Throughout the three years he spent at Maryland, Melvin Keihn received more attention for his personal story than what he did on the football field for the Terps. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Keihn’s decision to leave College Park was not strictly about football.
Keihn confirmed Monday that he plans on transferring, disclosing in an interview that he will sign with Richmond for his final season of eligibility. After graduating in May, Keihn will be immediately eligible under NCAA rules.
But the opportunity for more playing time was not necessarily at the center of Keihn’s decision.
Taking care of his family played a much more significant role.
“It’s not really much about football,” Keihn said Monday night. “My point is, football is not going to last forever, and if I can’t do that, then I need to be able to get a job where I can take care of my son and support my family. That’s why I decided to go on this path. … I made a grown-man decision. I had to. It’s not going to be about me no more. It never was. It’s definitely not about me right now.”
Keihn, 22, is an expectant father. His girlfriend, who, like Keihn, graduated this past spring from Maryland, is due with their child, a son, later this month.
“He’s due July 26, but he can be here any time now,” Keihn said.
Biff Poggi, who coached Keihn at Gilman, said he recently learned of Keihn’s decision to transfer from his own sons. Keihn lived with the Poggi family when he played at Gilman while Biff Poggi was still coaching there.
“It’s time for him to grow up and start making a living,” Poggi, who now coaches at St. Frances, said Monday. “When you make grown-up decisions in one part of your life, especially when it’s about starting a family, you need to put aside your whatever kind of hopes and dreams you may have. You need to be a realist. … He has no illusions about his future.”
Poggi said that it’s imperative for Keihn to get his master’s degree and try to complete it in a year so that he can get a job to start supporting his girlfriend, Rachel Wanat, who is planning to attend law school at the University of Baltimore beginning in August.
“[Coach] DJ [Durkin] had a job fair down there for the players and Melvin got three job offers,” Poggi said. “People really love him. People at Maryland really like him and he likes them a lot. The problem was that his GPA was not high enough to get into grad school at Maryland in the family counseling master’s. And if it was, it was still a two-year program.”
Said Keihn: “After I talked to my academic counselor, they told me what was going on with grad school and they said I couldn’t do it at Maryland. Also with the program being two years. I talked to Coach Durkin and he didn’t hesitate to give me my release. He understood where I was coming from. … He invited me to keep working out with the team until I decided where I was going. He told me that I’m family, I’m always welcome back. He knows how important it is to make decisions like that.”
Keihn, who graduated with a degree in public health, said that he plans to pursue a career in counseling, human resources or child care.
”With my background, I just want to use my major to help other people in the future,” he said. “I want to be an inspiration, not because of my story. My story is nice and all, but that’s another thing I talked about with Coach Durkin. When he came in with his staff, he said he would do anything he could to make sure I’d be able to go back and visit my mom. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Keihn’s story got national attention last summer when he was accompanied by an ESPN reporter and camera crew on his trip back to Liberia to see his mother for the first time in nearly a decade. It came a year after Keihn had another kind of family reunion when the Terps played at Michigan, where Biff Poggi had spent a year on Jim Harbaugh’s staff and Henry Poggi was playing for the Wolverines.
For Gilman's Melvin Keihn, the NFL dream doesn't include the mansions and fast cars many young players envision. His dream is to use whatever he could earn with an NFL career to bring his mother to the United States and repay her sacrifice with a comfortable lifestyle.
A four-star recruit in high school, Keihn spent a year at Virginia Tech before transferring to Maryland. A part-time starter as a redshirt junior in 2016, Keihn made 23 tackles, including a career-high eight in a loss at Penn State. Last year, as his role dwindled, his numbers dropped. He finished with just six tackles.
“Melvin was never going to be a three-down player on defense,” Poggi said. “He was going to be a third-down, second-and-long guy to go to the passer, and that’s what he was and those guys are incredibly valuable. When you asked him to get into coverage and things like that, he doesn’t have that skill set. And if you ask him to play the run, he’s too small.”
While his football career wasn’t at the heart of his decision, it certainly played a role in that he needed a scholarship to continue his education. Though he is going down a level to play for a Football Championship Subdivision program, Keihn said, “Being the person that I am, I am going to play the game 110 percent like I always have.”
Keihn said it’s tough leaving Maryland, particularly in the aftermath of freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death last month. McNair was like a little brother to Keihn, having followed him onto the same youth football team in Baltimore when Keihn was about to enter middle school. The two stayed in touch when McNair went to play for McDonogh.
“That’s something me and my family talked about,” Keihn said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions. Leaving was one of those hard decisions with everything going on with Jordan and his family and our team. … My teammates understand that making sure I had more education to fall back on was very important to me. They know that I’m not leaving because of what happened to Jordan.”
His girlfriend and their newborn son will remain with family in Maryland when Keihn goes down to Richmond to finish his college career and start working on his master’s, which he hopes to complete in three semesters. For the next few days or weeks, he is readying himself for that next huge step in life — parenthood.
”Of course I was nervous when I first found out, but the way my two dads — Coach Poggi and my real dad [who lives in Baltimore with Keihn’s stepmother] — the way they supported me made me excited to be a dad and have a son. Going to Richmond, it’s another motivation on my shoulders to keep working harder and harder in the classroom and on the football field.”