The first time linebacker Elijah Shelton saw Ryan Keeler on the field, he hardly believed what he was seeing.
Keeler, a 6-foot-6-inch, 275-pound pass rusher, had arrived at UNLV a few weeks before fall camp after transferring from Rutgers. The Rebels linemen began their first practice by doing some one-on-one drills, and Shelton was amazed at how easily Keeler breezed through different moves and beat his opponent.
“I’m watching Ryan do his reps, not having any idea who he is,” Shelton said. “I turned to our D-line coach, and I was like, ‘Who is this white boy making all these moves?’”
Keeler, 20, was found dead in a bed in a studio apartment Monday in Las Vegas, the Clark County coroner’s office said. His time of death was listed as 4:05 p.m.
The cause and manner of death were not available as of Tuesday afternoon. The Metropolitan Police Department did not confirm whether it was investigating the death.
The teammates and coaches who knew Keeler describe him as a positive, selfless, hardworking and genuine person, whose character and spirit created a magnetic personality. Kenwick Thompson, his position coach during the 2022 season, called Keeler “a Rebel at heart.”
“He was the kind of teammate and the kind of person you would want to represent the school,” Thompson said, “just an extraordinary young man.”
Shelton called Keeler his closest friend in the program. They were on the opposite ends of the experience spectrum — Shelton at his third school in five seasons, while Keeler was just two years into his college career. They also came from very different backgrounds, said Shelton, who is from Utah and describes himself as mixed-race, while Keeler is white and from the Midwest.
However, Shelton said Keeler had an honesty, enthusiasm and authenticity that made him feel like a younger brother.
Shelton was proud to share that moment with his friend, one of several memories he’ll treasure despite knowing Keeler for less than a year.
“I’ve never met anyone like Ryan,” Shelton said. “I say that truthfully. He was hilarious, a real loyal friend. I would’ve seen myself growing old and being just as tight as we were in these six months we had together.”