Best of Chapman: Keefe credits play to discipline

Junior linebacker Dillon Keefe was named the 2019 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Defensive Player of the Year, after recording 10.5 sacks over the season. Panther Archives

From the first whistle until the final zeroes flash on the scoreboard, he brings a tangible intensity. Yet on the sidelines, he exudes a simple lighthearted joy for his sport.

The two opposite attitudes bring balance to his game – he’s an animal on the field, but around campus, he’s another friendly face that would stop in a heartbeat to talk. Those who sat in the stands of Wilson Field during Saturday gamedays know junior Dillon Keefe as an absolute menace on the football field, an outside linebacker who was named the 2019 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Defensive Player of the Year. His numbers speak for themselves. 10.5 sacks. Two forced fumbles. 72 tackles in 11 games. But it’s the grind that Keefe truly cares about.

“Numbers are numbers – for me it’s about wins. All summer, I was here with a bunch of guys, working our butts off,” Keefe said. “If those numbers reflect anything, it’s all the effort that we put in outside of football.”

He certainly prioritizes a strong work ethic. Keefe cited NFL running backs Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley’s Instagram posts – which often feature weightlifting during all hours of the day – as inspiration for him to continue improving. It’d be easy to guess that he’s dedicated to his craft. Yet what’s even more interesting to examine is the person within that helmet – where his drive originates and how it manifests itself in walks of life outside of the field. During his senior year of high school, Keefe earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America program.

“Being in the Scouts for that long always required me to be my best self – I think being your best self is trying your hardest and giving your best effort in any task that you take on,” Keefe said. “That’s how I go about playing football: no matter who we’re playing, it’s always me versus the person in front of me. First, I must be my best self in order to beat the person in front of me.”

In addition to the physical and mental discipline he’s gained over time, Keefe also carries a creative spirit that finds its way into his playing demeanor. He was the former bassist in a local punk rock band called “Chump Change,” performing alongside his younger brother, cousin and friend during his time at El Modena High School in Orange, California. And while he no longer plays in the band, music has nonetheless carved out a small role in his football career at Chapman.

During this past semester, if a fan peered closely enough at the Chapman sidelines during a timeout, they could’ve glimpsed Keefe bopping his head to the music playing over the field loudspeakers. The artists he enjoys may surprise some. Senior defensive back Chris Tsritis told The Panther that Keefe is a fan of the now-disbanded One Direction boy band. But ultimately, music of all kinds serves to provide Keefe a stable mentality during chaotic or stressful games.

“I always want to have fun with it, because if you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth doing anymore,” Keefe said of his attitude while playing. “I try and go into games as level-headed as possible, because if you take things too seriously, you make a mistake. On the sidelines I reflect and try to have a good time.”

Ultimately, if all goes to plan, Keefe will be dancing on the sidelines deep into the National Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs next year. Following Chapman’s historic season, Keefe is already looking ahead for ways the team can further improve upon their recently established level of success.

“There’s a lot more barriers to break, and a lot more history we have to make,” Keefe said. “This season was a good idea of where we can go; next season’s about how we can fulfill our potential, because I know we haven’t fulfilled it yet.”