STRONG SAFETY SHILOH KEO IS BREAKING THE MOLD for defensive backs at the University of Idaho. He has started every game each of the last two years since his true freshman season, he earned All-WAC honors as a sophomore last year while also being named Idaho's MVP, and this season was voted Defensive Team Captain by his teammates - "I thanked them for that because it means a lot to me."

It has been an interesting odyssey, watching strong safety Shiloh Keo develop quickly in the last two years at the University of Idaho.

Shiloh Keo as a true freshman in Fall Camp, 2006.
When Keo came to Idaho as a freshman in 2006, the Vandals already had a stellar strong safety in D.J. Dykes. Dykes had been a starter with the Vandals since his true freshman season in 2004, and was one of the prized recruits of Nick Holt's first recruiting class at Idaho. In his first two seasons, Dykes hadn't missed a single start, was settling into the position, and was voted a preseason All-WAC safety in 2006.

But 2006 would turn out to be tumultuous year at Idaho. After signing the 2006 recruiting class – a class that included Keo – head coach Nick Holt left the Idaho program for a shot at the NFL, only to be enticed back to USC to be Defensive Coordinator for the Trojans. The news of Holt's departure sent shock waves through the young Idaho team, and after Spring Camp Dykes chose to take his game to the University of Colorado.

The news of Holt's departure soon turned to euphoria as the legendary Dennis Erickson was named Idaho's new head coach – a coach credited with bringing a winning tradition to Idaho in the early 80s during his first tenure, and who gave hope to the program when he returned in ‘06. Erickson retained Idaho's existing defensive staff, and the Vandals went into the 2006 season with several questions, one being who would start at safety for Idaho in the season opener at Michigan State.

Enter Shiloh Keo.

Keo took some lumps that day in Michigan, but his fearless effort cemented him as a starter – and future star - for the Vandals. At the end of 2006 Keo was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American by The Sporting News, amassed 71 tackles enroute to finishing the year second on the team in tackles, and also picked off one pass in 12 starts.

Since then Keo has seen his stock orbit, despite yet another coaching change when Erickson left following the 2006 season.

Against Boise State, 2007.
Last year, with a new and much more energetic coach in Robb Akey and his new staff running the show, Keo fulfilled his duties as a 12-game starter and emerged as an emotional team leader at strong safety with gusto. He topped it off by also spending much of the season ranked among the nation's leading punt returners. Despite being just a sophomore, Keo became a respected leader on the Vandal defense, finishing third on the team in tackles with 81 total take downs (including five tackles for loss and four interceptions), while also setting new records at Idaho for average yards per punt return on the season AND longest punt return in a game – a 100-yard electrifying sprint against Northern Illinois which he took coast-to-coast for a touchdown.

For his efforts last season Keo was named a 2nd Team All-WAC selection at BOTH safety and also as a Special Teams Returner. He was also named the John Friesz Most Valuable Player at Idaho in 2007. His role as a team leader the last two years propelled him to being voted by his teammates as the Defensive Team Captain for the 2008 season; a role he is honored and excited to fulfill.

Idaho hasn't had a safety drafted by the NFL in over 30 years, the last being Randy Hall taken in the 13th round by the Indianapolis Colts in 1974 (back then they were the Baltimore Colts). It's early of course, but in just two years we've watched Shiloh develop from a well-regarded recruit (Class 2A AP All-State selection in Washington), to a full-time starter, to an All-Conference performer – without the benefit of a winning team to prop-up his stock. He's added 30 pounds in muscle, has worked himself into being one of the stronger players on the team, and because of his team-first, selfless approach to the game, wants nothing more than to experience TEAM success at Idaho…and soon.

Most importantly, a player humbled by the honor of being voted Captain by his peers.

Below are quotes from Keo this spring regarding the defensive backfield forming around him.

About having the maturity to turn the young defensive backfield around during the Spring Game, where early frustration transformed into a great second half: "Yeah, definitely. Going into the second half the DBs, our faces were down because up front we were doing a hell of a job throughout the whole game. Coach Criner pulled me to the side and told me to talk to the DBs, and he was right. We were bummed because we made little minor mistakes that hurt us. They put 17 on us because of that. I just sat the DBs down and just looked ‘em in the eye, and it was, like, ‘It doesn't matter how we started, it's how we finish,' and they turned their game around. I was excited to see that because it's all young faces in there, and if they can do that now against our own guys I can't wait to see what they do against the competition. I'm looking forward to that."

About being voted Defensive Team Captain this spring: "Well, prior to [the Spring Game] we voted for captains. I didn't know who it was going to go to because there are a handful of guys who have those types of leadership qualities. I thank my teammates so much. It's such a great honor to be a captain. I'm going to try to do it the fullest. Our last defensive captain was David Vobora, and that's a lot of shoe to fill. I just hope I can do that."

About the emotions of learning he'd been voted Captain by his teammates, then immediately running out to the Spring Game: "Oh, definitely. It almost brought a tear to my eye, you know, because it's a team thing. The team voted for that, and just to hear them vote for me as a captain, I was honored and I thanked them right after the coin toss…well, the "rock-paper-scissor" toss [laughter]. I thanked them for that because that means a lot to me."

About having a young group around him now, such as transfer Virdell Larkins, sophomore corner Isaac Butts, and freshman corner/safety Kenneth Patten among a solid group of very young athletes in the depth chart: "They're great, man. They've improved themselves so much that they went beyond the measure that I thought they were going to be, especially for what, 15 practices? KP – Kenneth Patten – he's going to be a great ball player. Same with Virdell. He's picking it up so fast, and they both move really well on the field. I like to see that. That makes it easier on me, you know? That's less running around the field I have to do. That's how the defense has got to be. We've got to be crazy. We've got to run around that field, but be smart at the same time, and they've got that. I'm looking forward to this season."

About his expectations to return punts again this year; will he do it or hand off the responsibilities: "Oh, no, definitely. I love it when I get the chance to make a big play. Being a punt returner, it gives you that chance. If somebody comes in and beats me out, then props to him. But right now I hope I can just hold that position, and hopefully I can have another good year doing that."

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