GREEN BAY – Kingsley Keke was 5 years old when NFL expansion brought football back to his hometown with the creation of the Houston Texans in 2002.
And just like that, the young Keke had his new favorite team. He grew up idolizing the Texans, especially All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson, and got to attend two games as a fan at NRG Stadium.
This Sunday, football comes full circle for Keke. With 10 family members expected to be in attendance, the 6-foot-3, 288-pound defensive lineman returns to Houston as a member of the Packers.
"Growing up, I'm not going to lie, I was a Houston Texan fan," said Keke with a slight smile. "So playing against them is going to be special. It's going to be a great feeling, especially to see my family, as well."
As special as it'll be playing against his childhood team, it also will be the first time Keke will be in the same place at the same time as his family in a while due to the travel restrictions the league mandated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With his focus firmly on football, Keke has made a considerable jump in Year 2. In only five games, the former fifth-round pick already has surpassed his rookie totals from a year ago with 12 tackles and two sacks on 163 defensive snaps.
After playing sparingly on defense a year ago, Keke has demonstrated three-down versatility, whether it's starting in the base defense alongside veterans Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry or rotating in as the lone defensive tackle in the third-down rush defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine praises Keke for putting the offseason advice of position coach Jerry Montgomery to use and staying in the hip pocket of Clark, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle who signed an extension with Green Bay in August.
"Overall, I just think he's stepped it up in all areas," Pettine said. "I think it's just a natural step for a guy from being a rookie to being second-year. And he's made a big leap and it's a credit to him because obviously in 2020 it was not an ideal time, without the structure of our offseason and being here."
The Packers had to survive nearly a month without Clark due to the groin injury he suffered in the first half of the regular-season opener against Minnesota.
The emergence of Keke and fourth-year veteran Montravius Adams helped enhance the depth on the defensive front prior to regaining Clark this past Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Keke knows he's not an uncommon threat anymore following his two-sack performance against New Orleans last month, but that's where counter moves come into play over the course of a 16-game regular season.
The Packers fell short in a 38-10 defeat last week but the defense is hopeful both the run defense and pass rush will be buoyed by Clark's return. Keke, for one, is excited to share the Packers' D-line with the fifth-year veteran moving forward.
"Having Ken-Dog is big for us," said Keke of Clark's return. "He's going to keep us rolling. Last game was his first game back, so I know he's getting back in shape more. I know he's going to be back doing his thing."
The Green Bay Packers practiced inside the Don Hutson Center on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
This weekend isn't just a happy-to-be-here moment for Keke playing his childhood team. He wants to factor into the defense generating more pressure and increasing its takeaways, starting this Sunday.
The Texans present a formidable foe, especially with Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson behind center, but this is a game Keke has had circled on his calendar since he was drafted by Green Bay 18 months ago.
"I looked on the schedule last year … so I marked it," Keke said. "It's special for me going back home. I had this in my mind. I'm happy to come back home and enjoy the game and play hard."