By Michael Gallagher
Leroy Keyes, a two-time consensus All-American running back and one of the greatest football players in Purdue history, died yesterday at 74.
Keyes finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1967 and was the runner-up to O.J. Simpson in 1968. But he wasn’t just a star at Purdue — he was an icon.
After finishing his career as the school’s career leader in touchdowns (37), points (222) and all-purpose yards (3,757), the Eagles drafted Keyes with the third pick overall in 1969. Injuries forced him out of the NFL after just five seasons. He then spent 16 years as a desegregation specialist for the Philadelphia school district.
Back at Purdue, though, Keyes became the man all future Boilermakers stars would be measured against.
In 1987, as the program celebrated its 100th season, Keyes was selected as the Boilermakers’ greatest player ever. Some of his records stood for decades. Others still do.
Keyes’ averages of 6.6 yards per carry in 1967 and 5.88 over his career still top the Purdue charts. So do his 19 total touchdowns in 1967, when he was named the Big Ten’s MVP. In 1968, he became the first Purdue player to top the 1,000-yards rushing mark.
And though Keyes played only three college seasons, 1966-68, he still ranks third all-time on the Boilermakers list for total touchdowns, fifth in TDs rushing (29), sixth in points, ninth in all-purpose yards and 11th in rushing yards (2,094). He even threw eight TD passes during his career and the 1,870 all-purpose yards he compiled in 1967 were a school record for 40 years.
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