January 21, 2008

Hard work makes a dream come true

Northern Alberta’s Keith Shologan plays through the pain of a family tragedy to be touted a top-rated draft pick

By Vicki Hall,
Edmonton Journal

ORLANDO, Fla. — If you buy the marketing material, Walt Disney World is a magical place where dreams come true.

True enough for Keith Shologan, the northern Alberta farm kid who moved across the continent four years ago to play college football at the University of Central Florida.

And now, on the verge of completing his finance degree, Shologan looks at Orlando as the place to kick off his next dream of playing professional football on either side of the 49th parallel.

“It’s kind of strange” Shologan, 22, said over coffee last week on the sprawling UCF campus in this tourist mecca.

“Most of my friends are going for job interviews and signing on for summer internships. I’m not able to do that. I could be done with football come September and need to get a real job.”

That’s highly unlikely, given the way CFL scouts and management types rave about the promising defensive lineman.

The Edmonton Eskimos hold the second overall pick in the 2008 CFL draft, and Shologan played for head coach Danny Maciocia at the 2003 NFL Global Junior Championships, held in conjunction with Super Bowl week.

“He’ll definitely play in the CFL,” Maciocia said. “He had a good college career and he’ll be someone that a lot of teams will have a strong interest in.

“Keith is a good football player and a tremendous kid.”

A tremendous kid who was forced to grow up way too soon back in 2001, when his two younger sisters Dana, 8, and Laura , 7, died in a car wreck.

It happened on a foggy night on Highway 2 near the village of Clyde, about 70 kilometres north of Edmonton.

A pickup attempting to pass another vehicle collided head-on with the Shologans’ sport utility vehicle, driven by the eldest brother, Mark.

Mark was seriously injured and spent three months in hospital.

“My dad still brings the whole thing up,” Shologan said. “But we’re all trying to go on the best we can.

“I carry only two pictures in my wallet, and they’re of my sisters. It wasn’t too long ago that my mom cleaned out their room back home and turned it into a prayer room for my dad.

“I’m sure the whole thing changed me a lot. It probably made me a lot stronger. It showed me how important your family is, because you never know when you’re going to lose them.”

Keith moved away from home in Grade 10 to play high-school ball in Spruce Grove for the Parkland Predators. He billeted with a local family. On weekends, he returned home to Rochester, a town of about 200 people about 100 km north of Edmonton.

“God was with us,” dad Pat said. “Keith’s football took our mind off all the trauma — off all the pain.

“It caused us to rise above our circumstances.”

At 18, Keith Shologan accepted a full-ride scholarship to UCF, a Division 1 NCAA school. Against the odds, the Prairie kid survived two-a-day football practices in the oppressive Florida heat and humidity.

Barely.

“I cramped up a lot,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I had to go to the hospital to get IV fluids, because I was so dehydrated.

“You’re so drenched. You can ring out your stuff after practice and fill up glasses of water. It’s disgusting.”

Shologan started every game in his freshman year, and that’s quite the accomplishment considering his Canadian upbringing.

American high school recruits are generally considered a season and a half ahead of their northern counterparts.

Hard work, Shologan says, was the key to bucking the trend.

“That’s just the way I was brought up,” he said. “I would get home from school, and there were chores to do.

“We would look after the goats and look after the cows. We would go out and feed them and fix fences and stuff. On a farm, there’s always work to do.”

Hard work trumps all. That’s his philosophy on the football field and in the classroom.

With a 3.52 grade-point average, Shologan was voted to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First Team. A team captain in his senior year, he never missed a game in his college career.

At six-foot-two, 290 pounds, Shologan is considered undersized for an interior lineman in the NFL, but that might not stop a team from inviting him to training camp and watching him perform under pressure.

“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NFL,” Shologan said. “But if it doesn’t happen, I would love to play in the CFL. I don’t know what God has planned for me, so I just have to wait and see.

“You can be the strongest and quickest guy in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t perform in training camp.

“They can do all the tests in the world, but none of them measure heart.”