The Battle of the Piney Woods football game against Stephen F. Austin State is just two days away. SFA is ranked 23rd and tied for the Southland Conference lead with Sam Houston State and three other schools. The Houstonian decided to sit down with SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler as he heads into his first Piney Woods game. Listen to the interview above or check out the transcript below.
Q: What are your thoughts and feelings going into your first ever Battle of the Piney Woods?
A: I am really excited. I have heard so much about it and seeing footage from previous years, I feel like it has the potential to be a pretty wild game. It is a game that contains a lot of big plays, emotional swings and when a team gets a big lead, the lead does not always hold up. It is really one of those games where you play all 60 minutes. You’re going to be holding on to your hat all game, and I think that since both of our conference championship hopes are on the line. It will be a drama filled game.
Q: Do you feel any added pressure?
A: No. I don’t get that way, you know? I enjoy every moment on the field these days. I enjoy game day, and I don’t feel any pressure at all, whether we are winning or losing. I just enjoy the experience, the teachable moments and the challenges. I am blessed to have the opportunity to coach in this game.
Q: Are you preparing the team any differently, such as adjusting to the loud noise and crazy atmosphere?
A: The fortunate thing for us is that we already played in two unique venues. We played Eastern Washington to start the season off on national television and then obviously [Louisiana State], but we already play the loud music during practice to help players adjust to the loud noise. The theme all week has been ‘the only one who beats us is us.’ The challenge for the players is that we need to stop the penalties. We need to learn to pay attention to the details in the game. Paying attention to details is the only thing stopping us from being the team we want to be.
Q: How have your thoughts about the rivalry changed since before coaching at SHSU to now?
A: I knew it was a big deal, but then I realized it’s a huge deal. I did get the whole do not wear purple, and then this game has come up on a constant basis through alums, through people in the town. It’s something that has been a constant little theme out there, you know? Because people are always saying ‘Hey SFA did this, SFA beat them.’ They’re not saying they saw McNeese did this or Lamar did this. [SFA] is constantly brought up to you. So as you’re going through life, here you realize, this is a huge deal.
Q: How do you feel the team has performed this year?
A: We’ve had our moments. Our biggest problem is that we only had four players that played in the Eastern Washington game go through spring practice. We didn’t have a spring. So we got here, and we installed an offense and defense with guys who were not even going to play. Our seventh string tailback was our starter in the spring. We brought in a bunch of new players, but also there was a bunch of new players that were going to play for us but were injured when they got here. Since Colorado Pueblo, we have actually been playing much better defensively and offensively. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I really like the team. I like where we can go. It is exciting knowing that next year we have 22 out of the 24, including the punter and kicker, back, and when we plug in the new starters, we’ll have 17 of those guys back. So for the next two years I’m practically coaching the same team. That’s pretty exciting. We like where we are going. We like our talent level. There has been some disappointment this season, but at the same time, there is a lot of encouragement. I also think this staff is a great recruiting staff. I think we will do a great job recruiting, so I’m excited.
Q: What are your keys to the game that will help SHSU get the win?
A: Stop [running back Gus Johnson]. We have to stop [Johnson]. Their tailback is really good and then their quarterback does a good job. He is not overwhelming, but he does a good job managing the game. Offensively, if we play clean then we are going to score some points. It’s the matter of us doing our job and responsibilities. So stop [Johnson}, play clean and we’ll win.
Q: Do you have any last words for faculty, students and alumni?
A: Come on out. I think our kids understand that we are playing for not only ourselves but also for everyone at this institution because when you play in a rivalry game, it’s almost like homecoming. You play for everyone who has ever worn the colors before you and it’s the same thing. We’re playing for bragging rights for this entire year. We’ve had a great run against these guys, and we need to keep that thing going on.