Keith Poole was a wide receiver for the Sun Devil football team for four years and was a member and leader of the 1996 Pac-10 Championship team. He was First Team All-Pac-10 his junior and senior years, and was a Second Team All-American his senior year. He is also one of only five receivers in ASU history that had over 1,000 receiving yards in one season. He had a productive NFL career and was the offensive MVP for the New Orleans Saints in 1999. Keith lives in Arizona where he owns and operates Keith Poole’s Training Zone in Chandler, and is the strength coach at Hamilton High School and has three children.
DHD: You are originally from the San Jose area, how did you end up at ASU and what other schools did you consider?
KP: Originally, I was going to go to either Cal or Stanford, that’s where my father lived and I had a pretty good academic standing, so I figured I would go there. That’s also around the same time that Coach Bruce Snyder came to ASU from Cal. My Cal trip got cancelled and I ended up taking a trip to Arizona State. So I came out here and they took me on campus at one o’clock in the afternoon and I knew I wanted to be here. The weather was awesome and I liked everything about it. I cancelled my other trips to BYU and Nebraska and came to ASU.
DHD: What is special about ASU and what was it like being a Sun Devil player?
KP: It was tough in the early years when we didn’t have the best teams, but that senior year in 1996 with the players, the people, the friends, we could talk about it all day long, it was a special team. That senior year is what made it special with the guys and team and friends I’ll have forever.
DHD: What was it like running out of the Tillman Tunnel at Sun Devil Stadium?
KP: The first time I ran out of the tunnel was when I was a freshman against Washington. Just running out of that, you can’t describe it, it was awesome. Wearing the uniform and the crowd is going crazy. But nothing like my junior and senior years when I was the starting wide receiver. Everyone knew your name and they were cheering for you specifically, that was awesome.
DHD: Looking back, what was the hardest and best part about being a player?
KP: The hardest part is the lifestyle, and being away from home. Learning how to balance school and football which was two jobs. The best part was winning and getting to know people like Pat Tillman and Jake Plummer. Just being able to tell my son about guys like Tillman who you are going to read about in history books. Also, the people you met like the coaches and the fans.
DHD: Speaking of Pat Tillman, since you are both from the San Jose area, did you know who he was in high school?
KP: I didn’t know Pat in high school and we didn’t meet until we came to school at ASU. Pat and I became close friends, and he was an unbelievable guy to be around. His long hair, just a loyal person, especially to his wife Marie, who was his girlfriend at the time. The night of the Nebraska game we were in the locker room after the win, and everyone was like, “Alright, here we go, we’re going out to celebrate” and Pat said, “No, I told Marie I was going to call her at 11 PM.” I said “You can call her tomorrow morning” and he said, “No, I told her I would call her tonight so I’m going to call her.” Normally, I would try to convince someone to go, but with Pat, you knew his word was his bond. He was always way ahead of everyone else.
DHD: Tell me a little about your brother and huge ASU fan, Mark and his disability.
KP: He was 16 years old and he was on his way home from football practice with his buddy who was driving. Someone ran a stop sign and killed his best friend and left my brother paralyzed from the chest down. Ever since he became paralyzed, he has been a motivation to so many people. He would be at every single ASU practice and at every game. He was very close to a lot of guys on the team and Pat Tillman was one of his best friends. Jake and all of us were really close, and he is still a big fan. He coaches over at Hamilton High School with me as a linebackers coach and also teaches. He is a very positive person, and everyone that talks to him is uplifted. He’s a great guy.
DHD: Give me the details on the Nebraska game and the first and only touchdown catch you made.
KP: It was the opening drive and the only touchdown of the game. Jake scrambled around and I ran a very simple post route and someone left me wide open. When he saw me and I knew I was wide open, his eyes were huge and he threw the ball so high, and I was thinking “hurry up.” I thought I was going to drop it because it was up there so long and I was waiting for someone to hit me. I was totally concentrating on that ball. I would rather have three guys hanging on me than be so wide open. When I caught it and scored and looked around and there were no flags, it was unbelievable. That’s when we knew that we could do this. When the game started, there was a lot of Nebraska red in the stands, but by the third quarter, most of the stadium was maroon and gold. Even the fans smothered them.
DHD: What was the difference between the 1995 team that got blown out at Nebraska the year before and the 1996 team?
KP: I think the difference was that everyone decided to stay here in the off season and all work together to get better, stronger and faster. We matured, we had 18 returning starters coming back and came out there and played a little pissed off. We knocked them in the mouth like they knocked us in the mouth. It was pretty cool.
DHD: One of the most memorable Sun Devil football moments and all-time classic photos is your touchdown catch against UofA during the undefeated season in 1996. What happened on that play?
KP: We wanted to beat them more that anything my senior year. Once we started playing, it was a done deal. We knew they couldn’t beat us. Going into that game, Jake had to throw a touchdown pass, and I had to catch a touchdown pass to break the ASU record, so we were hoping to get that together. After I caught the touchdown pass and took two steps into the end zone, the UofA player, Chris McCallister, hit me late and ended up cracking my rib on that play. I got up and my first instinct was to throw the ball at him. I wanted to finish the game, so I just threw the ball I the air, raised my arms and got up in his face.
DHD: How do the fans affect the mindset of the team on game day?
KP: The fans absolutely have an impact on the team. That’s what we need to get set in their head, because it absolutely changes you as a player. To hear that crowd, that’s what an athlete wants to hear, is the crowd go crazy. When they’re not there for you, it lets you down and it absolutely helps the other team. It is very important and it can really affect you as a player.
DHD: What was your first impression of Jake Plummer the first time you met him as a freshman? Any good stories about Jake at ASU?
KP: It was on a recruiting trip and when I met him, he was one of the guys with a good sense of humor, and he grew on everybody. Jake first got in against Oregon State when our quarterback Grady Benton went down with a sprained ankle. I was standing on the sidelines next to Coach Snyder, and he had Jake on one side and another quarterback, Jason Verdugo, on the other side. He needed to make a decision on who was going into the game. It took Coach Snyder about fifteen seconds as he was pointing back and forth trying to decide who to put in the game. After a long pause, he said “Jake, you go in there.” And the rest is history.
DHD: How did Coach Snyder affect you as a player and a person?
KP: Me and coach had some rocky times. They were a tough coaching staff. When you get older, you appreciate it. Kind of like your Dad, when he gets mad at you, grounds you and you don’t know why, then you grow up and realize he is just trying to make you better. I can respect that now growing from a kid to a man. He was a hard nosed coach with a great staff around him and he did a great job with the program. About two years before he passed away, he called me and let me know he was coming in town and wanted to take me to dinner. In so many ways, we both apologized to each other about some of the things that happened over the years, and it was awesome. Of all the players out there, he was good enough to worry about me and decided to call me. The last time I saw him was at Pat’s Run, and we gave each other a genuine hug.
DHD: Why are you a DieHardDevil?
KP: I’m a DieHardDevil because I bled it and I sweat it out on the football field. I named my son after one of the best players ever, Tillman. I’ve lived it and always will. Once a Sun Devil, always a Sun Devil and that’s a fact.
DieHard SUN DEVILS support other SUN DEVILS, especially the Alumni who bled Maroon & Gold and Proved it on the field.
Here’s a link to Keith Poole’s Training Zone and a cool video from Keith’s gym. [This is not an advertisement. DieHardDevil believes that part of growing a Stronger, Louder, more Unified SUN DEVIL Nation is to support our own.]