Keyan Peete overcame his vision loss to play football for the Wawasee Warriors. Peete, now a senior, lost sight in his left eye when he was 2 years old, but still managed to start as a running back and linebacker for the Warriors. Photo Provided
Keyan Peete overcame his vision loss to play football for the Wawasee Warriors. Peete, now a senior, lost sight in his left eye when he was 2 years old, but still managed to start as a running back and linebacker for the Warriors. Photo Provided
SYRACUSE – Keyan Peete has half the vision and twice the focus of your average high school athlete.

Peete, a 17-year-old senior at Wawasee High School, lost sight in his left eye when he was 2 years old. However, he didn’t let that stop him from playing multiple sports and being a force for the Warriors football team this season.

“If you get knocked down, you just keep fighting,” Peete said. “And if something happens that you may look at as negative, you just have to build on it and make it positive.”

That’s what Peete set out to do after the injury that changed his life.

When he was a toddler, he regularly accompanied his grandmother to her Wednesday morning bowling league.

One Wednesday, Peete was playing with another toddler who threw a tantrum and flung a toy airplane at him. It hit him in the left eye and damaged his cornea.

Peete doesn’t remember that day, but his mother, Kelley Miller, remembered how her son wouldn’t open his left eye.

“Of course Keyan cried, but he’s always been just a little bit tougher,” Miller said. “I called him a bull in a China shop. He was all over, and I was like, ‘Man, is this kid ever gonna run out of gas?’”

Tough as he was, Peete still needed medical attention. He and his mother went to a hospital in Goshen, and the doctor who treated him deferred to a specialist in Indianapolis.

Miller was scared of the uncertainty: what would happen to her child?

Peete, however, was his usual jolly self.

“Here I am, I’m a small town girl, I have my 2-year-old little boy,” Miller said. “I’m in the big city, no car, no phone, no idea what’s gonna happen, and he just kept looking at me (saying), ‘Love you. Love you.’”

They got the news that Peete had lost vision in his left eye. He was too young to process the information, but his mother was flooded with fear, uncertainty and anger.

She thought of all the things that he’d be missing, including the chance to be in the military or be a pilot. And, she thought, he’d never be able to play sports.

“Somebody took this from him, and I didn’t think it was fair,” she said.

Miller didn’t harbor resentment at the child who threw the airplane, though, calling the incident “a freak accident.”

Instead, she focused on helping her son adjust. The incident at the bowling alley happened on December 17, 2003, and for the next eight days Peete didn’t open his right eye. He didn’t know how to open one without opening the other.

Miller sat him down on Christmas morning and told him he should open his eye, because there were so many presents for him to see.

That was the day Peete gave the first indication of how he would overcome his loss of vision throughout his life. He learned to open his eye, and he’s been exceeding expectations ever since.

He wouldn’t let his mother help him eat. Instead, he sat in front of his tray every night during dinner, feeling around for his food.

“This boy was just so independent and it was like, ‘Wow,’” Miller said.

As Peete learned how to do things with half his vision gone, he ventured out in the world with his family.

That meant people seeing his eye for the first time. Peete’s left pupil was thick and cloudy, and drew stares and double-takes from passersby.

Peete took it in stride, and had a big sister, Kiana, who stared down anybody who dared to gawk at her little brother.

“You don’t look at her brother without getting a look from her, because she was very protective,” Miller said.

Peete was game for sports, and refused to let his visual impairment stop him from joining in the fun. He began playing baseball at 5 years old.

Miller fretted over her son’s safety, but he wore a helmet with a cage in front for protection when he batted.

His relatives encouraged him, even getting him a slingshot to play with. Peete would not miss out on anything, they told Miller.

Though she was worried, Miller relented, and supported her son’s endeavors.

For Peete, playing baseball, or basketball – during which he wore goggles – was no problem, because he can’t remember what it’s like to see out of both eyes.

“I’m just grateful that it happened (when I was 2 years old) and not now,” he said. “It’s so much easier to adapt to everything, just like sports. And even just doing anything through my normal day.”

Peete continued to have issues with his eye. It became susceptible to infections, so he underwent anesthetics 64 times while doctors treated him.

When he was 8 years old – around when he began playing football – his left eye created problems for his right. Doctors were concerned he’d lose all his vision.

They performed emergency surgery on Peete, taking out his left eye and replacing it with an eye made of plastic, wax and acrylic.

The vision in Peete’s right eye was saved, and for him, it was back to business. That meant playing football, which he did with a protective visor on his helmet and courage in his heart.

As for being blindsided, it was a possibility Peete was aware of, but didn’t let stop him.

 “If it happens, it happens,” Peete said. “I’ll just keep playing through it.”

Peete eventually suited up for the Warriors. Former Wawasee coach Mike Eshbach, who resigned after this season, remembers being impressed when he took the reins at Wawasee and met Peete in 2017.

He commended Peete’s work ethic on the field and in the weight room. However, he also said that Peete, a running back, sometimes had trouble with his field vision. This led to fewer carries than he would have had.

In response, Peete diligently watched film of his opponents so he knew where and when to expect would-be tacklers as a running back and would-be blockers as a linebacker.

His studious approach paid off, and he got more carries this season.

“He was better as a senior from a vision standpoint, and being able to predict where things were coming from,” Eshbach said.

There was talk of switching Peete from strong-side linebacker to weak side, so he wouldn’t miss anything from his left side. However, Peete held strong to his capabilities and used having half the usual vision to be twice as cognizant.

“That really helped my football ability, to be more aware of what’s going on around me,” he said.

Peete’s awareness allowed his coaches to create schemes with only a few minor adjustments for him. They made sure to design wheel routes that didn’t pass to his blind side, and he said he had to put in extra effort as a linebacker when covering crossing routes.

Aside from that, though, Peete played just like any other athlete.

It’s something with which Eshbach was very impressed, especially given the running back and linebacker positions require strong peripheral vision.

“For him to have the courage to not use that as an excuse is amazing to me,” he said. “I can’t imagine always taking a snap and thinking somebody could blind side me and knock me out of the game, and that not (affecting) my play. But it never affected his play.”

It certainly didn’t. Most of Peete’s opponents didn’t know about his eye, so he was treated as any other player. Though Wawasee struggled this season with a 1-9 record, Peete excelled.

Offensively, he averaged 3.4 yards per carry and had 9.8 yards per catch. More impressively, even with the constant threat of being blindsided, Peete fumbled just once. The fumble was not lost.

Peete’s true area of excellence was defense. He led the Warriors with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles, and was second on the team with 55.5 total tackles.

The result? Peete was named All-Northern Lakes Conference honorable mention.

As well as Peete has done on the playing field, Miller is most impressed with what he’s taught her in life.

She had part of her index finger amputated in 2012, and initially struggled to adapt to everyday tasks.

However, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she followed her son’s example.

“It was like, ‘What am I boo-hooing about?’” she said. “My child doesn’t have an eye, and he never missed a beat.”

Peete doesn’t harbor resentment over what happened to him; he knows it was an accident. He sometimes wonders what it would be like to see out of both eyes, but ultimately is content with his vision.

“A lot of people question me about it, and I kind of like that,” he said. “It’s kind of a cool thing for me.”

Peete will graduate from high school in the spring of 2019. He plans to attend college to study sports marketing next fall.

He’ll approach his studies with the same can-do attitude that has led him to be successful so far.

“That’s what I’ve done throughout my life and sporting career,” Peete said. “The best thing I take away from it is, even if something goes wrong that you weren’t expecting, you just have to keep trying.”