Ryan Keiper, football player for The Citadel. RUSSELL K. PACE

Ryan Keiper spent summer 2009 in El Salvador, living in a hut and designing a new well water system for the village of Tierra Blanca.

The engineering major at The Citadel will play fullback Saturday in Arizona Stadium. But two years ago, he teamed with Clemson students and Engineers Without Borders in the name of safe drinking water.

"The biggest hurdle has been getting systems in place that people can use and fix and work well in their own cultures," he said. "El Salvador was littered with broken-down systems. These people don't have a Lowe's where they can just go pick up a bolt."

The key, he said, is building a well locals can manage for years. Keiper, 22, has consigned to Water Missions International the patent rights to water-purifying equipment he designed.

The experience inspired a Fulbright Scholarship application to study water management at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. He was named a finalist.

"I realized what a big problem it is now," he said, "and what it will be in the future."

The fifth-year senior is used to having a different college experience. The Pennsylvanian also considered and the Air Force Academy, but was lured to the Palmetto State by a strong engineering program.

"It's a unique lifestyle," he said. "We present the vision of what this is going to do for you when you get out."

Based in Charleston, S.C., The Citadel has a Corps of Cadets of about 2,000 undergraduate students who operate in a military system, but without a direct link to a specific branch. About one-third of Citadel graduates accept military commissions.

Coach Kevin Higgins said his team has "four or five" players join every year.

"The rest of our guys," he said, "will go on to be doctors, lawyers, teachers."

The Corps of Cadets is broken into 19 companies that must live together in barracks. Keiper, a 3.8 GPA student, served as the leader of Bravo Company and was in charge of a 40-person platoon. He kept an eye on everything from formations to grades to uniforms.

When Keiper graduated in May, he received the John O. Willson Ring, given to the finest member of the class.

Like the 1,000 or so Citadel graduate students, Keiper is a civilian. He won't join the military.

He's now allowed houseguests, as living off-campus has its privileges. "Being able to go on a Thursday night and hang out with friends, have friends over," he said.

In addition to taking nine hours of graduate classes, he's learning a new offense.

After running the spread, the Division I-AA program switched to the triple option.

Keiper had six carries Saturday for a 26 yards, topping his career total.

"We can find a niche from a recruiting standpoint and get kids that perhaps others aren't taking," Higgins said. "We feel we can get those guys, and they can be successful in the system."

Keiper said "every peewee player dreams of playing in the kind of atmosphere" the Arizona Wildcats will provide Saturday.

Keiper is excited, but knows it's not the most important thing in the world.

"We go into it like we do any other game, with a businesslike atmosphere," he said. "We're here to win."


• Who: Ryan Keiper, 22, fifth-year senior

• From: Allentown, Pa.

• Height, weight: 6-0, 205

• Position: Fullback

• Notable: Named finalist for Fulbright Scholarship, majoring in civil engineering