In sports, you hear of heart-stopping moments: the thrill of a buzzer-beater, cheers from a crowd brought to their feet, or the last-second goal that propels a team to victory.
Christian Heritage Academy (CHA) soccer center defensive midfielder Keegan Acres (Class of 2022) is a fan of those types of moments. He loves the challenge, hard work, and thrill of competitive sports.
However, Acres came uncomfortably close to experiencing his own heart-stopping moment—and not the fun kind.
Diagnosed during his senior year with atrial fibrillation (AFib), arrhythmias began to interfere with Acres’s daily activities, including the strength training and practice needed to stay on top of his game with college recruiters paying attention.
Thankfully, he was able to undergo heart ablation, a procedure that scars heart tissue to block irregular electrical signals. While it took two attempts and also sidelined him for three and a half months, it proved successful. Today, Acres’s heart is functioning just as it should, and he is thrilled to be back to doing what he loves.
On April 5, 2022, surrounded by some of his biggest fans, Acres officially signed a letter of intent to play soccer at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in Marion, Ind., beginning in 2022-23. “At IWU, I hope to make an impact right away,” he said.
“We’re very excited to have Keegan sign with us,” said IWU head men’s soccer coach Matt Reeb. “We feel that he will be a great fit for us both on and off the field. He is a very gifted center mid with excellent vision and range of passing and comes from a strong playing background.”
Acres’s ability to see the whole field, take control, and play both defensively and offensively are some of the reasons he has excelled playing center defensive midfield at CHA. “This position gives me a lot of different utilities to use throughout the field,” he said.
Coach Reeb was also impressed by Acres’s desire to make a difference in the lives of his teammates. “Keegan expressed a strong desire to love, encourage, and disciple his brothers on the team,” said Reeb. “We feel very strongly about his future here at IWU.”
The fact that IWU kept pursuing Acres, even while he was sidelined, was instrumental in the college decision-making process. “Being unable to do what I love to do took a toll on me,” Acres said. “Now that everything is set in stone and my heart is better, I can look back and see that maybe [the sidelining] wasn’t what I wanted, but it was God’s plan for opening and shutting doors.”
Between his interactions with Reeb, encouraging conversations with some of IWU’s current soccer players, and understanding of the team’s forward momentum, Acres looks with anticipation to the next four years. Though he is still unsure of his major, he is considering business or education. “I’m very happy to be committing to IWU,” Acres said. “God made it very clear.”
With the success of the second heart ablation, Acres is eager to begin playing at the collegiate level. “I’m so glad that I’m able to have a good heart for college, be fit, and be 100 percent able to bring my best,” he said.
Acres’s parents, Jason and Terri, have been steadily praying for their son through the years. A verse that Mrs. Acres brought to his attention during the heart situation was Ezekial 11:9 – And I will give them one heart and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh. (ESV)
“[That verse] meant a lot to me after reading it more and more,” Acres said. “God will take away all our troubles, trials, and imperfections when we get to heaven—we’ll be just like Him. And it’s really nice to realize that He has us in his hands and is able to do great things with us, no matter what.”
Acres’s confidence is due, in part, to the five years he’s been a student at CHA. “I think I’ve really made some lifelong friends here—I know who’s going to stick with me and who I’ll stick with to help lead me in the right direction.”
Just one of the influential people in Acres’s life is his CHA soccer coach—who also happens to be his dad. Coach Acres, who played soccer professionally with the Rockford Raptors and the Chicago Stingers, has had a keen vantage point. “My dad knows how to push me, and he knows my limits,” the younger Acres said. “Our relationship has grown with him being my coach, and how he challenges me as both a man and a soccer player.”
Acres also speaks to the support that he has received from teachers at CHA. “The teachers always pour into you and they are doing it in your best interest,” he said. Likewise, he looks forward to being mentored by faculty at IWU, as he has heard about the similar culture there.
While it is bittersweet to see graduates move on, it is not the end of the road.
Jeff Cook, CHA’s director of athletics, said that Acres has been a great leader on the team. “I’m excited that Keegan is going to be close by so that we can see him play and follow his career,” said Coach Cook. “He’s ready. He’s just so ready.”