Kyle Keller isn’t supposed to be here.
For 17 years he has thought that same line.
He buried survivor's guilt deep inside his soul for nearly 15 years until a local pastor in College Station, Texas, helped him escape it.
He is not free of the pain, nor the solemn nights.
But he has never forgotten his renewed purpose: To remember the 10, most notably, his cousin Nate Fleming.
Fleming was one of the 10 on two of the chartered planes that crashed during a snow storm in a pasture east of Denver, Colorado on Jan. 27, 2001 as Oklahoma State’s team was returning from a game in Boulder.
Keller, then an assistant with the Cowboys, had the scout for the next game and former head coach Eddie Sutton asked him to switch to a different plane to get home faster. So, he did, with his cousin who was on the team, Nate Fleming.
“We called him goody, because he never even got a B,’’ Keller, who is now the head coach at Stephen F. Austin, said during the latest edition of the NCAA.com/Turner Sports podcast March Madness 365.
Keller had to drive to his aunt and uncle’s house that night.
He will never forget it.
“I walk into my uncle’s bedroom and he’s in a fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably,’’ Keller said. “I was thinking the worst was going to come. And then he told me he loves you. All you want to do is you just want your cousin back. I was supposed to be on that plane. But if I don’t take that and help people around me and other people then I’ve devalued the plane crash and I’ve devalued those 10 men. I haven’t done what I’m supposed to do.’’
The 10 men will be remembered by Keller during Saturday’s game against rival Sam Houston State. Just like they were and are in Stillwater, especially when the Cowboys have a Remember The 10 game like they did against Oklahoma last week.
The 10 — Fleming, Daniel Lawson, Jared Weiberg, Bill Teegins, Will Hancock, Pat Noyes, Brian Luinstra, Kendall Durfey, Denver Mills and Bjorn Fahlstrom — are forever part of the survivors, the ones who weren’t on those planes.
Keller, who coached at Kansas under Bill Self and Texas A&M under Billy Kennedy before getting the Stephen F. Austin job, said he always wears his remember the 10 lapel pin with an orange colored ribbon. He will proudly display it again Saturday. He has invited family members of the victims to the game.
The Cowboys are hard at work preparing for Saturday's #Big12SEC Challenge rematch with Arkansas. Here's a refresher course on last year's record-setting win over the Razorbacks in GIA. #letswork #okstate pic.twitter.com/BaT7OR5WuR— Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) January 25, 2018
“Those 10 help me all the time,’’ said Keller of their memory.
But Keller has never questioned why.
He never thought about quitting the profession.
“My faith and my belief in God has kept me doing this,’’ said Keller. “God has me here for a purpose and if I do something else I’m not following my purpose.’’
Keller said it wasn’t until he met with the pastor that he realized he had survivor's guilt.
“I never asked why,’’ he said. “I’m a big cryer and I’m very emotional. And the pastor said to me that I’m going to release these things inside of you.’’
Keller, whose Lumberjacks are 16-7 and 5-2 in the Southland, play host to Sam Houston State at 7 p.m. ET Saturday in Nacogdoches. He said he will have a little bit of orange in his purple tie Saturday.
"I know those 10 families," said Keller. "One of those 10 families was mine."