Right on time: For Stowers, new family trumps football
By: Christian Hardy | @HardyNFL
Keon Stowers awoke in his apartment at Jayhawker Towers and glanced at the clock. He hustled out of bed, grabbed his things and sprinted as fast as a 6-foot-2, 324-pound defensive lineman can.
Stowers overslept during a nap in the beginning of his first summer at the University and showed up to practice five minutes late. But Stowers has been fighting against the clock his whole life.
In high school, when Stowers decided he wanted play football, his grades were poor. But when he decided he wanted to turn that around, one teacher at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., wasn’t on the same page.
“I went to a teacher and was like, ‘Can you help me? Can you do this?’ because he was already helping other students after school,” Stowers said. “He basically told me, ‘It’s too late. You should have thought about this a year or two ago.’ I kind of used that my whole life — a teacher telling me it was too late and they couldn’t do anything.”
After high school, he spent two years at Georgia Military College, where he earned his associate degree and caught the eye of multiple Division I colleges. At Georgia Military he was given a rigid and orderly schedule.
Being on time was the most important thing he learned from his time there.
“I was late to one workout ever here at KU, my three years here,” Stowers said. “Everything else, I’ve never been late, never missed anything, always been on time.
“I take pride in that,” he said.
‘Nothing but good things to say’
Now, ready to graduate from the University in May with a Bachelor of General Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a minor in history, he has a lot more to be proud of than being on time.
Stowers was courted by a handful of NFL scouts at Kansas’ Pro Day on March 25, including the Texans, who said they wanted him in their training camp.
On Saturday, Stowers proposed to his longtime girlfriend and mother of his son, Carley Baker, during a two-day vacation — their first together since their son was born — in Branson, Mo. In May, their son, Dallas Anderson Stowers, will celebrate his first birthday.
Baker, who works at her son’s day care, has given Stowers the structure that he needs but lacked for the first part of his life.
“She’s been instrumental,” Stowers said. “She’s been to almost all of my games from high school to junior college to here. It’s been great to be able to have someone like that. When I’ve been up, she’s been there, and when I’ve been down she’s been there. It’s been really good to have support and her family.”
His parents were both in and out of jail when he was growing up, and, without structure, Stowers started to follow that same path. Soon, he realized he didn’t want that, so he turned to football and started improving his grades.
“I definitely think I would be selling drugs, in jail, dead, somewhere, if I didn't choose to go the right way,” Stowers said. “I probably — definitely wouldn’t be with her, because, I mean, she liked the bad boys a little bit, but what I was doing was too much. I don’t think her parents would have accepted me.”
Stowers didn’t meet Baker’s family from South Carolina until the two had been dating for a year. When they started dating, Stowers was a senior and had already picked himself up out of the hole he was in, but Baker, who is white, wasn't sure if her parents would accept Stowers because he is black.
"I knew my dad wasn't going to go for that,” she said.
But when Stowers went away to Georgia Military, Baker knew she had to tell her parents something. The next weekend, when he was back in Rock Hill, Baker’s dad, Anderson, wouldn’t let Stowers come into the house, and he told him to get into his truck for a ride.
“He went and and told him, ‘I’ll kill you if you hurt her,’ ” Baker said.
“He did say that,” Stowers interrupted, laughing. “With a shotgun in the back of the truck.”
But after seeing Stowers, Anderson, who died last year, started to seek out more information about this kid who was dating his daughter.
“He was trying to find something bad about him, but nobody could say anything bad,” Baker said. “He talked to our football coach at our high school, and he had nothing but good things to say about him.”
Since Stowers didn’t have a home in Rock Hill when his mom was in prison, Baker’s home became his own when he was in town. But his family from his hometown — eight brothers and one stepsister — are still struggling, for the most part.
“They’re still there, and it’s kind of like you almost feel like survivor’s guilt,” Stowers said. “I’m onto bigger and better things and making a life with my family now, and they’re still there living the life that people live there.”
Stowers’ past has influenced his outlook on life.
“You can be successful in what you do and what you love, and I think they definitely saw that,” Stowers said. “Keep going. Keep trying. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it, or don’t let one incident mess up everything else that you’re trying to do.”
Stowers’ name isn’t expected to be called in the upcoming NFL Draft, though he’ll be highly sought after; he’s expected to be a priority undrafted free agent.
When he gets the call from a team, he’ll send his dad an email or pick up a phone and call him, as he does almost every week. And he might pay per minute to talk to his mom in a state penitentiary.
But everything Stowers has done since he’s been at Kansas is to benefit his new family, Baker and Dallas, who have supported him and always been there for him.
After he injured his pectoral muscle on Pro Day, he said he realized how fleeting a career in football can be. And he doesn’t want to be late preparing for his future.
“If I have to get the surgery and I’m unable to get picked up by a team this year, I’m going to probably retire from football,” Stowers said. “I have a family, and a life to attend to. You can’t spend it chasing a silly dream. You have to enjoy it when you’re in it, but once you’re out, you’re out.
“Now I’ve got to start prepping my little guy to get up there and to be a Jayhawk,” he said.
— Edited by Emma LeGault