Keyuo Craver makes no bones about it. He owns up to it. He wasn't a saint during the early 2000s. He had more than his share of fun in the NFL.
Think about it, he says. On his own in New Orleans. The Big Easy. Making six figures. Some players handle it better than others. Let's leave it at that.
To this day, the former Nebraska cornerback feels blessed to have played for an NFL position coach who could keep him focused between the lines.
"He was a humble guy — complete opposite of the whole culture in New Orleans," Craver says of Mike Riley. "We were a wild bunch down there. Wild as in outgoing. People weren't afraid to speak their mind. A lot of loud talking."
Riley, of course, was comparatively reserved.
"It was good to have someone who could bring you down to earth and have you focus on the task at hand," Craver says.
Craver, a fourth-round pick of the Saints in 2002, knew nothing about Riley at the time. Had no idea that Riley last had been purely a position coach in 1983-85, when he guided the secondary for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
Craver did notice that Riley rode his bicycle to work throughout the '02 season, something Riley would continue to do throughout his career.
"He worked out a lot, always had his sweats on," Craver says. "I was young. I wasn't all that observant. But over time, I grew to respect him more, because over the course of your career, you realize you don't get a lot of good guys in this business."
Craver spent three seasons in the Saints' organization and later had a nice run in the CFL, retiring in 2010. He now coaches defensive backs at Lincoln High. Over dinner earlier this week, he talked about his playing career, especially that rookie year in New Orleans. He never played the game at a higher level, he says, even when he was an All-Big 12 player and NU team captain in 2001.
"(Riley) made it easy to learn," Craver says. "He taught me good technique. I had a great preseason camp, surprised everybody in the organization. A lot of that goes to him."
Riley spent just one year in New Orleans after being fired as the San Diego Chargers' head coach following the 2001 season. His connection with the Saints was head coach Jim Haslett — they had coached against each other in the World League of American Football.
In 2003, Riley began his second stint as head coach at Oregon State. Now, he leads the Huskers.
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We've heard plenty about how Riley's pleasant demeanor is a good fit here. Above all, Craver says, Riley is as genuine as the Canadian cold. And he sticks to his beliefs.
The 34-year-old Craver, a native of Dallas, is confident in his own coaching ability. How far would he like to go with it?
"Wherever the good Lord takes me," he says.
He says it's crazy how life evolves. He could never have coached under Bo Pelini because Bo just wasn't his style, Craver says.
Now, Riley's staff — that would be a different story. If a position ever were to open for him, wonderful. But it wasn't as if Craver called Riley after Riley took the NU job in early December. In fact, Craver stayed away, waiting until early last week to attend a practice.
Why did he wait? Well, Craver thought back to when he was drafted by the Saints, and folks were coming out of the woodwork.
"A lot of people who were just OK with me all of a sudden were really cool with me," he says. "I remember all the phone calls. I was just like, man, people will sell their souls just to be close or to get something from me. I figured I'd let the whirlwind die down (after Riley was hired) and then go see a practice and let Coach know I love him and I'm here for him."
Says Riley, "I was just glad to see him — I didn't know he lived right here. But I knew immediately when I got this job that he would be a connection for me one day."
Craver is in the midst of finishing his teaching certification. Meanwhile, he helps oversee in-school suspensions and retentions at Lincoln High. He helps teens with personal issues and behavior disorders. He calls it "a blessing."
"The kids are very honest with what they're going through," he says. "I can relate to a lot of the situations, me coming from a lower-income family. Some kids, their biggest meal is the lunch we have at the cafeteria."
Although Craver was born in Dallas, his family moved to Harleton, Texas, when he was 10. His oldest brother was the victim of a shooting in Dallas — two bullets to the stomach — so the family decided it was best to move out of that environment.
Craver is interested in helping young people prepare for life after their schooling. He understands the importance of helping them find a direction and stay grounded — the way Riley once helped him.