September 25, 1998
COLUMBUS, Ohio – By Kim Parker, OSU Athletic Communications
When Matt Keller was playing for the Sharonville Screaming Eagles, he wasn’t overly concerned with beating Michigan or winning a National Championship. Instead, the seven-year-old was concentrating more on deciphering plays from his Pop Warner football coach and maintaining his balance.
“I still have films from that,” he recants, laughing. “My helmet was so heavy my head sagged to one side. My brother and I played running back, and my coach would come out and draw up plays for us in the dirt.”
“We sent him at an early age to play football,” his father David explains. “Sure we questioned if that was the thing to do, but he had the instincts and skills. He has a sixth sense about how to play. We didn’t want to see his potential fall by the wayside.”
Keller went on to find his balance and a dedication to hard work, which propelled him from Pop Warner, to high school, to starting fullback for the Buckeyes. Undoubtedly his perseverance and work ethic have brought him to the collegiate level. Yet, he has not been alone. His parents taught him the importance of working, and every victory he has is shared with them. “He never shied away from a challenge,” his mother, Mary, says.
Though football came naturally, Keller continued to practice and prepare in the off season for the battles on the field. After changing positions from tailback to fullback at Ohio State, he added 40 pounds, while successfully managing to retain his quickness. “I kept my speed and at 238 pounds I feel faster than I did at 190, something I think came through hard work.”
Seeking a way to remain fit in the offseason during high school, Keller took up lacrosse during his freshman year. Moving immediately to varsity, he held the high school scoring record at Cincinnati Moeller High School. “He wasn’t a finesse player,” his mother explains. “He gave a different look to the midfield since he was so big.”
Keller enjoyed a successful high school lacrosse career, earning All-America status during his senior year. He was recruited by such national Division I lacrosse powerhouses as Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Syracuse but realized, through discussions with his parents, that he needed to concentrate on his grades and playing football at Ohio State. His mother offers that “his success in football has filled the void left by lacrosse.”
“Matt made the commitment to play at Ohio State. The first time he went into the weight room, he saw Eddie George and told me that he had to get bigger,” his father says. “He knew how important getting stronger was to play on the college level.”
While Keller’s dedication to hard work is unquestionable, he is quick to point out that he is not alone in his work ethic; the entire team’s commitment has enabled them to achieve success. “We’re not afraid to work, to sweat. That’s how we are.”
Being part of a team and playing his role–blocking and giving more dimension to the fullback position–have always been an integral part of Keller’s success.
“I’ve always admired his enthusiasm for life,” his mother notes. “He had a coach in his junior year of high school that pushed him to reach the next level. He wants to make his teammates and coaches proud. His father and I have been proud of him for a very long time.”
Keller knew football was one of his strengths that he wished to cultivate as well as a sport he enjoyed, so playing and practicing was never a chore. “I always knew if I worked hard my goals would be obtained. I did my best in high school because I wanted to play football in college. Luckily, I received the chance to play at OSU.”
Spending time with his parents is one of his top priorities and Keller reflects many things they have passed on to him. “I can remember my dad out in the backyard playing Nerf football with all the kids,” Keller says. “And my mom has been at every game.”
His mother made her presence known during his high school games. “She had a cow bell which she’d ring,” he recalls. “The stands would be packed except in one area, the one around her, and I could look from the field and she’d be up there, ringing that bell.”
Growing up, Keller didn’t need any childhood heroes. His parents provided plenty of love and guidance to set him on the road to maturity and success. “I’ve never really patterned myself after someone. I was raised with the things that I needed and I didn’t have to look in other places.”
He gratefully acknowledges their kindness, saying, “as a kid, it was a wonderful feeling having people that support you so much. They have had a tremendous impact on my life. I will do anything for anyone, just as they have done for me.”
Keller’s value system, the high importance placed upon working hard, enables him to triumph over difficult situations he may encounter throughout his life. “I used to let things bother me for a long time. Now, I’ve come to realize that tomorrow is another day. When things are going badly, they will not continue like that forever.”
“We always told Matt to be yourself, play the game, have fun and relax while you’re playing. If, at the end of the game, you’ve played your hardest–even if you don’t win–the results are going to be good,” his mother says.
The significance he places on other characteristics also help define his character. “First and foremost, a person must be a hard worker.” He finishes his list of three qualities with honesty and trustworthiness. His demands are simple. They speak, however, to the larger importance of exemplifying what Keller sees in himself. His devotion indicates his knowledge of the rewards of hard work.
“He has a large family following that appreciates his hard work and dedication,” says his mother, and his father adds, “He has brought the family together.”
Matt Keller has reached this point in his life because he has followed his parents’ wishes, which have become his own in the process-he has worked every step of the way. Now, he is part of a team that has set its sights on winning the National Championship, and hard work is the stepping stone for that success.
Despite reaping those rewards, Keller does fear failure. It is not an obstacle, however; rather, it allows him to maintain his perspective and appreciate achievement.
He is initially at a loss for words when asked about his long journey from Pop Warner to Ohio State and his greatest accomplishment thus far. “When I was in my backyard catching a Nerf football, I never believed I would be catching a pass from Joe Germaine in the ‘Shoe. Right now, it’s just something I’ve dreamed about.”
He is relishing every moment, still deriving the same pleasures from playing the game at the collegiate level as on that of Pop Warner.
“It is so invigorating on Saturday running out in front of 97,000 fans. The OSU tradition is an experience every athlete must have,” his father surmises.
“My first time running out of the tunnel into the ‘Shoe is my best memory,” he says. “I was redshirted, had no tape on-I was just out there. I had goosebumps. I still get them to this day. It was the most amazing thing.”
Keller is the epitome of the ability to attain goals through hard work and the importance, and need, of fulfilling dreams. It has not been a singular journey, for his parents have supported him throughout; as a result, he graciously shares the values learned from them with whomever he meets.
Surely Keller will continue to triumph, inspiring those around him with his appreciative demeanor, certainty and enjoyment gained from pursuing what he loves. He also serves as a reminder that behind every dream realized is the importance and necessity of hard work. Some may even rephrase that sentiment to read that behind every dream realized is Matt Keller.