Michigan TE McKeon's NFL pursuit gains traction by mother's brave work in pandemic

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Charlotte McKeon comes home from her 12-hour shift, goes straight to the cellar to change, throws the clothes in the washing machine and takes a shower. At that point, she becomes only slightly more comfortable being around her family.

This is part of her routine these days as an ICU nurse at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., in the thick of this COVID-19 pandemic. She has done her best to avoid getting near her son, Sean, the former Michigan tight end who has been at the family home training and preparing for this week’s NFL Draft.

Sean and Charlotte McKeon

“She's definitely under more stress than she usually is,” Sean McKeon told The Detroit News in a phone interview. “Being in the ICU is tough always, even without this (coronavirus), but this definitely makes it even more tough for nurses everywhere.”

But she has added stress because her son is awaiting word what his professional future might hold. Knowing this was NFL draft week, Charlotte McKeon secured time off to be with Sean and the family to watch the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday.

Sean McKeon is 6-foot-5, 242 pounds and was invited to the NFL Combine but couldn’t go through the drills because of a hamstring injury from the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 that was re-aggravated a few weeks later at the Senior Bowl. He was healthy and ready to be timed in the 40 during Michigan’s Pro Day in March but that was canceled because of the pandemic.

McKeon, who was All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2017 and 2018, played in 10 games last season — he was injured in the Big Ten opener and missed three games — had 13 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He is projected as a third-day selection.

“Every step of the way it just hasn't been his year,” Charlotte McKeon said.

Charlotte has always been supportive of her children. Her younger son plays football at Central Connecticut and her daughter is on the cheer team at Louisville. She and her husband attended all of the Michigan home games and enjoyed the journey with Sean. Now, she’s hoping for some light in his future, as well as in these days going forward for her at work with COVID-19 patients.

“It's just been stressful because I didn't want to bring it home and get him sick and have that affect anything,” said Charlotte, who said the 24-room ICU has been full with coronavirus patients. “It's just stressful at work. I’ve just been tired and crabby and not my usual self, I'm sure Sean would say. I've been a nurse for 30 years and I don't ever remember anything like this.

“I haven't hugged my kids or kissed them. I try not to get too close to them, but it's kind of hard. I do all the cooking, so it's kind of hard to completely stay away from everybody, but I've tried. Then when I started taking care of a lot of positive patients, I just started changing at work then coming home and taking a shower. I changed my routine a couple of times now.”

Saint Vincent, like hospitals across the country, has been in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gowns. A few weeks ago on Facebook, Charlotte posted that hospital workers were reusing gowns, so she requested ponchos because they can be worn over gowns to keep those as clean as possible. Many of her Facebook friends were made while Sean played at Michigan and they came through as have many in her community at home.

“I have had so many Michigan fans send me ponchos,” she said. “Like every day, Amazon shows up with another delivery. I say at least 1,000 ponchos all together. Sometimes people just come over and drop stuff on my doorstep or leave it on my doorknob. One person sent me some masks that she made.

“So I was just grateful for that. I know Michigan fans get a bad rap sometimes, but there’s a lot of good ones. I happen to be friends with a lot of great Michigan fans. My son kind of makes fun of me sometimes because I'm on social media a lot, but I've really been grateful for all the people I've met over the last four years.”

While Sean McKeon has been unable to get before NFL teams, hoping to make an impression because he wasn’t able to play in the Senior Bowl or go through NFL Combine workouts, he has been working out in the basement with weights while on benches his father built. His mother also has made sure he’s taking daily vitamin supplements and zinc to boost his immune system.

He recently ran a 40-yard dash and other drills and routes that his trainer caught on video which was sent to every NFL team. McKeon, who said he’s about 95% healed from the hamstring injury, also sent it to tight end coaches he has met. He initially injured the hamstring in the third quarter of the bowl game against Alabama then tweaked it during Senior Bowl practices.

“It's just like tough because I've hurt the same hamstring a couple of times, so it's always kind of in the back of my head when I'm running,” McKeon said. “So it's really just kind of getting over that. I can run fine right now, but it's just getting that extra two or three percent on the top speed.”

McKeon was hoping to match the 4.6 he ran in high school but was clocked at 4.72.

“That's pretty good, pretty close,” he said. “I feel like I could definitely hit it a 4.6 if I had months to train like other guys did before the combine. But I was fine with the time.”

Michigan tight end Sean McKeon signals first down after completing a pass for 27 yards during the third quarter this past season against Michigan State.

All of this new normal has been strange for everybody everywhere, but as the draft nears, McKeon knows he wasn’t able to produce the way he wanted for NFL teams these last few months for reasons out of his control. He is hopeful that teams got a good look at his ability as a blocker and receiver from game film.

“It's definitely weird and I would say it's disappointing just because I had a lot of teams showing interest that wanted private workouts and, like every single team and most of their coaching staff were gonna come to Michigan's Pro Day," he said. "So just not being able to do that kind of stuff definitely hurts, especially my draft stock. That's kind of been the most disappointing part and it's not really in my control or anything, so I just have to go with it. I think at the end of the days it’s more important whether you can play football than how fast your run the 40.”

McKeon doesn’t plan to watch the draft until the third day and will use Friday and Saturday to work out. He believes if he had been able to do more for NFL teams at the Senior Bowl and combine and Pro Day, he would be watching Day 2.

“I definitely think I have the talent to be a second-day guy, but if I never got hurt, if I could have participated in the Senior Bowl and the combine, I think I would have had a good shot to go second day,” he said.

Charlotte plans to cook her son’s favorite things for the draft so they can all watch how it all unfolds. She does not have a preference where he might land.

“I just want him drafted, really,” Charlotte McKeon said. “If I had the luxury of having a choice, of course, I'd want him to be on the East Coast somewhere. But other than that, I don't care, I just want to see him drafted. I don't care where, I'll be happy wherever it is.”


Twitter: @chengelis