Friday, November 19, 1999

OSU's Keller dwells on positives

Moeller grad: 'I just wish things had gone better'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLUMBUS — Matt Keller is a man in pain.

        The Ohio State senior fullback from Moeller High has been in physical pain much of this football season with a sprained ankle that caused him to miss three starts and most of five games. But he has been in worse emotional pain as the Buckeyes have fallen to new lows on his watch as offensive captain.

        Keller says he has no regrets. But the Buckeyes' slide from national championship contender his first three years to a mediocre 6-5 squad this season grates like nothing else, especially because they've fallen in such humiliating fashion: Being blown out, and worse, as some guys seem to be giving up.

        As he prepares for what could be his final game as a Buckeye Saturday at Michigan, Keller has been pensive. He feels responsible for the slide.

        “I do, rightfully or wrongfully. I don't know if I should,” he said. “Me and Ahmed (Plummer, the defensive captain from Wyoming), this was supposed to be our team. It's not a big feeling of letdown on my part. I just wish things had gone better this year.”

        Keller has been more agitated in recent weeks. On Monday, he questioned some of his teammates' fire and passion, though he was quick to point out most guys are giving their all.

        After Ohio State's 23-7 loss two weeks ago at Michigan State, Keller was so frustrated he came back to his home in Mason and went hunting with an old buddy as a release. “I just needed to get out of Dodge a little bit,” he said.

        “It's amazing how easy it is when things are going good. It's difficult (when they're not). It's hard to regain that feeling of when things are going well. The big thing is just frustration. It's something you've got to work through.”

        But former Ohio State guard Rob Murphy, dismissed from the team in June because of grade problems, says he believes despite the losing, most Buckeyes “respect Matt and Ahmed so much, they'd do anything. I don't question the leadership. I feel bad for them. That's my class.”

        A tailback at Moeller, Keller never thought he'd play at Ohio State. He wasn't recruited heavily by big schools, but Ohio State called and offered a scholarship. After redshirting as a freshman, he was asked to move to fullback the next year, and he bulked up and was the starter as a sophomore.

        He has been there mostly ever since, earning a reputation as a good pass-catcher and solid blocker, though undersized for a fullback at 6-feet, 238 pounds.

        The good times were good. Two seasons when the Bucks finished 11-1 and No.2 in the national polls. One season in between when they were 10-3. Two bowl wins, including the thrilling comeback to win the 1996 Rose Bowl. A 69-yard touchdown catch in OSU's '96 win over Purdue. Being voted a captain by his teammates this year.

        This season, Keller has rushed only eight times for 37 yards and caught eight passes for 130 yards, including a touchdown last week in a 46-20 loss to Illinois.

        “It's kind of hard to believe it's coming to an end,” Keller said. “Just being affiliated with Ohio State has been great.”

        Keller plans to make a run at the NFL, and find a job in sales or whatever comes along if that doesn't work. What he will remember is not the downs of this season, but the ups of everything else.

        “It's the whole deal,” he said. “The people you meet, the type of work ethic that's instilled in you, knowing you're in one of the top programs and knowing you were able to succeed, playing in the (Horse) Shoe. It's everything.

        “I have no regrets leaving here, even if things don't come out ahead. I think that's what's going to help. If I leave here with my teammates respecting me, maybe the record doesn't matter.”


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