OWENSBORO, Ky. — Everybody in Legends Sports Bar & Grill came to see if Keelan Cole could make it to the Super Bowl as a wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Legends on Highway 54 was nearly packed recently with a lot of Kentucky Wesleyan College alumni, officials and friends, and they were joined by other Owensboro folks who have adopted Cole as their favorite NFL player.

This was the third straight Sunday that there had been a watch party at Legends, and the place has been full of people, and full of excitement each time. There was also a watch party on KWC’s campus.

“Three weeks running, this place has been going,” said Blake Harrison, KWC’s director of development and donor relations. “It’s been great to come out to a place crowded with alumni and see the support and excitement.”

The noise was deafening when Cole made a couple of catches in the first half of the Jaguars’ 24-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game. The one that got the most attention, in Legends and on national television, was a 26-yard strike to Cole along the sideline where he made a great grab and kept both feet inbounds.

Cole got little action in the second half and didn’t catch a pass, which left a few fans grumbling as they headed out after the game was over. After that big first-half catch, Cole should’ve gotten more chances, his fans believed.

Cole’s 748 receiving yards during the 2017 regular season led Jacksonville’s team, and most of it came in the final month. He caught seven passes for 186 yards against Houston and then snagged six passes for 108 yards the following week against San Francisco.

The undrafted rookie free agent has made the most of his chances since arriving on KWC’s campus to walk-on to the Panther football program after a high school career at Louisville Central.

Depending on who you believe, Cole came to KWC as a skinny kid weighing 135 pounds, or a not quite as skinny kid weighing 140. He has grown to 6-foot-1, 194 pounds.

“Here’s a kid who barely made his high school team, was a walk-on at Kentucky Wesleyan, redshirted his freshman year because he was so scrawny, and look at him now,” said Roy Pickerill, the former long-time sports information director at KWC.

Pickerill was wearing a No. 84 game jersey, one of three the Jaguars sent to KWC. The school is hoping when Cole comes back to campus he will sign them, then the school will have them framed, one hanging in the football office, one in the athletic office, and one put up in the president’s office.

“I’ve been wearing them for all these watch parties,” Pickerill said.

KWC president Barton Darrell is well known for his interactions with all of KWC’s students, and it’s obvious he has a warm spot in his heart for Cole.

“I’m not any tighter with him than I am the rest,” Darrell said. “I never passed him on campus when he didn’t speak to you, hug you, he’s like that with everybody. He transcended sport. Most people didn’t think of him as an athlete first, he’s just Keelan Cole, a Wesleyan guy, everybody loved Keelan Cole.”

There was a particular episode late one summer that Darrell remembered that said a lot about why Cole is so well-liked.

“They were doing two-a-days in late August, one of those hundred-degree days, I’m walking back to my office, I’m seeing these two girls chalking the sidewalk for sorority rush, I’m thinking you all are crazy,” Darrell said. “I look over and there’s a guy doing the same thing with them, and it was Keelan. I said ‘Keelan Cole, you of all people, get inside.’ He smiled and said ‘they looked like they needed some help’ and that was Keelan.

“He used to work the YMCA camp in the summer, work until noon then take a class, workout, we were walking across the quad, and the little kids were going ‘Keelan Cole, come back,’ he’s waving at them. How many kids when you give them their diploma and hug ’em tell you they love you? That doesn’t happen. … That doesn’t happen.”

The love for Cole from his KWC and Owensboro fans was very apparent.


Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, http://www.messenger-inquirer.com