Tommy John surgery ended a promising baseball career for Toler Keigley, but started him down the path to becoming a major college football player.
Keigley was a prominent fixture on the travel baseball scene in Florida growing up and played shortstop and pitcher all the way up to his freshman season at Gulf Breeze High School in Florida. But while pitching as a freshman he suffered an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery and effectively end his diamond career.
“My Dad was like, ‘You should probably try out for football,”’ Keigley said. “I hadn’t played before, but I tried out and fell in love with it.”
The decision paid off for Keigley, now a 6-foot-1, 180-pound wide receiver at Mobile Christian School in Mobile, AL. Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern came courting Keigley, but it was East Carolina that became the winning suitor by earning his verbal commitment on July 8.
That was about a month after the Pirates made their initial contact with Keigley through senior offensive analyst Ryan McManus, according to Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell. A week after that first interaction, ECU offered a scholarship, which Keigley accepted after a succession of FaceTime calls and a virtual tour of the Greenville campus and Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“It (recruitment) was very strange (due to COVID-19 outbreak),” Keigley said. “I’m used to doing spring football and coaches coming to watch me during this spring. That didn’t happen. But they called me. We had a lot of FaceTime calls. I had a virtual tour with them in which the director of recruiting took me around the entire athletic department, stadium, and showed me the locker rooms from his cellphone. The virtual tour is what really got me over there.
“Plus, they have a strong history with receivers there. They told me about Zay Jones and other receivers, and the records they broke. And they told me they thought I could do the same. That kind of pushed them to the top.”
Of course, Keigley might have been a baseball prospect for ECU if not for the suggestion by his father, Brian, who was a college kicker at both Georgia Tech and LSU.
Toler Keigley spent his freshman year at Gulf Breeze recovering from Tommy John surgery before getting his football career started as a sophomore. In seven games for the Dolphins, Keigley hauled in 13 receptions for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
The family would move to Mobile because of his father’s job and Toler joined the program at Mobile Christian. Leading the football program at Mobile Christian is Cottrell, a former college assistant and recruiting coordinator at Alabama and Florida State, where he worked for legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
“When the family made the move to Mobile, he visited our school,” Cottrell said about Keigley. “When we got him out on the field and saw what a great player he was, it was like Christmas in the fall. He’s such a great player, and our players love him. He’s just a very respected player on our team.”
Keigley played a major role in helping the Leopards reach the Super 7 Class 3A state title game. In a state quarterfinal victory against Gordo, Keigley hauled in seven passes for 132 yards and scored twice, then followed that with a five-catch, 128-yard, two-touchdown performance in the semifinals against T.D. Miller.
One play in the semifinal victory against Gordo still sticks out in Cottrell’s mind.
“Just before halftime we threw a jump ball from the 50 toward Toler,” Cottrell said. “He jumped over the defender and came down with the ball for a touchdown on the last play of the half. It was one of those deals we were basically throwing it up. But he was just determined that he was going to bring the ball down, and he did.”
Keigley finished the season with 33 receptions for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Cottrell compares Keigley’s potential to that of former Florida State receiver Matt Frier, who was co-captain and a key contributor to the 1993 Seminole squad that won the first national title for Bowden.
“He reminds me of Matt Frier,” Cottrell said. “He’s just total energy, total motion, just great effort. He’s a freak physically.”
Keigley is capable of playing in the slot or outside, which will make him even more valuable at ECU.
“I would say my strengths are my ability to find space and separate from defenders with my speed,” Keigley said. “I’m really good at running routes. I’m almost unguardable because my route tree I’ve developed over the past three years is where I can run anything I want. I can attack the football and go up and get it. What the (ECU) coaches like about me is I’m a combination guy where they can put me in the slot or on the outside. I’m just a versatile player.”
Cottrell used Keigley mainly as an outside receiver last season, but his skills aren’t limited to receiver.
“He’s just a phenomenal special teams player,” Cottrell said. “That’s why he’ll be a great college player. He also can punt. He can hold on extra points. He can do just about anything you want him to do. He could play defensive back if you needed him to. On (college) rosters today, you need guys like that.”