This wasn't how Corey McKeon envisioned his college football career wrapping up.
This December was supposed to be spent with his Nebraska teammates preparing for a bowl game. But a 5-7 final record in 2007, which led to the firing of head coach Bill Callahan, wasn't good enough to qualify for a bowl game, forcing McKeon, a former Tribune All-State linebacker from Naperville North, to begin preparing for April's NFL Draft a month earlier than he wanted.
To get to that next level, McKeon will have to perform well in a series of workouts, tests and at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. And though his teammates won't be with him, a warm bowl trip does await, as he's been chosen to compete in the Hula Bowl in Honolulu Jan. 12, a postseason all-star showcase for NFL scouts.
"It will be a lot of fun to play with some of the guys you've played against during your career," McKeon said. "It's like a vacation with a little work mixed in. I'm fortunate to be playing there because it gets some scouts watching me -- it's a good way to continue on."
A 2007 bowl trip looked to be a certainty in early October after the Huskers had gotten off to a promising 4-1 start. Nebraska dropped six of its last seven games, including two embarrassing losses to Kansas and Colorado in which the Cornhuskers allow a combined 141 points.
The 6-1, 225-pound McKeon was projected before his senior seeason by several scouting services as anywhere between a second- and fourth-round pick. The Huskers' defensive troubles probably didn't help his standing but he has more than enough time to make a positive impression.
"I go out to New Jersey on Sunday for a week to start my workout regimen through the agency I signed with," said McKeon, who has signed on with Brian Mackler of New York-based Sportstars, Inc. "I'll be home for the holidays but then start back up again."
As disappointing as the 2007 season was on a team level, McKeon is proud of what he accomplished individually in his five years in Lincoln. In 10 starts this fall, McKeon finished third on the squad with 73 tackles, in addition to recording a sack and an interception and breaking up six passes.
He injured the AC joint in his shoulder in Sept. against Ball State, an injury that hindered him the rest of the year.
"I definitely didn't play as well as a senior as I would have liked and I wasn't satisfied with it at all," McKeon said. "They changed the defense on us this year and we maybe got overworked a little in the spring and summer. Everyone had a lot invested in this season and as we started to falter, guys kind of caved in a little."
McKeon started all 25 of Nebraska's games in 2005-06 after a redshirt year in 2003 and mostly special teams duty the following fall.
In 2006, he was third on the team in tackles with 69 and had his best statistical season in 2005 as a redshirt sophomore when he paced the team with 98 tackles, in addition to notching seven sacks, three interceptions and double-digit tackle games. He was a second-team all-Big 12 pick that year, in addition to being named a sophomore all-American by Collegefootballnews.com. He was on the Butkus Award watch list the following fall and was on the watch list the last two summers for the
Bednarik Award, which goes each year to the nation's best Division I college defender.
"It was a great experience being here for these five years," McKeon said. "The tradition here is so special and the expectations are really high. The fans love you one minute and hate you the next."
Despite Nebraska's subpar season, the McKeon family did get to celebrate one championship this year. McKeon's father, Larry, is the longtime head football coach at Naperville North, which won the Class 8A state title Nov. 24 in Champaign by drubbing DuPage Valley Conference rival Glenbard North, 46-19.
What made the season that much more special is that Corey got his first chance since graduating to attend a Naperville North game. He was at the Huskies' 20-8 semifinal win over Homewood Flossmoor and even gave the squad its pregame pep talk.
"It was just a bunch of hoo-rahs and cuss words," he joked.
McKeon's parents would often make the journey to Lincoln on a Saturday morning following Naperville North's game the previous evening.
"It's awesome," McKeon said of the state title. "I still follow the team extensively and I'm so proud of the team and proud of my dad. It feels like, after all these years, he earned it."
Keeping up with ... Naperville North's Corey McKeon
ChicagoSports.com follows local high school athletes who have kept up their game after graduation
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.