There may be no better feeling for an NFL player than having the long hours and the hard work he spent refining his game pay off in the form of Sunday playing time. For outside linebacker Thomas Keiser ’11, this feeling again became a reality last week when the San Diego Chargers activated him off of their practice squad.
“I was ecstatic,” Keiser said about his reaction to being activated. “Sitting on practice squad was frustrating because you participate in practice all week but you don’t get to do the best part, which is going out there and competing on game day. Once I was activated, I knew I was going to be seeing the field — and that’s what I play for.”
Keiser spent his first two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, collecting 17 tackles, 4½ sacks and an interception. In May, he was waived from the Panthers, but he quickly found a home with the Chargers this summer, earning a spot on the practice squad and now on the 53-man roster.
“The most difficult aspect [of my career] has been earning the opportunity to play on Sunday,” Keiser elaborated. “Coming into the league as an undrafted free agent, your battle to make it is a lot more difficult. You have to make seven times the plays of drafted guys, you have to do things perfect all the time and be on top of your stuff so that the coaches and management trust you to go out there on Sunday and do what you’re expected to do.”
Keiser believes that he has been looked at differently as a player because of the way he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
“The mentality is that there must be some issue or detractor against the athlete because he was undrafted,” Keiser added. “That’s something that, for your first two, three, four years, makes you have to play to prove that you belong in this league.”
As a Stanford grad in the NFL, Keiser experienced firsthand the stereotypes and developing views on players who come into the NFL from Stanford. Over the past few years, the NFL has received an influx of extremely talented Stanford football players who are helping to negate what were once poor opinions of Stanford players. Now, Stanford’s standing in the NFL is higher than ever before.
“You have a lot of respect from your teammates and coaches because you got an education from an elite school,” Keiser said. “At the same time, one of the biggest concerns people have about Stanford NFL football players is that their mind isn’t completely into the game — that they have other interests and that football isn’t their life.
“You do need to prove your passion for the game more than the average person,” he added. “Personally, I kind of laugh at that issue….Stanford wasn’t a school where football players were treated like gods like most of the other BCS programs. We really play for the love of the game — we were out there for each other and because we love football.”
After playing with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and now with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Keiser still had high praise for his former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ’12. Keiser played with Luck for three years and saw the benefits he brought to the football team.
“Andrew was phenomenal,” Keiser said. “Along with all the physical attributes, he always had the intangibles you look for in a quarterback with leadership, poise under pressure and an understanding of the game in a way very few people do. I think he’s going to do awesome in the league.”
The San Diego Chargers fell 27-17 to the Oakland Raiders Sunday night in Keiser’s first game with the team. Keiser recorded one tackle in the game.
At this point, would we really expect anything different from Andrew Luck?
Luck led the Colts on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter — the ninth such drive in his young career — as they upset the previously unbeaten Seahawks 34-28. Luck finished 16-for-29 with 229 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
“A win is a win, if it was ugly, if it was great,” Luck told ESPN. “To come back, you hold on for dear life, but a chance to beat a good team in front of our home fans, to get back on track at home, we take a lot of pride in that.”
Luck was even unafraid to throw at Richard Sherman ’10, who was covering top Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, as Wayne caught five passes for 65 yards on the day. The other former Cardinal player on the Seahawks squad, Doug Baldwin ’11, continued to have an excellent season and recorded five catches for 80 yards on the day.
The Colts improved to 4-1 on the season and have now beaten two of the top teams in the league, the 49ers and the Seahawks.
In others news around the NFL, Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo ’13 caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan with just under two minutes left on Monday Night Football to give Atlanta the lead over the Jets, 28-27. The touchdown was the second in Toilolo’s career. The Jets, however, would rally on a late drive and kick a game-winning field goal with time expiring to win 30-28.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.