Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – In all his time carrying a football Brennon Keen never recalled drawing comparisons to an NFL running back.
So when a coach likened Keen to NFL superstar Adrian Peterson this fall it drew a smirk and a chuckle from the West High senior.
It was perfect timing for Keen who was in need of some laughs around the time West High swimming coach Byron Butler made the parallel to Keen and the former NFL MVP.
Keen had his senior football season cut short before it really got going with a torn ACL in a week-two win over Muscatine.
A few days after the injury Keen met with Butler and smiled at his coaches’ prediction that he would heal faster than Peterson who famously returned to the football field nine months after ACL surgery.
One thing Keen didn’t know at that time was that Butler wasn’t joking.
“After he had his injury and his surgery was scheduled he came to see me and I joked with him that he was going to heal faster than Adrian Peterson,” Butler said. “But I wasn’t really joking.”
Butler wasn’t joking and he wasn’t wrong.
Just four months removed from ACL surgery Keen was back to live competition as a member of the West High swimming team.
Keen will attempt to cap his unlikely senior season by earning a trip to the state tournament at the district swimming meet at Southeast Polk on Saturday.
“It sounds crazy to say but I knew he could do it, he’s built for that,” Butler said. “He’s not making cuts or doing things like that but he is just so strong in the weight room that I knew he would heal up fast because every other muscle in that group area is incredibly powerful.”
To be clear, Keen has not done exactly what Peterson did in return from injury.
Keen hasn’t fully cleared every hurdle in his return from the major knee and still does physical therapy for the knee.
None of that will stop Keen from attempting to conclude his high school athletic career on a high note less than six month after one of the low points of his athletic career.
“When I knew (after the injury) I was done with football it was really hard and it took me awhile to realize the circumstances of the situation I was in,” Keen said. “My parents told me I had to start thinking about swimming and that hadn’t really crossed my mind until they told me that but after they said that it I decided I was going to do everything I could to try to swim.”
As his senior year got underway Keen was focused on football not swimming and things started the way he imagined.
Keen led West High with 46 yards on 12 carries in a season-opening win at Southeast Polk.
A promising start quickly turned to disappointment as Keen sustained his football career ending knee injury in a week two win over Muscatine.
Over the next three months Keen was limited to watching from the sidelines as West High rattled off 10 straight wins to return to the Class 4A state title game for the second straight season.
“It was fun but I wish I could have played with them obviously,” Keen said. “It was hard mentally for sure. It was definitely the most mentally trying thing I have ever been through.”
Shortly after September surgery to repair his knee Keen turned his attention to swimming.
He knew the low impact nature of the sport on his repaired knee could allow him to return quickly.
Keen was able to get in the water in November and instantly realized how far he had to go to return to the level that made him a state qualifier in three events as a junior.
“I was so aerobically out of shape,” Keen explained. “Coming into swimming I hadn’t done any conditioning in 12 weeks so I really had to work. I got into the water earlier than I was supposed to. I started practicing with the girls when they were still in the water just to get my aerobic capacity up there.”
Even with that preseason pool work Keen says he was nowhere close to where his teammates were at when the season began.
The plan for Butler was to have Keen ready for Mississippi Valley Conference meet and the postseason meets the next two weekends.
A month earlier than that Keen was cleared for competition and made his debut, using one-legged starts to protect his injured knee, in a dual meet with City High in December.
“For the most part I knew that he would be ready to go for these championship meets for sure,” Butler said. “When we got to the City High dual meet and we tried him off one feet and he went 23.6 that’s competitive and I knew we had something and he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Butler predicted a quick recovery back in September but has still been impressed by what the senior has done.
Keen helped the Trojans’ 200 medley relay team to a runner-up finish at the Mississippi Valley Conference meet last month and added ninth-place finishes in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.
His times of 22.71 in the 50 free and 50.85 in the 100 free are second and third on the West High team this year respectively.
“We’d like for his legs to be a little stronger than they are but he’s still swimming faster than he ever has really in season,” Butler said. “He went 22.7 this year and his medley relay split was 21.7 and he’s never broken 22. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s done.”
When he set his sights on returning to the pool Keen had the goal of ending his senior season at the state meet.
Only over the past few weeks has he realized just how realistic that goal can be.
“The goal is always to make it to state but I didn’t know how reachable that was or how realistic that goal could be until I started swimming some pretty fast times,” Keen said. “Anything is possible”
Keen was a member of two West High relay teams that finish in the top 10 at the state meet last season.
He was also an individual qualifier in the 50 freestyle.
A return to the state meet set for February 10 at the University of Iowa Aquatic Center would be a perfect ending for Keen.
““It would mean a lot to end it at state,” Keen said. “It would just show how hard I have worked to get to where I am with knee both mentally and physically.”