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Ex-Vandal Keo works to catch on with Texans

Texans defensive back Shiloh Keo set a University of Idaho record with 585 punt return yards. (File)
Texans defensive back Shiloh Keo set a University of Idaho record with 585 punt return yards. (File)

HOUSTON – Shiloh Keo is a cold-weather guy, and he instantly recalls the most frigid conditions he played in during his four-year career at Idaho.

In November 2009, his junior season, Keo’s Vandals visited archrival Boise State and the kickoff temperature was 34 degrees, with gusty winds that chilled the air even more.

“It was freezing out there,” Keo said.

Keo has had to adjust to the opposite extreme since Houston drafted the defensive back in the fifth round last spring. The Texans have practiced in sweltering heat throughout training camp and Keo, a native of Everett, hasn’t minded a bit.

“I actually love the weather here,” Keo said. “This is going to make the team better. Our conditioning is going to be so much better, so I think it’s great.”

While the 5-foot-11, 219-pound Keo has impressed coaches with his energy, he still feels like he’s fighting for a spot on the team heading into Houston’s preseason finale at Minnesota on Thursday. Teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by Saturday.

“This is going to be a game that makes or breaks my career in Houston,” Keo said. “This could be an opportunity for me to make a team, or a practice squad, or send me packing. This week is very important to me.”

Keo had 358 tackles and set an Idaho record with 585 punt return yards in four seasons. New Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips got to coach Keo in the East-West Shrine game in January, and coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith liked what they saw when they studied him.

Keo was eager to not only learn Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, but also get acclimated to the Houston humidity, so he joined about 30 teammates for summer workouts at Rice during the lockout.

A week into training camp, he could see how much the extra work had paid off.

“Instead of worrying about the heat, now I can worry about other things,” he said. “The only time I think about the heat is when I’m walking out to the field, like, ‘Man, this is going to be a hot day today.’ But as soon as you put that helmet on, or when we get on the field, it’s game on and you kind of take those things out.”

So far this preseason, Keo has only one tackle and returned three kicks (one punt and two kickoffs). The Texans have an overabundance of defensive backs, and Kubiak says paring down the group will be the toughest part of his roster reductions.

Keo feels like he’s grasped the defense, and kept up with the speed of the game.

“I definitely feel comfortable, I definitely feel like I know what I’m doing out there,” he said.

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