Like many in central Arkansas, Brandon McKeever loves sports. In his youth, he excelled in football at J.A. Fair High School and as a semi-professional player for the Arkansas Bonecrushers, Arkansas Pirates and Team Arkansas. In his twenties, however, he’s moved from tackling other players to tackling problems in his Little Rock community.
“I got tired of turning on the television every day and seeing 18 and 19-year-old kids constantly getting in trouble for stupid stuff,” McKeever said. “I felt like a lot of these kids didn’t have a place to go and didn’t have anything to do, so they got in trouble instead.”
Troubled by growing youth crime in his community, McKeever, 27, found a way to help solve the problem through sports.
“I talked to my mom about it, and from that discussion, I decided to start a football team,” McKeever said. “I decided that if I could find a way to take these kids away from the world for two or three hours, a few times a week, that’s two or three hours that their families know where they are and know that they are safe. That’s important.”
In 2015, McKeever joined with former teammate James Fuller to create the Arkansas Steelers, a semi-professional football team in the Developmental Central Football League, to give local youth a second chance to play football on the collegiate or professional level.
“When we created the team, we knew that we wanted to be different,” McKeever said. “I came up with some names that I thought were funny, but a friend of mine suggested the Steelers name. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the top NFL programs over the years and we wanted something like that here in Arkansas. For us, the name means dominance.”
Since its inception, the Steelers have seen more than 200 players join their cause, with four players receiving opportunities to play on the junior college level and one player receiving a Canadian Football League tryout.
“Our program goes beyond football,” McKeever said. “To us, you’re more than just players—you’re family. If you need a ride, we give you a ride. If you need something to eat, we feed you. If you want to go to college, we help you prepare for the ACT or SAT. Coming in, some of these guys are lost and we try to help them get to where they are trying to go in life.”
Just two years into its program, the Steelers celebrated their first DCFL championship in June.
“When we started the program, we were getting beat week in and week out,” McKeever said. “But we knew why it was happening—we had a lot of young guys that had never played at the semi-professional level and were having a problem adjusting. I told my coaches that once our guys figured it out, they’d be dangerous. We turned it around and made the championship game our first year. This year, a lot of our younger guys grew up and really surprised me. Sure enough, we made it back to the title game and won it all.”
According to McKeever, the most important maxim of the Steelers organization is its ‘no questions asked’ policy.
“We don’t care what you did before,” McKeever said. “We care about giving you a second chance at doing something great in your life. One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to become a coach was to make an impression on others. We really care about what goes on in our community and want to see our youth do well. Even if our players don’t make it to the next level, I want to make sure that they leave our program as better men than they were when they came in.”
For more information on Brandon McKeever and the Arkansas Steelers, visit www.facebook.com/arkansas.steelers.
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