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USF Bulls

Fallen player never to be forgotten

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 12:30 AM

TALLAHASSEE - Every day, without fail, on her way home, Tammie Dorsey makes the turn off Capital Circle SW. By the property entrance, just to the right, stands the sign - not that she ever needs a reminder - SOUTHSIDE CEMETERY.

After proceeding through the gate, she drives the same dreaded route to the southeast corner. She gets out of her truck, walks to the familiar spot and stares at the engraving in the cement grave marker:

KEELEY MAURICE DORSEY
AUG 5 1987 - JAN 17 2007

Surrounding her son's name are the yellow flowers she placed there. Yellow was Keeley's favorite color.

Tammie talks to Keeley. She lets him know how his brothers, Markell and Nahriek, are doing. Inevitably the tears start falling as the same question pounds inside her head.

Why Keeley?

He was only 19, Tammie sobs. He was a good kid, living his dream. Going to college and playing football. He did all the right things. Why Keeley?

Tammie Dorsey has asked that question for more than 29 months, since she got the phone call on Jan.17, 2007. It's the question no one - family, friends, coaches, doctors - can answer.

This fall was supposed to be Keeley Dorsey's senior year at the University of South Florida. His time to shine.

As a freshman running back in 2006, Keeley immediately displayed his potential. On Sept. 2, 2006, against McNeese State on the second carry of his collegiate career, he showed his power and speed, racing for a 52-yard touchdown on the game's final play.

"That was his proudest moment," Tammie said.

Keeley not only began that year with a splash, but he also ended it with one.

In the final seconds of USF's Papajohns.com Bowl victory, Keeley helped dump a cooler full of blue Powerade on Bulls coach Jim Leavitt. Keeley didn't play in the game, but by his Tigger-like bouncing afterward, no one could have been happier on that December afternoon in Birmingham, Ala.

Less than a month later, Keeley was dead.

Officially, it was natural causes. Hillsborough County associate medical examiner Laura Hair said it was "sudden cardiac death of undetermined etiology." There was a possibility he had an undiagnosed genetic heart disorder called Long QT Syndrome.

Whatever they called it didn't matter. Tammie's son had never missed a doctor's appointment and was in peak physical condition. Yet he collapsed during a weightlifting session in USF's athletic facility.

"It was very tough, because he died in the process of working out," said USF junior Andrew Ketchel, who was only a few feet away when Dorsey collapsed. "It's hard to imagine that can happen. He was a fun-loving guy. A guy you could talk to.

"When he was gone, it was like a void. He had this personality - and everyone I talked to at the funeral, they all said the same thing: He always had a big smile on his face. He was a special guy. That's why it hurt so much."

Ketchel was one of Keeley's roommates that year. He has a shrine in his bedroom honoring Keeley.

USF also has discussed honoring Keeley by having one senior wear his No. 10 jersey each game. School officials say it isn't finalized, but when senior stars George Selvie and Matt Grothe heard about it, they immediately called dibs on which game they would wear No. 10.

Tammie said she'll never forget the phone call that turned her life upside-down: "Miss Dorsey, I regret to inform you your son Keeley has passed away."

That was on a Wednesday afternoon, and Tammie was working as a medical assistant at the Leon County Jail. She has no recollection what happened the rest of the day.

More than two years later, Tammie was jolted by another telephone call about her oldest son, 25-year-old Markell. They usually just traded e-mails, because that's usually all he had time for as a member of the United States Marines Corps stationed in Iraq.

A sickening case of dejÀ vu overcame her when the phone rang at 1 in the morning.

"Mom," Markell said, "I got shot."

Her nightmares from Jan. 17, 2007, came flooding back.

"My worst fear was getting another phone call," she said.

Markell, though, said everything was fine. He had been shot twice from behind, once in the shoulder area that zipped right through his body. Surgery removed the other bullet from his hip.

Tammie wanted more details, but then again she didn't. When your oldest son is a Marine fighting in Iraq, sometimes, she thought, it's better not to know everything.

When Markell joined the Marines last year, Tammie was initially surprised. She thinks he wanted to establish his own identity and find his own way. It also would help deal with losing his brother, who also was his best friend despite a four-year age difference.

"They were inseparable," she said. "They were both Leos and loved football. Markell took Keeley's death especially hard.

"Growing up, they kept secrets and they kept 'em good. Typical boy stuff you don't want Mom to know: the first girl, the first sneak-out."

Her youngest son, 14-year-old Nahriek, wants to follow in Keeley's footsteps and play college football.

"When Keeley died - I'm trying not to cry - it also took Markell away," Tammie said. "Markell wasn't around as much. He was distant, and it made Nahriek be more by himself. I think he's just now starting to get over it. I think that's why he's really gotten into playing football."

No one was into football like Keeley, though.

"He would carry it with him and sit on the couch and just hold that football," Tammie said. "When he was 7, he used to sleep with it. He still did so through high school."

At Tallahassee's Lincoln High School, Keeley was a talented quarterback and running back, but an even better leader.

Lincoln coach David Wilson said Keeley would constantly badger him to unlock the equipment shed filled with blocking sleds, resistance cords, weighted vests, you name it, so Keeley could work on getting better. Keeley eventually wore down Wilson.

"Finally I just got tired of going out to open the thing for him," Wilson said. "I gave him his own key. I told him, 'I know what's in the room, so if anything's missing, you've got to deal with me.'"

It wasn't long before Keeley was organizing drills and workouts for 50-60 players on the practice field.

"He was just a complete team player," Wilson said.

Scattered throughout Tammie's home in Crawfordville are Keeley's football jerseys, encased Lincoln and USF helmets and photos. Walk inside the front door, and waiting at the top of the stairs is a poster of Keeley in a white USF jersey gazing skyward - Tammie's favorite. On the back patio is a poster of Keeley in a green USF jersey.

"Anyone that knew Keeley, you just can't forget him," Tammie said. "I mean, he's in my heart."

And on her legs.

Shortly after his death, Tammie got a tattoo on her right thigh, the same tattoo Keeley had on his back - "Enjoy life today, yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come."

Two months ago, Tammie added another tattoo - a photo of Keeley wearing his "K" ballcap and the words "God couldn't wait" - on her left thigh.

There also are reminders on her cell phone, including a video of Keeley's highlights someone at Lincoln High made for her.

She shows a visitor the video, which begins with Keeley's long touchdown at USF. When it ends, the visitor asks Tammie if she noticed the video lasted 3:16. Yes, she had.

Tammie considers herself a religious person and doesn't think the 3:16 is a coincidence. John 3:16 has been called the Bible's most famous verse: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Why Keeley?

She asked that question often while working at the Leon County Jail, providing medical care for young men who were incarcerated. They were in there because they did the wrong thing, yet her son did all the right things and was gone.

"I'd look at them and think, 'How can they go around and get in trouble?'" Tammie said. "You have these boys walking around ... every day it just got harder. I couldn't do it anymore. I realize, yes, this is somebody's child. But it hurt me that mine was doing the right thing and he wasn't here. It wasn't fair."

The conflicting emotions were too much. Almost a year to the day after Keeley's death, Tammie quit her job at the jail. She's now working as a medical assistant for the Bond Community Health Center and helps provide medical care for the homeless.

"I like the medical field," she said. "It's my way of helping, my way of giving back."

Tammie was thrilled about USF's plans to honor her son this fall. She was afraid they had forgotten. They haven't.

Last year when Grothe, USF's starting quarterback, received a 7-month-old beagle from his parents, he named it "Keeley's Little Angel." B.J. Daniels, a USF freshman from Lincoln, got a tattoo in Keeley's honor.

"He was just a cool kid. He never had any worries about anything," said Grothe, who requested Keeley's No. 10 for homecoming against Louisville.

Since Keeley's death, no USF player has worn No. 10. Tammie hopes to attend a Bulls game this season, either in Tampa or maybe in Tallahassee against Florida State. She isn't sure how she'll react to seeing a USF senior wearing No. 10.

For now, she continues to cope.

"Does it get easier? It gets a little easier, but that doesn't mean it gets easy," she said. "It gets to the point where you can get up and you can function a little bit. You don't cry as much. You still think about him. You try to remember as much as you can."

Tammie remembers when she wished there was a different way to drive to work that didn't go by the cemetery. She no longer visits Keeley daily, but about twice a month, plus "birthdays, Mother's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and the anniversary."

His gravesite hasn't changed much over the years. Yellow flowers still remain, along with a plaque with Keeley's motto: "Live one day at a time." A USF cap is still attached and has survived baking under the Tallahassee sun for nearly 900 days, although the once-green bill and iconic U have faded to a bluish-gray.

Tammie said one day she will replace Keeley's grave marker with a tombstone. That is, whenever she is ready.

"I think the reason I haven't done his tombstone is because, in a way, it would make it permanent," Tammie said. "And I don't know if I'm ready to make it that permanent."


Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928.

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