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Acadia's Cherry turning heads with university football career

Standout offensive lineman Keiler Cherry is back with the Acadia Axemen for his final university football season.
Standout offensive lineman Keiler Cherry is back with the Acadia Axemen for his final university football season.

WOLFVILLE - University might not have been Keiler Cherry's first choice, but now that he is a student-athlete at Acadia, he is determined to make the best of the experience.

At around 6'6” with a playing weight in the vicinity of 300 pounds, Cherry is hard to miss, both on campus and on the field as an offensive lineman for the football Axemen.

Following the 2016 season, his second with the Axemen, he was named to the AUS All-Conference team. He was also chosen to compete in the 2017 East-West Bowl, the annual CIS football all-star game, which was played May 13 at Universite de Laval in Quebec.

The 24-year-old was born and raised in Lloydminster, a city that straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

He grew up on a small farm and has long been interested in farming and agriculture.

“When I was young we raised turkeys, about 1,000 at a time, as well as cattle.”

These days, his family only raises cattle.

“I try to lend a hand as much as I can whenever I can. My mom and step-dad really appreciate the help.”

Cherry is the youngest of four children.

“The whole family is athletic,” he said.

He played multiple sports growing up, and naturally gravitated toward football.

“By age 10, I already had a lineman's body,” he said. 

“In 2006, when I was about 13, they started up minor football in my hometown. I signed up, they put me on the O-line because of my size, and I've never looked back.”

Cherry was home-schooled through Grade 8, until he started high school.

“I had played football and hockey in Grade 8. When I got to high school, I played basketball and football through Grade 12.”

When he finished high school, Cherry, who wasn't planning to attend university at that time, signed up to play junior football with the Saskatoon Hilltops, a highly-regarded junior program.

He had also started to apprentice as an agricultural mechanic, which was what he was interested in making his life's work. Growing up on the farm, he was already familiar with all the machinery.

The age limit for junior football is 22. By the time he was 22, Cherry had secured employment as an apprentice mechanic.

“I was supposed to go for my first round of schooling (but)… I had started getting calls from universities.”

He still had three years of CIS football eligibility remaining, so he decided to give university a try.

“I was contacted by a couple of Western schools, but I'd always wanted to travel.”

He filled out an online recruiting form and circulated it nation-wide.

“I finished putting it online at 10 p.m., and by 5:30 a.m. our time, I already had a call from (Acadia head coach) Jeff Cummins.”

Cummins brought Cherry to Wolfville on a recruiting trip.

“I fell in love with the town, and the campus, even though I was here in January. It was cold, but I was coming from minus 40, so it felt like a nice break, though there was lots of snow,” Cherry recalled.

He came to Acadia as a student-athlete in the fall of 2015. He has never regretted his decision.

“I've loved my time here. It's been a great experience, especially for someone who grew up on a farm on the Prairies.”

Cherry was fortunate to start every game at left tackle for the Axemen his freshman year. At year's-end, he was chosen the team's Rookie of the Year.

“I was kind of surprised, and it was nice to get the recognition. Usually the only time O-linemen get any publicity is when something bad happens,” he said.

“The good games for us are those with lots of rushing yardage and no quarterback sacks. Those are what we live for, and that get us excited.”

Cherry was pleased with the all-conference selection, and also the invitation to the East-West Bowl.

“I found out in February,” he says of the latter. “It was pretty exciting. It was definitely something I'd wanted, and I was happy to get to go. It was an awesome feeling.”

Cherry and teammates Brandon Jennings and Matt Nettle all suited up for the East squad, and though they ended up losing the game, it was a great experience.

“It was two-a-day practices, then playing against the best players in the country, which made for a tough week.”

Cherry enrolled in a certificate program in business management at Acadia, which he completed this spring. He is, however, committed to returning to Acadia for his final year of eligibility this fall.

“I'm still looking at what direction I'll take now,” he says. “I'll probably take some extra business courses. Football was always the main reason I came out here, but it's always nice to get the extra education, as something to fall back on.”

Cherry is still planning to return home and resume his apprenticeship as an agricultural mechanic. He is in the 2018 draft class for the CFL, and if he happened to be drafted and made the team, he wouldn't turn down the chance to play professionally.

“I'd like to hope there would be some interest,” he says.

“Right now, I'm more focused on playing the best I can here and worrying about the rest of it when it comes.”

He’s excited to be back in action with the Axemen.

“The team is looking pretty good. We'll be getting back some guys who were injured last year, including two or three O-linemen who were starters. We're getting in some key recruits, and I think we already had a team that can win. The future looks bright.”

Cherry is looking to have a successful final season, both personally and in terms of the team.

“Last year was pretty tough. We're looking to get to the playoffs again and take it from there. The goal is to win the AUS and a Vanier Cup, but you have to start small and take it one game at a time.”

 

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