Kirtland Central's Keishaun Aspaas has been awarded The Daily Times' Male Athlete of the Year.
Four-sport athlete from Kirtland Central received The Daily Times' Male Athlete of the Year award as a senior following a junior season that was wiped out due to injury
KIRTLAND — To compete in multiple sports at the high school level is one thing, but to excel at each of them is quite another.
Kirtland Central High School's Keishaun Aspaas, The Daily Times' Male Athlete of the Year for 2015-2016, did just that.
As a senior, Aspaas earned All-State honors in football, all-star honors in baseball, took third in his weight class at the state wrestling tournament, and qualified for state in track and field. Perhaps most impressive, Aspaas accomplished all of that fresh off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which cost him a huge chunk of his junior athletic year.
During the second quarter of a 2014 football game against Piedra Vista — the fifth of KC's season — Aspaas was horse-collar tackled from behind while running the ball when the injury occurred. He said he planted his right heel awkwardly and his knee buckled under his body weight. Still, he walked on the knee for more than a week before receiving the bad news.
"At first, I thought I just popped my kneecap, 'cause it made a big popping noise," Aspaas said. "It got pretty swollen, but it didn't bother me. Then I got my MRI, and that's when I knew I tore my ACL and a part of my meniscus."
The recovery period for the injury, according to Aspaas' doctor, was four to six months. He said he took that as a challenge and rehabbed his way back into competition after sitting out just 14 weeks.
But things didn't go as planned that spring for Aspaas, who had only wrestled, and played football and baseball until his junior year. Based on his doctor's advice, Aspaas skipped baseball and opted for a sport that was less taxing on his knee.
"My doctor didn't think all the shifty moves you make in baseball would be good for my knee," Aspaas said. "So that's when I picked up track."
Aspaas didn't look like a first timer in the spring of 2015, as he qualified for state in the javelin and the 4x100-meter relay.
When football season rolled around at the start of Aspaas' senior year, he admitted he was hesitant to cut on his knee in training camp. But according to KC football coach Greg Jenks, Aspaas was back to terrorizing defenders with his cutting ability by the regular season.
"His jump cut was almost like one of those jumping spiders or something," Jenks said. "He would be going right, then all of a sudden you're like, 'How in the world did he get five yards to his left?' His cutting, and pretty much his quickness overall, was better than just about anybody."
Aspaas played in all 10 games as a senior, toting the ball 124 times for 1,008 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Growing up with three older brothers who all played high school football, Aspaas said performing on the gridiron was always his favorite. His game translated well to Class 5A football fields, as PV coach Jared Howell said Aspaas was someone to keep an eye on during their Sept. 25 contest.
"We were really concerned about Keishaun Aspaas," Howell said in September. "He's a really shifty running back, and he creates a lot of things, so we focused on being disciplined and not getting out of position. He's the type of running back that will bounce around and find the soft spot and hit it."
Aspaas played the 2015 season — as well as three more full sports seasons — on what he believed to be an aggravated surgically repaired right meniscus, which he thinks he suffered in the first game of the season against Bayfield, Colo.
Jenks said if Aspaas was hurt, it was undetectable.
"You hear about the winners. They said that about Kobe Bryant; the biggest turn in his career is when he realized, 'I'm just going to play hurt.' And that's what champions do," Jenks said. "He probably realized, 'Hey, it's my senior year, and I'm not telling the coach.'"
Aspaas — who said he'll have more surgery on his meniscus after competing in the football and baseball all-star games later this month — moved right on to wrestling in the winter, where he placed third in state at 145 pounds.
As a sophomore, Aspaas lost the 126-pound final to former PV wrestler Sam Sandoval, a two-time state champion. Aspaas said he was more heartbroken about that 4-2 loss — he had 2 points deducted in the match due to stalling — than he was about missing his junior wrestling season to injury.
"I always wanted to do better against the really good schools like PV," Aspaas said. "I knew they were going up to 5A after that year, and I really wanted that one. My junior year, I didn't think about anything but recovering."
Aspaas finished his prep wrestling career with a 104-33 record. Broncos wrestling coach JJ Sandoval thought of the KC grad as a "big-game player."
"He's not a practice player," Sandoval said of Aspaas. "But like for football and wrestling, when the lights are on, and it's time for competition, he's a gamer — he's ready to get it on."
After a year away from the diamond, Aspaas jumped back into baseball as a senior and proceeded to lead the 16-12 Broncos in runs, hits and batting average for players with more than 25 at-bats. The leadoff hitter was also very good defensively, logging an .898 fielding percentage.
But Aspaas enjoyed track so much as a junior that he couldn't forego it last spring. Instead, he juggled the two sports, which he said was challenging at times.
"I remember at the beginning of the baseball season, we made the championship in the Bloomfield tournament and played in the evening. And we had a track meet that morning," Aspaas said. "So two days before, I had to come to the office and fill out paperwork so I could go to track, and have alternate transportation take me all the way from track in Farmington to Bloomfield for my game."
Aspaas qualified for state in track as part of KC's 4x100-meter relay team and was one of only three players from District 1-4A to claim baseball all-star honors.
Reflecting on his high school career, Aspaas said his achievements in football were his proudest.
"My sophomore year I made the first-team All-State and made first-team All-District," Aspaas said. "Then, this past year after I made the all-star team, I thought I was done, but I got an e-mail that I was selected as one of only so many high school football players in the country to go to Italy and play against the Italian national team."
Always searching for a challenge, Aspaas said he'll attend the University of Arizona in the fall and try to walk on to its football program.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.