It didn’t matter if they knew him from high school. It didn’t matter if they were his coaches, fellow students or teammates. They all had a similar message about Keeley Dorsey: He had a plan, and he was living his dream.
Questions still remain about the sudden death of the 19-year-old running back who collapsed in the weight room of the Athletic Facility on Jan. 17 during a routine workout. But while there is little to say about the cause of his death, there was no shortage of words at his memorial service Thursday at the Sun Dome.
An estimated 800 people showed up to pay their respects and remember the life of Dorsey, including family and friends from his hometown, Tallahassee. The football players, dressed in their green jerseys, filled the seats in the front of the Corral, some unable to look up during parts of the service.
About a dozen people gave testimonies about their memories of Dorsey, including former coaches and teammates, some of whom couldn’t fight back tears.
Jim Leavitt talked about his trips to Lincoln High School while recruiting Dorsey. Leavitt said he asked Dorsey what he really wanted, and his answer exemplified how several people described the young athlete.
“I want an opportunity to play Division-I football,” Dorsey had told him. “I want to come to South Florida, and I want to earn a degree.”
As a true freshman, Dorsey’s playing time was limited. When he was given the opportunity in USF’s season opener, he took the ball and ran straight to the end zone.
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did,” running back coach Carl Franks said. “They will never forget how you made them feel, and oh my goodness how Keeley made us feel. That 52-yard touchdown run – what exhilaration he brought to us.”
David Wilson, Dorsey’s coach at Lincoln, shared a memory of his former player from a couple years ago on Christmas morning. Wilson thought he heard his phone ring, but the noise he heard was a text message from Dorsey. The message stated: “Merry Christmas Coach. I love you.”
Wilson said he technologically didn’t know how to respond to the message, but when they went back to school he returned the love to Dorsey as they crossed paths in the hallway.
“He comes up, and I put him in a head lock, and I say, ‘Hey boy, I got your message on Christmas. That really made me feel good, and I want you to know I appreciate it,'” Wilson said. “And he looked at me and said ‘You know it, Coach.'”
Wilson concluded his eulogy by telling the hundreds of people in front of him to call their loved ones and tell them how they feel. Wilson also shared what he would say to Dorsey if he was still alive.
“Keeley, man, I love you. I’m proud of the young man that you are,” Wilson said. “I want you to know how honored I am that you played football for me at Lincoln High School. And I want you to know what a special person that I think you are.”
The handful of coaches who spoke at the service all delivered the message that Dorsey was a hard worker who really wanted to go far in life. But the speech of a teammate stood out the most.
Senior linebacker Patrick St. Louis, who was a team captain last season, captured the attention of everyone as he stepped up to the microphone alongside Ben Moffitt.
“I’m going to say what I have to say from my heart. I want all the football players right now to stand up. Right now, all of y’all, stand up,” St. Louis yelled. “I want you to look at each other and tell each other that you love them. Right now, tell them you love them.”
St. Louis’ words sparked handshakes and hugs among a team of players not holding back their emotions, many still sitting cried.
After the service many of the football players quickly left. But just as he was always the last player to leave the field after games last season, Amarri Jackson stuck around to talk about the teammate and friend he lost.
Jackson smiled while talking about the time he and Dorsey missed the team bus to the hotel before their game against Syracuse and about the time Dorsey took him line dancing.
Jackson said he’s sure the Bulls will wear either stickers on their helmets or patches on their jerseys next season to remember Dorsey, but either way, he plans on the team wearing shirts with Dorsey’s face on them while doing pre-game warm-ups.
“We know he’s going to always watch over us, and we know he’s going to always be a USF Bull,” Jackson said. “And when we step out on that field we’re going to represent each other, but we’re also going represent No. 10. And we can’t ever forget that No. 10 ran out of the tunnel with us every game last year.”