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MCGILL: Keller rediscovers love for football at Marshall

Blake Keller.
Sept. 20, 2016

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.Blake Keller, no longer a student-athlete, spent the night of Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 alone in his dormitory on the University of Central Florida campus. His former UCF football teammates were 859 miles away, in Louisville, Kentucky, playing the then-No. 8 Cardinals in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

Keller, in the aftermath of his midseason departure from the Knights’ football program as a true freshman, turned on the TV and watched his former position-mates chase Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater around the field. He cheered and he beamed as UCF pulled the upset, 38-35, over a top-10 team without his help.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was so happy to see them upset Louisville.”

Keller had quit the UCF football team 12 days earlier. On Oct. 5, 2013, the Knights won at Memphis, 24-17, and Keller had been a key defensive player with four tackles and two sacks. The next day, he chose to leave the team.

“I was literally miserable every day,” he said. “If I’m not having fun with something, I don’t want to do it. I played a great game at Memphis and I was still like, ‘Why am I doing this?’”



Now, three years later, Keller gets his shot at Louisville, which visits Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday night (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network). The Cardinals are ranked higher this time around (No. 3 in the Associated Press poll; No. 4 in the coaches’ poll), and they’re terrorizing FBS defenses through three games. Louisville (3-0) is No. 1 in total offense (678.3 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring offense (65.0 points per game).

That is a challenge Keller welcomes. It is validation for his circuitous journey to Huntington, West Virginia, and Marshall University, where he has already seen time as a team captain. In between his playing days at UCF and Marshall, he weighed 190-some pounds and was working as a valet in downtown Orlando.

Now Keller is a 6-foot-2, 231-pound redshirt junior defensive end who will be tasked with helping defend Louisville’s new Heisman frontrunner, Lamar Jackson. Like Bridgewater, Jackson is a quarterback. Like Bridgewater, Jackson is from Keller’s home state of Florida.

“There’s definitely a lot of similarities,” Keller said.

There is little the same about Keller, though. He is playing again and enjoys waking up and thinking about football. He adores his teammates and the Herd coaching staff. He has a particularly strong bond with team chaplain Steve Harvey, known around the football program as “Rev.”

Keller made the decision to return to college football in April 2014. He stepped foot in Huntington the next month, the competitive juices flowing, ready to join the Herd. He sat out that fall and played last season as a redshirt sophomore. Before the Akron game, Keller was named a team captain.

“I look back and wonder why I stopped sometimes,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at now. I love this place, I love this town and I love this game.”