Triumph amid tragedy
WR Keevan Lucas used football to overcome loss of loved ones
ABILENE, Texas -- Friday night, Abilene (Texas) High School wide receiver and Tulsa commit Keevan Lucas suffered a left knee injury in the first half of a district game against Midland (Texas) Lee. By the second half, he was on crutches.
Saturday morning, an MRI determined that Lucas had a torn lateral meniscus, and he would be sidelined for three months. Lucas' senior season, just like that, was done. He is scheduled to have surgery to repair the knee this week.
For many athletes, news like that is devastating. For Lucas, that mountain is more of a small hill, maybe even a speed bump. His ability to overcome adversity started his freshman year, when he received news that no 14-year-old should have to comprehend.
On Sept. 15, 2009, Lucas got word that his mother, Kimberly, had died from what he was told was a brain aneurysm. Three days later, Lucas' grandmother, Bernice Ware, died from a massive heart attack and stroke.
"Not too many people have been through what I've been through," Lucas said.
Now a 17-year-old high school senior, Lucas has used the deaths of his closest loved ones as motivation to reach every goal he sets for himself.
An avenue for grieving
Two days before his mother's death, Lucas and his family went to the movies. It was the family's last real outing together. Lucas said his mom had been complaining of headaches and neck pain for quite some time.
"She pulled me to the side after the movies and was crying," Lucas said. "She told me, 'I want you to be good and graduate.' I didn't think much of it at the time."
The next day, his mother collapsed, and an ambulance was called. She was put on life support until the following afternoon, when she was pronounced dead.
Not too many people have been through what I've been through.” -- Tulsa commit Keevan Lucas
Three days later, the series of events was almost identical for Ware.
Just like that, the two most important women in Lucas' life were gone.
"With my mom, I couldn't sit down," Lucas said. "They tried to control me, but I'd go in and see her, walk out, cry, come back in, see her, walk out and cry again. I tried going to school, but that didn't help.
"When I lost my grandmother, I was more shocked than anything. They said she died of a heart attack and a stroke at the same time, but I think her death was more so because of my mom's death. My mom worked all her life to take care of her. It's just crazy how things can happen in such a short time. I mean, it was three days."
Lucas admitted the sudden deaths made him grow up prematurely. At 14, he not only had to deal with two deaths mentally but also tell his then-9-year-old brother Keylon that their mother and grandmother were no longer living.
Feeling alone and without anyone to turn to, Lucas decided to block out his pain with workouts. He became a workaholic in the weight room and focused his undivided attention on football. Lucas is the first to admit that football, in addition to helping with his grieving process, turned him around mentally and spiritually.
"He's gone through a lot of traumatic stuff, and the way he's handled it, I've been very proud of him for that," Abilene coach Steve Warren said. "I think he realizes this is his opportunity to get a good education, and he's going to do what he can to get out and do better for himself. He's blocked out everything and has become a very mature young man."
One of the best
Football has been very good to Lucas.
As a junior, he caught 68 passes for 939 yards and seven touchdowns. The 68 receptions ranks No. 2 on Abilene High School's all-time, single-season list behind former Texas Tech star Lyle Leong.
Lucas would have shattered Leong's mark (76) this season had he been able to stay healthy. He finished the year with 56 catches for 886 yards and seven touchdowns. He set the school's all-time, single-game receptions record with a 12-catch, 220-yard performance against Odessa (Texas) Permian on Sept. 21, only to shatter that with a 16-catch, 144-yard night against cross-town rival Abilene (Texas) Cooper two weeks later.
"I think he's one of the all-time best, if not the best, when it's all said and done," Warren said. "Stats are stats, and Lyle was a very gifted athlete, but he didn't have the work ethic Keevan has. I think a lot of people missed on him, and Tulsa is getting a real steal."
Lucas committed to Tulsa after attending a one-day camp in June. A three-star receiver, Lucas originally chose the Golden Hurricane over an offer from Louisiana Tech and interest from Texas Tech, New Mexico State and Colorado.
Academically, he is just as sound. Lucas is an A student, and he said he will pursue a degree in either physical therapy or kinesiology.
Turn a once-tumultuous life around? Check. Become a star football player? Check. Be a classroom role model and humanitarian? Check. Go to college? Check plus.
"I feel like there are a lot of guys who look up to me, and I don't want to disappoint anyone," Lucas said. "It's all about doing what I can control and helping out any way possible."
A family to lean on
After his mother and grandmother passed away, what Lucas wanted most was to just be a kid. The Aguirre family has helped with that.
Lucas is very close with Abilene teammate Conlan Aguirre, and the Aguirre family has taken him in as an unofficial member of the family.
"It's good to know I have people like that in my life," Lucas said. "I don't have to feel like a stranger in someone else's house. I feel like I've been doing a lot by myself for a long time, but they really show me a lot of love and support whenever I need them."
"We've known him since he was 7 or 8," said David Aguirre, Conlan's father. "We always played against him in youth football and Little League baseball. His mom was at everything he did. If you asked her to flip burgers in the concession stand, she'd be there helping."
Carmen Aguirre, Conlan's mother, added: "His mom was always there for him, and at the end of a game, all the parents would come and talk to their kids. I think he realized [after the passing] that his mom wasn't there. I was there, and I told him, 'You can come over here.' I gave him a hug. If you give him love and understanding, that's all he needs."
Lucas said he and Conlan, a cornerback, are like brothers. They like the same things, and they're equally competitive on the football field. While Lucas values Conlan's friendship and sincerity, Conlan's values Lucas' self-motivation and humility, as well as his ability to let the family in his life during trying times.
"He appreciates the small things," Conlan said. "When you show him love and care, he appreciates it. Just watching him on the field and watching him mature, the motivation puts you in awe."
Lucas said there are times when he'll sit outside at night, glance at the stars and think about how life would be if his mother and grandmother were still around. He wonders how proud they'd be of all he's accomplished.
"Sometimes, I'll have dreams at night where my mom's alive and walking with me," he said. "When I wake up, it's like a bittersweet moment. Those are the days when I usually am not in a good mood."
Lucas will forever have the memories with him. He wears tattoos on his wrists to commemorate his mother and grandmother. He has "9-15-09" on his left wrist for his mother and "9-18-09" on his right wrist for this grandmother.
Football and the Aguirre family have been great equalizers to the inner pain Lucas feels, but the ultimate equalizer will be watching all of his dreams come true. Lucas first wants to graduate high school, then earn a college degree. Playing college football also is a part of that dream, and playing professionally would exceed expectations.
"I'm going to take football and run with it," Lucas said. "I guess that's why my mom said to be good and graduate. I'm doing it for her, and if I do it for her, I feel like I'm accomplished."
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