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Future 'Cats ready for action in Shrine Bowl

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

SALINA -- With only 86 miles separating the towns, it's not surprising Phillipsburg's Sean Newlan and La Crosse's Kip Keeley know each other's story well.

They frequently saw the other's name in the newspaper, and Newlan even got to watch one of Keeley's games a few years ago against Plainville. While they never stepped on the football field together in high school, their paths often crossed at track and field events, and later on the numerous recruiting trips each would take.

Both realized it wasn't out of the question they could end up playing college ball together, but neither thought it would be in Manhattan.

"I've always wanted the opportunity to be on Kip's team; I thought it would be a good combination," Newlan said. "For it to actually be happening, especially at this school, it's almost a dream come true."

Next week, Newlan and Keeley will report to training camp and put on the Powercat logo for the first time, the beginning of what each hopes to be a long and successful career at Kansas State University.

"Being a Kansas boy, especially a small town Kansas boy, everyone in my community I knew was a giant K-State fan," Newlan said. "Not only was it a big honor and a blessing that I got the opportunity to go play for coach (Bill) Snyder, but it was also a big opportunity and a big thrill for my community."

Newlan and Keeley have spent the bulk of this month taking part in K-State's summer conditioning program, even though they have yet to put on an actual helmet. Before that happens, the duo has some unfinished business in high school that will make them teammates for the first time on the field.

On Saturday, they will represent the West squad at the Kansas Shrine Bowl in Topeka, the annual high school all-star game that raises money for the Shriners Hospital for Children.

Part of playing in the prestigious game is the week-long camp the players take part in, and for Newlan and Keeley, it's a nice break from the rigors of preparing to play Division I football.

"We really realize the importance of this event," Keeley said. "A couple of days ago the Shriners were talking to us, and you could just see the emotion in their voice and in their eyes when they were talking about the kids. That's when it hit us that this game is about more than just us. It's about the kids."

But when they step on the field, both agree it's business as usual. The West squad has won this event seven years in a row and is determined to make it eight.

Regardless of the outcome Saturday, however, Newlan and Keeley also know they have an even rarer opportunity waiting them on the other side in Manhattan.

"I remember one day I got the Sports Illustrated in the mail and Collin Klein was on the front cover. It just kind of made me realize that this isn't just an average Division I football team," Keeley said. "Just seeing everything they had there, it was an opportunity that I didn't really want to regret later on in life, wondering if I could have made it there."

Keeley wasn't offered a scholarship, but was asked to walk on at linebacker despite having offers from numerous junior colleges and Division II schools. Newlan, who will be a defensive back, was eventually given a scholarship for this upcoming season after originally agreeing to grayshirt.

Now both are expected to compete for playing time on a rebuilding Kansas State defense, at a school that has built a reputation out of turning walk-ons and little talked about recruits into all-conference players.

"Just looking at the history of their walk-ons that have developed and progressed in the program, it definitely gave me confidence in what I chose to do," Keeley said. "I'm realizing that is something I could be someday. It only comes from hard work. It's not something that is given."