August 26, 2008

Scholarship marks Valentine's journey

The meeting seemed ordinary. There was the father. There was the head coach. And, of course, there was the newcomer, the son, sitting behind the end zone in a purple jersey, signing autographs for the last remaining Kansas State fans about an hour after the spring game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. In retrospect, the casual pleasantries between Warren Valentine and Ron Prince on April 19 foreshadowed a couple extraordinary events that could impact Keithen Valentine this fall. And beyond.

"Congratulations, you have a great son," Prince said, extending his hand to Warren, as darkness fell upon the stadium that warm April evening. "You've done a great job with Keithen. He's a great kid. We love him."

Warren replied, "Thanks for giving him the opportunity."

There are meetings. And then there are meetings. This carried the feeling of being one of the latter occasions.

"We're used to wearing the purple -- the purple and gold from LSU," Cleve Dunn, Jr., Keithen's uncle, told Prince. "Now we've got to wear the purple and white."

"I know," Prince grinned. "Keithen told me that."

But, oh, the stories Valentine's family would have to reminisce about and then tell the rest of the Valentine and Dunn clan, after they drove through the night and morning some 16 hours in the extended van they rented back in Baton Rouge, La., their hometown. Valentine, the walk-on junior college transfer from Mississippi Delta Community College, who arrived at K-State with a dream but who said he entered the spring last on the depth chart at running back, rushed for 104 yards on 15 carries, which were both team highs along with his 6.9 yards per attempt in the spring contest.

"I'm K-State's No. 1 fan," a female follower told Valentine, "and you rocked down there."

Watching as Valentine signed another autograph, high school teammate Joe Patterson shook his head.

"I'm ecstatic," Patterson said. "Man, he came on a long journey."

Indeed. And it's a long journey that continued to gain serious steam during the offseason, during fall camp, and then on Monday, when the depth chart listed the 5-foot-8, 197-pound Valentine at starting running back for Wildcats' opener against North Texas, and when Prince announced Valentine had earned a scholarship.

Valentine learned of the scholarship just moments before he arrived at the Vanier Football Complex to speak to reporters for the first time as a starter and on the doorstep of his first career game in a Wildcats uniform. He said he received a text message from director of football operations Sean Snyder, which read, "I've got some good news. Come talk to me." He excitedly punched buttons on his cell phone, texting his mother, father and uncle with the news.

"When (Keithen) told me, it was like a Christmas present," Warren said Monday evening. "It's just a blessing for him, he's done it and I'm just so happy for him."

"He's been waiting to get to this point for a long time," said Deana McClain, Keithen's mother, "and it's good for him to finally see the things he wanted to do come true."

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