Keeping up with ... Naperville North's Corey McKeon

This wasn't how Corey McKeon envisioned his college football career wrapping up.

This December was supposed to be spent with his Nebraska teammates preparing for a bowl game. But a 5-7 final record in 2007, which led to the firing of head coach Bill Callahan, wasn't good enough to qualify for a bowl game, forcing McKeon, a former Tribune All-State linebacker from Naperville North, to begin preparing for April's NFL Draft a month earlier than he wanted.

"It's unfortunate but I gave it my all and so did all of my teammates," said McKeon, who started at linebacker for the Cornhuskers in each of his last three seasons. "As much as I'd like to be playing, I'm fortunate to have a chance to play at the next level."

To get to that next level, McKeon will have to perform well in a series of workouts, tests and at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. And though his teammates won't be with him, a warm bowl trip does await, as he's been chosen to compete in the Hula Bowl in Honolulu Jan. 12, a postseason all-star showcase for NFL scouts.

"It will be a lot of fun to play with some of the guys you've played against during your career," McKeon said. "It's like a vacation with a little work mixed in. I'm fortunate to be playing there because it gets some scouts watching me -- it's a good way to continue on."

A 2007 bowl trip looked to be a certainty in early October after the Huskers had gotten off to a promising 4-1 start. Nebraska dropped six of its last seven games, including two embarrassing losses to Kansas and Colorado in which the Cornhuskers allow a combined 141 points.

The 6-1, 225-pound McKeon was projected before his senior seeason by several scouting services as anywhere between a second- and fourth-round pick. The Huskers' defensive troubles probably didn't help his standing but he has more than enough time to make a positive impression.

"I go out to New Jersey on Sunday for a week to start my workout regimen through the agency I signed with," said McKeon, who has signed on with Brian Mackler of New York-based Sportstars, Inc. "I'll be home for the holidays but then start back up again."

As disappointing as the 2007 season was on a team level, McKeon is proud of what he accomplished individually in his five years in Lincoln. In 10 starts this fall, McKeon finished third on the squad with 73 tackles, in addition to recording a sack and an interception and breaking up six passes.

He injured the AC joint in his shoulder in Sept. against Ball State, an injury that hindered him the rest of the year.

"I definitely didn't play as well as a senior as I would have liked and I wasn't satisfied with it at all," McKeon said. "They changed the defense on us this year and we maybe got overworked a little in the spring and summer. Everyone had a lot invested in this season and as we started to falter, guys kind of caved in a little."

McKeon started all 25 of Nebraska's games in 2005-06 after a redshirt year in 2003 and mostly special teams duty the following fall.

In 2006, he was third on the team in tackles with 69 and had his best statistical season in 2005 as a redshirt sophomore when he paced the team with 98 tackles, in addition to notching seven sacks, three interceptions and double-digit tackle games. He was a second-team all-Big 12 pick that year, in addition to being named a sophomore all-American by He was on the Butkus Award watch list the following fall and was on the watch list the last two summers for the Bednarik Award, which goes each year to the nation's best Division I college defender.

"It was a great experience being here for these five years," McKeon said. "The tradition here is so special and the expectations are really high. The fans love you one minute and hate you the next."

Despite Nebraska's subpar season, the McKeon family did get to celebrate one championship this year. McKeon's father, Larry, is the longtime head football coach at Naperville North, which won the Class 8A state title Nov. 24 in Champaign by drubbing DuPage Valley Conference rival Glenbard North, 46-19.

What made the season that much more special is that Corey got his first chance since graduating to attend a Naperville North game. He was at the Huskies' 20-8 semifinal win over Homewood Flossmoor and even gave the squad its pregame pep talk.

"It was just a bunch of hoo-rahs and cuss words," he joked.

McKeon's parents would often make the journey to Lincoln on a Saturday morning following Naperville North's game the previous evening.

"It's awesome," McKeon said of the state title. "I still follow the team extensively and I'm so proud of the team and proud of my dad. It feels like, after all these years, he earned it."

Would McKeon consider following his father into coaching after his pro days are over? The discussion has come up with his high school and college teammate, tight end Sean Hill.

"He and I always joke about coming back to take over the Naperville North program and building a dynasty," said McKeon. "He could take the offense and I'd take the defense."

Sounds like a plan.

• Two local products swept the Mid-American Conference Men's Basketball Players of the Week awards last week.

Winning the East Division nod was Akron senior guard Cedrick Middleton (Marian Catholic), while Toledo junior Tyrone Kent (Crane) was the receipient in the West.

Middleton scored 17 points in a wins over Temple, 23 in a victory over Wyoming to go along with a career-high five steals. He also made 7-of-12 shots from three-point range in those two games and leads the team in three-point shooting accuracy this year, connecting on 16 of 36 tries (44.4 percent).

The reigning MAC Sixth Man of the Year, Middleton was second on the team in scoring last season (11.1 points per game) and is third this year, averaging 11.8 points per contest. He has started six of eight games and is only 126 points away from joining the 1,000-point club. He also came into this year needing to appear in 29 games to become the Zips' all-time leader in that category (current record is 123 games).

Middleton left Marian as the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,740 career points, but attended prep school at Brewster (N.H.) Academy for a year (averaging 18 points and five assists per game) before heading to Akron.

The 6-5 Kent has been one of the lone positives for the Rockets (2-7) this year, as he leads the team with a 19.1 points per game scoring average and is also tops in assists (33) and second with 17 steals.

During the week for which he was honored, Kent averaged 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists in road losses to UNC-Wilmington and Pittsburgh. In the Wilmington game, Kent pulled down a career-high nine rebounds and set his season-high of six assists in both contests.

He continued his impressive start to the season last week by pouring in a game-high 25 points in a 67-56 road loss to Houston last Tuesday and followed that up with a team-high 14 points as Toledo returned home Saturday for a 57-44 win over Drexel. The performance against Houston was his fifth of 20 points-or-more this season and the game against Drexel was the first in the last six that he's failed to make at least three three-pointers.

He has increased all of his numbers this year from his first two years. As a freshman, he played in 23 games and averaged only 3.7 points per game in less than 10 minutes of action. He played in all of Toledo's games last year, starting 10, and was sixth on the team with 5.7 points per game. Three years ago he was on the Crane squad that advanced to the Class AA state quarterfinals, where the Cougars lost 78-55 to Carbondale, playing without an injured Kent.

• In women's college hoops, Texas Tech junior forward Stanecia Graham (West Aurora) was honored last Monday as the Big 12 Women's Basketball Rookie of the Week.

She's in her first year in Lubbock after transferring from Cloud County (Kan.) Community College, where she spent two seasons. Graham left there as the school's second all-time leading scorer with 1,182 points, averaging 18.4 points per contest last season as a sophomore. She was an honorable mention NJCAA all-America pick as a freshman and earned third-team honors last year.

Despite coming off the bench in nine of 10 games thus far in 2007, Graham is one of four players scoring in double figures for the unranked Lady Raiders (9-1). She heads into this week averaging 10.3 points per game per game and shooting 52.9 percent from the field.

In Texas Tech's only game of last week Graham scored six points in 22 minutes in the school's first loss of the season. That game came, however, after she averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in Texas Tech's two wins the previous week, with one of the outings (Nov. 27 against Sam Houston) resulting in Graham's first double-double of her Texas Tech career. In that game, she set her career-high of 19 points, equaled five days later vs. Washington State, in addition to pulling down 10 rebounds.

• The Kent State women's basketball team is off to a 1-6 start but one bright spot has been the play of junior Anna Kowalska (Kennedy). The 6-4 forward transferred to Kent State this year from John Logan College, where she played the first two years of her college career. As a sophomore there in 2006-07, she averaged a double-double with 16.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and was named to the All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference Team.

On a Kent State squad with seven Division I newcomers, Kowalska leads the Golden Flashes in scoring (16.1 points per game) and is also tops in rebounds (7.7 rebounds per game) and blocks (seven). She's also been a nominee for the MAC Eastern Division Player of the Week in each of the season's first three weeks.

Her best outing to date was a 27-point, 16-rebound game at Robert Morris November 15. She followed that up the following weekend by being named to the Rocky Mountain Invitational All-Tournament Team after leading the Golden Flashes to their only victory of the year in the consolation game over Navy. During that matchup, she had a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds and three blocks.

In Kent State's only action of last week, Kowalska scored a team-high 12 points in a 74-34 road loss to Temple last Wednesday.

• Xavier junior Patrick McGrath (Lyons Township) was named last Monday as the Atlantic 10 Swimming & Diving Performer of the Week.

He earned the designation for his performance at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, the weekend before, which the Xavier men won. McGrath was busy at the meet, winning the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:36.8 and swimming a leg of the winning 800 free relay (6:56.40). He also came in fifth in the 200 free (1:43.15) and 11th in the 100 free (47.62) in addition to competing on the 400 free (3:09.56) and 400 medley (3:30.41) relays.

He made a mark on the Xavier program by setting school records in the 50 Free, 100 Free, 200 Free, 500 Free and 100 Fly during his first two years. His best individual finish at the conference meet thus far in his career came when he placed fifth in the 500 free as a sophomore last winter.