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Saints rookie Keith Kirkwood embraced football, fatherhood with open arms

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Keith Kirkwood became a father when he was 18. Twitter Biologically, Kirkwood is not related to Aria Nelson, but he still thinks of her as his daughter. “That’s my angel,” he said. Aria, 6, is the daughter of Kirkwood’s longtime ...

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Old 12-17-2018, 02:54 AM   #1
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Keith Kirkwood became a father when he was 18.


Biologically, Kirkwood is not related to Aria Nelson, but he still thinks of her as his daughter.

“That’s my angel,” he said.

Aria, 6, is the daughter of Kirkwood’s longtime girlfriend, Shayna Meggs. Aria’s father, Naisere Nelson, died before she was born, tragically drowning off the New Jersey shore in June 2011.

Kirkwood remembers the moment he met Aria in 2013. The 1-year-old baby girl was sleeping in the backseat of her mom’s car outside Fins TropiCali Cuisine in Bradley Beach, N.J.

“It was just an amazing moment I had, and I just saw this family picture between all three of us,” said Kirkwood, who was a high school senior at that time. “It was just beautiful, man.”

A lot of people have helped Kirkwood arrive at his current place in life as a 23-year-old rookie wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints. Kirkwood’s former coaches credit his parents for raising him right and keeping him on the straight and narrow while growing up in crime-ridden Neptune, N.J.

Neptune High’s former football coach, Mark Ciccotelli, deserves praise for recognizing Kirkwood’s potential on the gridiron when Kirkwood was a star basketball player.

Kirkwood’s aunt played a significant role, too, because he asked her to forge his mother’s signature on his permission slip to play football when his parents and other people in the community didn’t want him to jeopardize his basketball future.



Coaches at Hawaii and Temple helped Kirkwood progress into a legitimate NFL prospect, even if he wasn’t drafted in April. Saints coaches and veteran players helped him adapt to the NFL.

The person who Kirkwood credits the most, though, is Aria because she was his motivation to mature as a man and avoid the party life that besets so many college students.

“I wouldn’t just say I’m a blessing to Aria’s life. She’s a blessing to mine,” he said. “Instead of me going out, doing stupid things, I was dedicated to being the best father I could be.”

Grandfathered into football

Football wasn’t a big part of Kirkwood’s childhood. He briefly played Pop Warner, but then focused on basketball where he was a star since grade school.

He played on an AAU team with multiple current NBA players, including Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns. Kirkwood led Neptune to the state finals as a junior, received multiple collegiate offers and was a nominee for the McDonald’s All American Game as a senior.

Kirkwood’s only consistent exposure to football was watching New York Giants games with his grandfather, Humphrey Kirkwood, every Sunday of the NFL season.

“I was not a Giants fan, but at the same time, I just loved watching the Giants with him,” Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood remembers his grandfather driving to his house every Sunday in his Jeep, which later became Kirkwood’s first car. Whether the Giants won or lost, Kirkwood said his grandfather showed little emotion, instead being simply happy to be with family — Kirkwood’s parents and younger twin brothers.

Kirkwood’s grandfather died in November 2011 at age 84. Keith didn’t begin playing high school football until 2012, so his grandfather never had a chance to watch him play.

“Anytime you see me on my knee praying, most of the time, I’m praying to him, and I’m thanking him for allowing me to play this game,” said Kirkwood, crediting his grandfather for playing a “huge” role in his desire to play football.

Happy Thanksgiving

Kirkwood’s father, Kevin, remembers telling his son he wasn’t going to play football. Kevin, Keith’s mother Maria and Keith’s Neptune basketball coach Ken O’Donnell all agreed he should stick to basketball.

A day or two after Kevin Kirkwood relayed that message to his son, he walked into the house and saw a football helmet and shoulder pads on the floor.

“I almost fell over backwards,” the father said.

Kirkwood’s football ability was apparent immediately to other people, too, and Chow saw it in Kirkwood’s first practice at Hawaii.

“I call those guys three-play guys,” said Chow, a coach of nearly 50 years who is now retired. “You don’t have to sit there and evaluate them. After three plays, you say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this guy can play.’”

With the Saints, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson recognized Kirkwood’s skills right away, too.

“I told (director of pro scouting) Terry (Fontenot) early on in training camp,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Whatever we do, we can’t let this kid go because he’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, he’s fluid athletically. And he just had a lot to learn in a short time, but early on I said, ‘Hey, let’s not let him out of the building.’”

Even with little football experience, Kirkwood played for Hawaii as a true freshman. In his first game, he caught a 60-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against USC.
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Old 12-17-2018, 03:03 AM   #2
 
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Re: Saints rookie Keith Kirkwood embraced football, fatherhood with open arms



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Old 12-17-2018, 04:22 AM   #3
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Re: Saints rookie Keith Kirkwood embraced football, fatherhood with open arms

Rooted for the guy since preseason. Now, I'm a believer.
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