Leroy Keyes is parked outside his oncologist's office.
Eight months ago, doctors diagnosed this Peninsula sports legend with Stage 2 prostate cancer. Keyes had ignored warning signs, and surgery was necessary.
"My doctors are optimistic," Keyes says via cell phone, "though you never know with cancer. I feel good, and I look good."
Keyes laughs. He may look good at 61, but he never looked better than during the '60s.
That was his athletic prime at Purdue University and Newport News' Carver High School. That's when he sprinted and stutter-stepped past defenders.
And that's why we consider him the best running back in Peninsula history.
The designation humbles Keyes, but he does not object.
"I used to think if I got a linebacker or defensive back one-on-one in my space, it was all over," he says.
Often it was.
A 1965 Carver graduate, Keyes rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior, 178 on just nine carries in his final game, a victory over Richmond's Maggie Walker. This in an era when few backs cracked four figures.
His career at Purdue was storybook. He led the Boilermakers to No. 1 in the national polls and was a consensus first-team All-American as a junior and senior.
Keyes played tailback, flanker and defensive back in college, and in 1968 was runner-up to Southern California's O.J. Simpson in Heisman Trophy voting.
"He may be the best athlete Purdue has ever seen," former Boilermakers quarterback and Keyes teammate Bob Griese told RivalsRadio. "Not only was he a great running back, but if you needed him to, he could go over on defense and shut down a receiver."
Forty years after his final collegiate game, Keyes still owns school single-season records for yards per carry (6.6), touchdowns (19) and points (114).
Keyes remains Purdue's career leader in yards per rush (5.9) and is the only Boilermaker to have, in separate games, more than 200 yards rushing and 180 yards receiving.
How'd he do it?
"It's not about speed," says Keyes. "It's about awareness and vision, seeing the play develop, seeing the entire field, knowing who you can juke-fake, who you can stiff-arm and who you can just run over."
Those talents, Keyes adds, are "God-given."
"I think you can be taught how to run on the heels of your linemen," Keyes says. "What's instinctive is: When do I put the pedal to the metal? When do I decelerate? When do I cut across the grain?
Keyes had 'eighth sense'
Former Carver running back Leroy Keyes says God-given abilities allowed him to star at Purdue.
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