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Pursuit of Dream Leads Keldorf on Long Path Back Home

The path wasn't always a quick or smooth one, but it had its scenic stops along the way, including a renovated Kenan Stadium. The NFL possibilities for the former North Carolina quarterback seemed endless coming into his senior season in 1997.

The 26-year-old Keldorf finally arrived as a professional last July. But standing on the sidelines inside the Hartford Civic Center wearing No. 15 for the New England Seawolves of the Arena Football League wasn't quite what Keldorf originally had in mind.

Keldorf would stand there and watch starter Mike Perez with a keen eye. Keldorf needed to as Perez's backup, but he also observed in a different role -- as a color analyst for the Seawolves and the three AM radio stations that carried their games.

Keldorf teamed with play-by-play announcer Glenn Compicello to call the action and did so thinking he might have to throw off his headset at any moment to enter the game.

The chance never came.

Keldorf decided to move on. After three professional games. And without taking a single regular-season snap.

"Sometimes if you want to be great, you have to have a passion," Keldorf said. "During that time, I was hoping my passion would develop into something that would keep me driving towards the NFL.

"It kind of counteracted the whole plan. It de-emphasized the passion and rerouted me into something else that I enjoyed."

Keldorf never lost his passion for football. He just didn't want to keep dealing with the pain that lingered from a broken ankle he suffered against Duke in 1996 and from back surgery he endured a year later.

Keldorf, a native of Manhattan Beach, Calif., also felt ready to return home. He called Andy Bark, president of Student Sports Inc., in Torrance, Calif., in August and inquired about a job. Bark, looking to expand his company, gave Keldorf an instant opportunity.

Keldorf now serves as the director of events for Student Sports Inc. His duties include staffing, budgeting and recruiting athletes for 11 Nike Football Training Camp Tours and general production for Students Sports Magazine, the only national monthly high school sports magazine in the country.

"You start discovering new things in life, new opportunities that come your way," Keldorf said. "Sometimes you lose that passion, that love for the game. As you get older, you start realizing there are other things out there calling you other than football."

In many ways, Keldorf had been preparing as much for his current job as for a career playing football. He graduated from UNC in 1998 with a degree in communication studies and took a job with ESPN later that summer.

Keldorf worked as a research and production assistant for seven months for College Football GameDay, editing film and distributing statistics on more than 100 schools. The job with Student Sports also seemed like a natural fit after his short stint in the AFL.

Keldorf met Bark when he was a sophomore in high school, and Bark followed the quarterback's career from his prep days at St. Bernard High until he finished up at North Carolina.

Bark tells the story of how California and then-coach Bruce Snyder recruited Keldorf in high school, and Keldorf was told if playing quarterback didn't work out, he could move to tight end. But Snyder left for Arizona State, and Keldorf's scholarship offer was rescinded when new coach Keith Gilbertson arrived.

Utah State came calling for Keldorf's services next, but its coaches also wanted him to move to tight end. Keldorf's stay in Logan, Utah, lasted all of one week.

Keldorf then went to El Camino Junior College in Torrance and redshirted in 1993. His stay there ended prematurely, as well, with Keldorf finally finding a home at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, Calif.

He played there for two seasons and threw for 3,037 yards and 30 touchdowns in 1995 before enrolling at UNC for the spring semester in 1996.

"He wanted to be a quarterback," former UNC and current Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He felt like it was worth those transfers to follow his goal. It was a case of a young guy just following his heart."

As a junior at UNC, Keldorf threw for 2,347 yards and 23 touchdowns and was named first-team All-ACC for the 10-2 Tar Heels.

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Keldorf entered his senior season as the nation's second-rated passer behind only Peyton Manning. But by the third game, Oscar Davenport had supplanted Keldorf as North Carolina's starter.

Keldorf threw for 1,448 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. He finished up his career in grand fashion, though, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns to earn MVP honors in UNC's 42-3 win against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.

Keldorf said he has only fond memories of his senior season, when UNC finished 11-1.

"I don't regret a thing," Keldorf said. "I actually had more fun my senior year than I did my junior year."

That approach has served Keldorf well throughout his life and has enabled him to take every challenge on with a positive frame of mind.

This is a guy who didn't quit when California turned its back on him. Or when Utah State didn't believe he could play quarterback.

It's why Bark had so much faith in Keldorf to keep in touch with him and watch him progress as a player and a person.

"Every place he went, the thing that attracted me, he was a very clear communicator, kind of a humble kid who just said 'Give me a chance'," Bark said.

So Bark did, thinking Keldorf could one day help run Student Sports.

Keldorf isn't sure what the future has in store for him. But for the time being, he loves sharing his football knowledge with wide-eyed kids and helping them develop their intellects and athletic skills.

And he's happy to be back home in California, working five minutes from where he grew up.

"It's good to be home," Keldorf said. "There's a part of me that will always miss Carolina."

The Sports Editor can be reached at