Hawaii is considered paradise for many people.
Warm weather, beautiful beaches and blue oceans are a daily year-round pleasure for residents of the island.
But for Keith Kirkwood, one year in Hawaii was enough. The 6-foot-3 sophomore wide receiver from Neptune, N.J. returned home this summer and transferred to Temple, about 75 minutes from his home, after a productive true freshman season with the Rainbows.
While he expected to sit out the season, the NCAA approved a hardship waiver recently because his 90-year-old grandmother had suffered an aneurysm and was ill. Kirkwood took the field in the fifth game of the season and caught his first two passes as an Owl last Friday against Houston – including his first touchdown.
‘Everybody talks about how beautiful it is and how it’s just paradise, but you get tired of it when you experience the same thing every day,” said Kirkwood of Hawaii. “You can’t visit family because family is 5,000 miles away and you’re just stuck on island and there’s nobody you really know, except the other players on the team, so it’s kind of tough.
“Everybody looks at it as paradise, but when they go out there for two weeks, they’ll want to leave. They’ll get island fever.”
Kirkwood played in eight games with five starts at Hawaii, catching 12 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. He decided over the summer he was going to transfer to Temple, stepping off the plane on July 31 and joining the team for training camp the next day.
“They say after a year it gets better, but it didn’t for me.,” said Kirkwood. “I felt like I was away from my family for too long. I just decided I couldn’t do it any more.”
Kirkwood only played one season of high school football – he said he played Pop Warner growing up but only as a kicker – because he was a basketball standout at Neptune. He averaged 17 points and 15 rebounds in leading Neptune to a state title as a junior and fielded scholarship offers from schools like Davidson and Long Island.
Heading into his senior year at Neptune, Kirkwood joined the football team because the head coach Marc Ciccotelli convinced him he could have a future in the sport. His one season was enough to draw major college interest, though Hawaii was his only scholarship offer.
He briefly accepted an offer as a preferred walk-on at Rutgers but decided he couldn’t pass up on a school offering him a scholarship.
“My high school coach believed in me and said the sky’s the limit,” said Kirkwood. “He said I could be in the NFL, be a great Division I football athlete. He said ‘Kid, you can be great.’ I just had the mindset I was ready to go play Division I football.’”
Despite missing the first four games this season, Kirkwood said he was ready to contribute this year once he was cleared to play.
“Coach (Matt) Rhule told me they wanted me to play, and they believed in me and I believed in them as well and I trust them and I’m accountable,” said Kirkwood.
Rhule expects Kirkwood will have a quick rise because he is so intent on learning.
“He’s going to do more and more each week,” said Rhule. “There’s a lot of growth. His body’s not developed to the level it could be. Kirkwood, you tell him something and he goes right out and does it. That’s the way we want our guys to be like, he’s a pro.
“His role is going to really expand the next couple weeks and in the long run he’ll be a dynamic player.”
Kirkwood can’t hide his excitement about being be able to play in front of friends and family and said he takes the ride to Neptune almost every weekend.
While he left paradise behind in Hawaii, he found what he was looking for at the football complex at 11th and Diamond in North Philadelphia.
“This is paradise to me,” said Kirkwood. “I’m glad to be home.”
Paradise Found: Kirkwood happy to be home
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