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Hart Quarterback's Preparation for Big Game Began Years Ago

October 14, 1994|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He is the McKeon of the moment, the youngest of five brothers who starred on the Hart High football team. Eight older cousins played at Canyon.

Yet family tradition goes only so far.

"I hope to have a different experience than my brothers," Steve McKeon said matter-of-factly of facing archrival Canyon tonight. "They all lost to Canyon."

He is the Hart quarterback of the moment, having studied Tom and Jim Bonds, Darren Renfro, Ryan Connors, Mike Kocicka et al. from the time he was the school's ball boy at the age of 3.

"I was a sponge," he said. "Being around the program helped out a lot. Hart has a winning tradition, a frame of mind that we win more than we lose."

For a 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior, he has a lot to live up to. But McKeon, if not born ready, became well-prepared shortly thereafter.

His father, Joe, was an assistant coach at Hart for 12 years, and was Steve's freshman coach. Just add up the hours spent with his brothers and cousins. McKeon learned football on the field, at large family gatherings, during quiet dinners at home.

"My dad and brothers talk, and basically I just listen, just take it in," he said. "When they get a fact wrong, I correct them. That's about the only time I talk."

And when he speaks, McKeon, 16, tells it like it is.

"Stevie's got his head on straight," said Tim McKeon, his uncle.

Steve's father and four uncles, who own and operate a chain of Western wear stores, point to a single peculiarity about the family's only quarterback.

Unlike most of his brothers and cousins, he doesn't seem the least bit interested in joining the family business.

"He's kind of funny about one thing," his father said, "Stevie wants to become a doctor."

In Steve's mind, college football isn't even an option. Institutions of higher learning are for just that.

"Football is a phase of life where you have fun, get something out of it at the time, then proceed to the next step and go to college," he said.

McKeon's current phase has been fun, indeed. Hart has won all five of its games and he has completed 51 of 83 passes for 944 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has rushed for four touchdowns.

Opponents are tempted to underestimate the ability of the diminutive McKeon. Before Canyon players make that mistake, they ought to chat with Rick McKeon, Steve's cousin and a former Canyon all-league tackle.

At a church picnic on Memorial Day, Rick was rushing Steve during a pick-up football game. Not seeing Rick, Steve whirled and threw a pass that struck his cousin square in the face, shattering his eyeglasses.

"Once in a while you hear that Steve's arm isn't that great, but Rick will vouch for his arm strength," said Tim McKeon, Rick's father.

Anyone who knows Steve will vouch for his inner strength. Leading Hart against Canyon has been McKeon's destiny. He is ready.

"I didn't have a choice about whether to play football, but I didn't need a choice," he said. "This is what I want."

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