies to two straight playoff appearances.

"I had a really good freshman year," Kegel said. "That's when I started really putting the hard work in the weight room and on the practice field. That's when I knew I could play this position."

All that hard work paid off. He has started at safety in the Havre secondary since his sophomore year and in 2002 Kegel has racked up big numbers quarterbacking the Ponies to the Central A conference championship. At this point in the season, he has thrown for over 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also had an effective season rushing the ball, scoring eight TD's on the ground.

Although Kegel has had a great individual season at quarterback, he is quick to point out that football is a team sport and he lends credit to his teammates for his success.

"I respect my teammates so much," Kegel said. "I wouldn't have any of this recognition without them. Football is a total team sport and that is why I love it so much.

"We work together, hang out together and have fun together as a team. That's what is so great about football."

Kegel's respect and appreciation for his teammates is definitely reciprocated. He is looked upon as a leader amongst a group of very talented football players. The leadership role is one he is very comfortable with, while his coach is even more comfortable with him in that leadership role.

"Justin is our emotional leader and he also leads this team by his performance on the field," said Havre head coach Troy Purcell. "He is a great team leader because not only does he have the respect of all of his teammates, he in turn gives them the respect right back."

Purcell has always known that Kegel was going to be a special player and he has enjoyed watching him develop over the last three years. His work ethic make him a pleasure to coach.

"Justin has always been a very coachable player," Purcell said. "He works very hard and he takes on a lot of responsibility on the field. He is an outstanding player and a tremendous athlete, as well as a great person."

While Kegel is focused on the remainder of the season and the rest of his senior year of high school, he is also mindful of where he is going. His interest in attending college and continuing his football career at the next level also drives him to work hard and continue to excel.

After high school, he wants to pursue an engineering degree and, of course, continue his football career. The only question is where. That decision may tougher than any defender he has faced on the field.

"I know I want to go into engineering and I know I want to play football at the college level." Kegel said. "There are some schools that are interested in me, but at this point I have no idea where I'll end up."

Not only does Kegel want to play college football, but he also believes that he can excel.

"I know I can play at the next level," Kegel said. "I believe in myself and my capabilities as a football player."

That kind of confidence also spills over into the remainder of this season. As the Ponies prepare to face the Bigfork Vikings in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs, he is mindful of where his team has been as well as where they can go.

Havre has come a long way. The Ponies dropped their first two games of the season, and also lost a crucial late-season affair to defending state champion Lewistown. But they rebounded to win five critical games and with a little help they also won a conference championship outright.

The rollercoaster season has only brought Kegel and his teammates closer together. The Ponies team chemistry went from good to great during the stretch.

Overcoming adversity along the way has helped Justin realize that he is part of something special. He is confident that if the Ponies play like their capable of, the big prize in Class A football is reachable.

"This is the best team I have ever been a part of," Kegel said. "We spent the summer together working hard and preparing for this season. We set goals as a team, like winning the conference championship and winning a state championship. I believe that we are going to reach all our goals like we should as a team."


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