He helped the Selinsgrove football team win a state title. He played for Happy Valley icon Joe Paterno as a walk-on – working his way up the ranks on a team that was forced to persevere through one of the biggest scandals in all of college sports.
But Ryan Keiser’s newest venture may be the most rewarding yet — as a campus minister for Victory Christian Fellowship at Penn State.
“I’m so thankful. God has set me free to be what I’m created for. There are people on campus that are hurting or suffering. I want to be there for them,” he said. “I want to see people for who they really are — to look past the depression, anger or pressure from school. I want people to be able to live and experience the goodness of God.”
Keiser starred as an athlete for Selinsgrove, culminating in 61 catches, 1,144 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Seals state championship football squad his senior season. He also led our area with 10 home runs and 34 RBI on the Selinsgrove baseball team before graduating in 2010.
Keiser defied the odds at Penn State, going from a walk-on to special team captain after 11 starts for the squad until he sustained a broken rib that perforated his bowel and left him in intensive care at the Hershey Medical Center this past October.
“I was pretty sick. If it went longer without them noticing, it could have gotten a whole lot worse,” Keiser said. “In the middle of all that at the time, I wanted nothing to do with playing football again.”
But nearly six months later, Keiser has reconsidered.
“I believe Jesus is a healer, and I’m willing to take a risk. I’m definitely listening to the doctors. I don’t want to do something that won’t allow myself to heal,” he said. “But the doctors are saying I should go for it once my body is back to normal.”
While he is eyeing a potential run at the NFL sometime next year, though, Keiser is quick to point out that he’s much more than a football player — a message he plans to emphasize in his ministry work at Penn State.
“I play football, but that is not who I am. I am a child of God. He created me, He redeemed me. It is a matter of true identity — what we were meant to be,” Keiser said. “I think we all label ourselves. I’m a football player or I’m a writer or whatever. We label ourselves with what we do. What I’ve found is that in Christ, there is an identity that can’t be changed. I hope to encourage people to work on their true identity.”
Keiser said he grew up in a Christian home, but still made numerous mistakes as he entered his college years.
“My sophomore year, I got involved with Victory Christian Fellowship which is a small ministry on campus through the Christ Community Church out of State College. During that year, I decided to follow Jesus,” Keiser said.
This was around the same time the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, changing the landscape at Penn State and putting the football team under a microscope.
“While it was a rough time, it was also an opportunity for us to come together as a group. Through all the challenges, we were able to stick together and keep fighting,” Keiser said. “It is sort of like our walk as Christians. At times, we all face big situations that challenge who we are and what we’re made of. We pull together, weather the storms and keep spreading the message even when things seem overwhelming.”