This article was written on October 31, 2018. Keegan Wilburn has officially committed to Ohio University, and Logan Maxfield has begun fall camp for Marietta College.
Lukas Moore --
Logan Maxfield and Keegan Wilburn are rivals and friends, forever connected in their passion to play at the next level.
Keegan Wilburn lines up behind his quarterback, hands resting on the knee pads of his completely orange uniform. The only sound he hears is his own soft breathing, anticipating the handoff. The Buckeyes are 90 yards away from the end zone, but no distance is too far for the fastest man in Nelsonville-York football history. Wilburn takes the hand-off and glides between the right tackle and guard, seeing a small crease. He floats through the hole, slips two arm tackles as if he is covered in butter, puts his right foot into the ground and is immediately at full speed. The remaining eighty yards to the end zone passing like the lines on the highway.
Speed defines Wilburn, his 4.47 40-yard dash is fast even for the NFL. This speed has allowed Wilburn to post jaw-dropping numbers through his first three seasons at Nelsonville-York high school, the county neighbor and conference rival of Logan Maxfield’s Athens Bulldogs. Wilburn has scored 55 touchdowns in just 34 games, all while racking up over 4,500 yards of total offense. Wilburn walks around the field with swagger, but prefers to stay silent, his production speaks for itself, “On the field I keep my mouthpiece in and just play.” Wilburn says with a shrug.
Wilburn has already drawn an FBS offer from nearby Ohio University, with serious interest from Cincinnati and Michigan State. He’s an elite recruit, with dreams of playing in front of big crowds in big games.
Logan Maxfield lines up in the slot, his gold helmet gleaming under the Friday night lights. The hum of the crowd falls away as he locks eyes with the cornerback pressing him at the line. The ball isn’t coming Maxfield’s direction, but the play is all his. As soon as the ball snaps Maxfield explodes off the line shoving his two gloved hands into the chest of his defender, driving him backwards. The defensive back finds himself in a helpless backpedal as Maxfield drives him downfield, his power and ferociousness overmatching the defender. Ten yards pass, then twenty, then thirty, Maxfield continuing to push his legs and block his man downfield. The whistle blows and Maxfield gives a final shove to the defender, who lands in front of his own sideline, completely dominated. “I just like to run people over,” Maxfield says as a smile reveals itself.
Plays like this define Maxfield, a senior at Athens high school in southeast Ohio. Big hits, menacing blocks, and physical catches fill his highlight reel. He plays with attitude and swagger, and if he makes you look foolish, he’ll let you know about it. Against county rival, the Alexander Spartans, Maxfield and other Athens seniors walk nearly to the sideline of Alexander clapping intensely after taking a cheap hit on a teammate, just to let the Spartans know they’re coming. Another example, in yet another sport, as a freshman on the Athens basketball team he scored three straight times against a 6’6 senior, and exclaimed loud enough for his Dad to hear in the stands, “You know you just let a freshman score on you three times?”
Maxfield’s talent and style of play has drawn attention from schools around the country, with hard interest from schools in the FCS, and a scholarship offer from Lake Erie College. Despite the disadvantage of playing in Southeast Ohio, a highly under recruited region of the country, Maxfield is one of the lucky few high school players, along with Wilburn, who will get to play at the next level.
Gray clouds hover around the Maxfields’ home, darkening the living room where Logan Maxfield, his Dad, Robert, and Keegan Wilburn chat. The two rivals, and friends, sit across from each other. Maxfield, who dominates the field with his vocal and physical presence, relaxes in a chair with both feet tucked into his legs. He was trying to disappear into the room. His clothes are simple, a white hoodie and black athletic shorts adding to the quietness of his persona. Wilburn, who finds himself staying quiet between the lines, had his feet up, arms out, and dominates the conversation. He’s loud, boisterous, energetic, and captivating. His dark grey sweat suit form fits well with colors matching perfectly, making the soft cast around his right foot look like a style choice instead of a medical necessity.
Wilburn’s cast is from an injury in the week 10 matchup between Maxfield’s Bulldogs and Wilburn’s Buckeyes. For the third straight season the game decided who would win the TVC-Ohio, and this year the Bulldogs dominated 49-14. “It was much more important to us than all the other games,” Maxfield says. “Week 2-10, we’re worried about Athens,” Wilburn echoes. Wilburn and Maxfield became friends through the rivalry, both messaging each other on social media after the 2017 game, in which the Buckeyes won 52-26 en route to a regional championship. Both players shined in the game, and gained mutual respect.
Wilburn laughs as he explains how the Buckeyes watched Maxfield being leveled on a block by Shakim Williams. Maxfield shakes his head and smiles, at least they won the last round. Both share stories and laugh, but the rivalry hangs in the air ever so slightly, a small barrier between the two.
The two players share many similarities. Both are children of divorce, but experience love and support from both parents. Maxfield’s Dad shines with pride whenever he mentions his son, while his Mom listens to every game on the radio from her home near Atlanta, Georgia. Wilburn’s Dad helps his son in his recruiting journey and Wilburn refers to his Mom as his rock. Both Maxfield and Wilburn are addicted to the game of football, saying nothing will keep them from playing beyond their time in the TVC. Their coaches influence them both. Maxfield nearly quit football before moving to Athens from Atlanta before his freshman year, but Athens coach Ryan Adams reignited his passion for the game. While Wilburn talks about his coach, Rusty Richards, like a loving son talks about a father. The unfortunate similarity that Maxfield and Wilburn share is that they are sorely under recruited.
Southeast Ohio is full of small schools in poor districts, leading to lackluster athletic programs. With very few major college football programs in the region, it’s hard to draw eyes to elite athletes. Southeast Ohio is considered a “drive-through,” coaches only visit when they are driving through to healthier recruiting grounds. Wilburn and Maxfield are well aware of the disadvantage playing in southeast Ohio presents.
Maxfield tells stories of friends in Atlanta, that he competed with stride for stride, receiving offers from schools in the SEC. What if Maxfield had stayed in Atlanta in the heart of the SEC? Perhaps some coach would see the intensity, smarts and talent. Instead, Maxfield and his father have had to claw and fight their way to receive just one offer, with a few teams showing interest. Camp after camp, college visit after college visit, countless hours and dollars spent to prove he can play.
Wilburn mentions how a player who is shorter than himself, as fast if not slower, and who hasn’t shown the ability to play running back is getting scholarship offers from two SEC schools. Wilburn spends hours comparing players across the country to himself, and has sat back and watched offers from the biggest programs funnel their way. The only difference? Those kids play in big cities like Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, while Wilburn plays in Nelsonville, a small town on the wrong side of the state.
The importance and rarity of a football player from southeast Ohio playing major college football was on prime display in the pregame of this year’s Athens-Nelsonville York game. Joe Burrow, Athens alum and now quarterback of the LSU Tigers, was able to flip the coin before the game. Burrow, dressed in a sleek sweat suit and backward hat, stood next to state representative Jay Edwards, a Nelsonville-York alum, who was wearing a Joe Burrow jersey. Pictures of kids dressed as Joe Burrow on Halloween circulated the internet, and someone in Athens has a cat named Joey Purrow. Making it to major college football from southeast Ohio is a big deal.
Wilburn would love a chance at one of the bigger programs around the country, “I love it being big, I love big cities,” Wilburn says, pearly whites stretching ear to ear. He is into style and music. He dreams of working for Nike after football. He talks about his legacy, how he doesn’t want to be just another Buckeye great, but have his own unforgettable legacy. Wilburn was born for big.
Maxfield isn’t built for the big, at least anything other than a big game. “He and I went to Ohio State,” Maxfield’s Dad says, green hoodie highlighting a fatherly smile.
“Yeah I didn’t like it,” Maxfield says. “I like the small class sizes,” he says.
“He saw that big stadium seating in Ohio State’s classroom and checked out,” his dad continues.
As the conversation rolls to an end, with the NFL game on TV reaching halftime, Wilburn and Maxfield stand at ready for a picture. Wilburn tries to avoid any pain on his injured foot, basketball is coming up right around the corner, and both Maxfield and Wilburn are key pieces on those teams as well. The two smile at each other, look into the camera, point at each other and flash a smile, one a Bulldog, one a Buckeye, both forever intertwined in their love of football.