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Mark Keel was recruited from Clover Park High School in Lakewood by Olympic College head coach Dick Baird. He was a stellar tight end for the Olympic Ranger football team in 1979 and 1980. He made an impact on the team in his first year where he was second on the team in receiving yards with 238 yards on 15 catches over eight games, ranking him fourth in the AACC.

During the fall of his sophomore year, the Ranger football team was invited to play the University of Washington JV team on UW’s campus. As the team was leaving the locker room, the University of Arizona’s football team arrived for a walk-through. The coaches of the two teams started talking and the Arizona coach asked about a potential tight end. Coach Baird spoke highly enough of Keel to pique the interest of the Arizona coaching staff. They stayed to watch the game and offered Keel a scholarship immediately following. 

Central Kitsap Mark Keel earned his 100th win this past season as the head coach for the Cougars.   (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
Central Kitsap Mark Keel earned his 100th win this past season as the head coach for the Cougars. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Keel’s Rangers won the league championship his sophomore year and he was nominated for the AACC All-Conference Football Team with 27 catches for 593 yards over 10 games. He took the scholarship to play at Arizona where he was named Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 in 1982.

Keel was the most productive tight end in Arizona’s history until Rob Gronkowski rewrote the record book in 2008. Keel holds the records for the second and fourth highest single-season receiving yards with Gronkowski holding the first and third spots. He’s also second to Gronkowski for the highest career receptions-yards-TD’s for a tight end. 

Keel also competed for the OC track & field team. His mark of 46 feet, 2.5 inches for the triple jump still stands as the school record as does the time for his 4 x 400 team. That team set the record at 3:20.30 and included Ryan Robertson, Brandon Ball, and Curt Knox. 

At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Keel joined the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League, a professional football league that lasted three seasons. He led the Wranglers in receptions in 1983, though the team itself struggled. He played the 1984 season with the Chicago Blitz and when that team dissolved, was picked up by the Jacksonville Bulls. 

Keel finished out his playing career in the NFL after being drafted by New England. Though injuries plagued his NFL career, Keel played three games with the Seattle Seahawks during the 1987 players strike. He finished the ’87 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was released after the 1988 season. Keel ended his NFL career with Green Bay before moving back to the Northwest.

Keel is currently the head football coach at Silverdale’s Central Kitsap High School and Dean of Students. He started with the Cougars in 1996 and earned his 100th victory this past fall.

NOTE: This is part of a series of biographies about inductees to the Kitsap Athletic Roundtable’s 2019 Kitsap County Sports Hall of Fame. The HOF Banquet is Saturday, Jan. 26 at Kiana Lodge. A social hour begins at noon with lunch at 1 p.m. and induction at 1:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at kitsapathleticroundtable.org.

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