Keller helping the West Coast offense fly at Nebraska
Posted: Thursday September 6, 2007 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday September 6, 2007 3:26PM
A white sleeve stood out in stark contrast to Sam Keller's bright red jersey as he ran out onto the field at Memorial Stadium last Saturday. Hugging his left arm, the tight sleeve ran from the Nebraska quarterback's upper left arm and down to his wristband. It's an accessory with a purpose.
Make no mistake, Keller is proud of what lies underneath that sleeve: a mural of tattoos containing angels and crosses which he began as a tribute to a high school friend that died in a car crash. But upon his arrival in Lincoln he began wearing the arm cover, not to hide the tattoos, but as a show of humility.
"You don't want to be flashy, you don't want to draw attention to yourself," said Keller, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Arizona State. "I never want to do that, so I just wear the sleeve."
He'd been labeled "talented but cocky" and "a self-absorbed risk taker." But as Keller took his first snaps as Nebraska's starting quarterback, there was something different. The sleeve, something he didn't wear at Arizona State, stuck out. It was gleaming, clean and unsullied -- much like the start he'd found in Lincoln following the bizarre ending to his time in Tempe last August.
The parties involved are still unwilling to discuss the full details of what happened in Tempe on Aug. 19, 2006, but this much is certain: a day after naming Keller the starting quarterback, Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter met with Rudy Carpenter and his father, sought out the team's input, then announced that he had erred in his decision and instead named Carpenter as the starter. "It's simple," Koetter said at the time. "I made a mistake on the quarterback situation and I'm changing my mind." It's been rumored that the Carpenters issued an ultimatum saying Rudy, who had three years of eligibility, would transfer if the decision wasn't overturned.
"I don't know any stories that anybody else talks about," Keller said. "All I know is that they chose to go a different rout with the other quarterback and I had to leave town."
Keller's father, Mike, a sports management consultant and former NFL player and assistant general manager, began searching for teams in need of a quarterback with one year of eligibility, and by late August Keller was in Nebraska ready to begin a new under a coach who had seen the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder long before he threw for 3,018 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 19 games at Arizona State.
When Bill Callahan was coaching the Oakland Raiders, he had his Friday nights free. "I would go out and watch the area high schools play," he said.
Callahan watched his son, Brian, a quarterback at De La Salle (Concord), and two Danville quarterbacks: Kyle Wright (Monte Vista) and Keller (San Ramon Valley). "I always knew [Keller] was a talent and followed him at great lengths," Callahan said.
Now it was Keller who had gone to great lengths, moving some 1,400 miles, to play for Callahan in a West Coast offense that would serve as the perfect vehicle to show NFL scouts what he can do at the next level. Keller arrived in Nebraska with publicity and a stigma as hired gun, but he was quick to show his teammates he was just another player. Instead of sitting out and simply learning the offense during his NCAA-mandated year off, he put his ego on the backburner and quarterbacked the scout team.
"When you come in with all that fluff and all those things in the newspaper, that's fine and great, but when you're coming into a situation with new teammates, that stuff really doesn't matter," he said. "So I kind of had to go back to ground zero and start working from there, working from the bottom up."