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Keith's Long And Winding Road

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Rookie tackle Brandon Keith, a seventh-round pick out of Northern Iowa, has had some personal obstacles before reaching the NFL.

His teammates were going to give him a hard time. Brandon Keith knew this.

So the Cardinals' rookie offensive tackle, the team's seventh-round draft pick, was ready. Keith's bumpy ride through college and after college not only provided material for locker-room grief, it prepared him to take it.

"Even (Matt) Leinart was like, 'You really got tasered? Did it hurt?' " said Keith, who was hit with a taser by Iowa police during a disturbance right before the draft. "They call me 'Taz.' They say its short for Tasmanian devil, but I think it's short for taser. I tell them, 'Y'all are trying to be funny.' But it's a rookie thing, so I am down with it."

Keith seems to understand his position from all angles. The 6-foot-5, 343-pounder has the size and physical tools to make him an NFL prospect. But he wasn't drafted until the final round. He was good enough to be recruited by huge schools like Oklahoma and Florida, but he eventually left Oklahoma and spent his college career at I-AA Northern Iowa.

He is quick with a smile, open about talking of his off-field issues and insists he was happy to talk to teams before the draft about all his perceived problems. But he did plead guilty last week to charges of rioting and interfering with an official for the incident in Iowa, leading to one year probation and the possibility he could be punished by the NFL.

Making the team as a seventh-rounder is difficult. For Keith, it could be that much more.

"Like my grandma always told me, things happen for a reason and you will be stronger for it," Keith said after a recent workout.

"You have to be positive about every outcome."

Keith knew quickly he might have a chance to reach football success. He moved to Oklahoma from Texas as a high school sophomore, and saw Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops – who had just won a national championship -- at one of his first practices. Stoops was checking out another player at the high school, and inquired about Keith.

Stoops thought Keith was older than 16, and told Keith Oklahoma was already interested in offering him a scholarship. Academics slowed the process for the highly recruited Keith – he had to attend junior college after his ACT scores didn't qualify him – but eventually, he became a Sooner.

What happened to Keith at Oklahoma depends on who is telling the story. Keith acknowledged run-ins with the strength coach, saying it had to do with academic limitations that didn't allow him to train with the team – something he said the strength coach wouldn't understand. Keith, who tried twice to make a go of it at Oklahoma, said he knew pretty early on Oklahoma wasn't the place for him.

Stoops, reached by phone, disputes many of the details Keith divulged although Stoops declined to go on the record with his version, simply saying Keith "had every opportunity."

Whatever the reasons, Keith ended up at much-smaller Northern Iowa. And now he's with the Cards, in what Keith called "a great situation" since the team has a need with offensive line depth.

"Brandon is pretty sharp mentally and he is a big, physical guy," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "We've got to get his weight down a little bit and get his feet moving and see if we can get him up to speed.

"Sometimes a guy's (rocky) background can be good in a way. Things may have not worked out and he tried to make it work somewhere else. They know the leash is getting shorter and shorter every time."

Keith said he has "no regrets" with how his life has gone up until this point – no matter how much ribbing he has to take. He said he was honored to be invited to the scouting combine and to be taken in the draft, even in the final round.

Keith believes this can work. And that his past will be merely the interesting prologue to his life in pro football.

"I used to tell my friends, 'Man, I just want to get an opportunity to be in the NFL,' " Keith said. "You want the money but if you are a good player you will last a long time. My goal was just to get in.

"I look at it as it is sunny on the other side. I can just work my butt off and see what happens."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 7/1/08. Updated 7/2/08.

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