Michael Keck, a former standout defensive end at Harrisonville High School, died from complications arising from a staph infection Oct. 21 in suburban Denver.
Keck, 25, who helped the Wildcats win three Missouri Class 3 state championships, began his college career at Missouri before leaving the program after one game in September 2008 and transferring to Missouri State.
Keck and his family recently relocated to Denver when his wife, Cassandra, took a job there. He is survived by his wife and son, Justin, 2.
“His grandma said it best, ‘Perhaps God needed a defensive end,’” said Fred Bouchard, who coached Keck from 2003-06 at Harrisonville. “He has old No. 49 up there with him now, and the rest of us have a guardian angel watching over us.”
News of Keck’s death rocked his former teammates and the tight-knit Harrisonville football community.
“I’m still shocked,” said Zach Livingston, a 2007 Harrisonville graduate who had Keck as a groomsman at his wedding. “It’s hard to wrap my head around, and it definitely makes you take a step back and look at life. … Words can’t describe what a loss it is. He was definitely part of the family, and he was such a huge part of the Harrisonville football family. When you go back there, you can still see kids wearing his number.”
Keck was a highly touted four-star recruit coming out of high school and chose a scholarship offer from Missouri over Arkansas.
“He was a special player,” said Smithville assistant coach Josh Speer, who played with Keck one season. “He started on our state championship team my senior year, his freshman year. You could tell he was going to be a special player. He had such a passion for it. People always looked up to him and he was the kind of person people wanted to be around.”
But Keck never felt comfortable with the Tigers.
He was a redshirt in 2007 and recorded one tackle and assist in a season-opening win against Illinois in 2008 before quitting the team.
In Columbia, Keck felt isolated from his support system, including his grandmother, Charlotte Keck, and the family of Cass County Circuit Court Judge Bill Collins, prompting his decision to transfer. Both of Keck’s parents had drug problems, and he and his three siblings, two sisters and an older brother, went to live with his grandmother when Michael was in sixth grade.
After leaving Missouri, Keck landed at Missouri State in large part because Collins’ two sons, Steven and Andrew, were there.
Keck recorded 65 tackles with 6 1/2 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a sophomore in 2009, but he missed the 2010 season because of issues related to a concussion.
Keck retired from football in March 2011 before his senior season with Bears, but friends say he was settling in to his post-football life.
“He was finding his own way and was becoming a great husband and great dad,” Speer said.