Keller Exudes Confidence for Bowl Game

In the Arizona game, the writing was on the wall. Backup quarterback Sam Keller won't crumble under pressure. An inspiring effort by the sophomore, who was thrust into action following Andrew Walter's shoulder injury, has proven to coaches and fans alike that he is ready for his first start, which will take place at a bowl game yet to be determined.

Sam Keller didn't deny that his performance in Tucson last week did result in a confidence boost, as he gets ready to prepare for his first ever post-season experience. "I always had the confidence to go out there and be able to do a good job," he said. "Especially this year, priding myself on knowing the game plan really well and performing in practice. There's nothing like getting in there in a game – that was big for me."

The former San Ramon Valley (Calif.) high school star, recalled his emotions as he saw Walter injured in the fourth quarter. "I saw him on his back," Keller said. "I checked him out for a few seconds. I just grabbed my helmet, got the play, and we didn't skip a beat."

Indeed, no momentum was lost after Keller was inserted into action. Six plays later, he connected with roommate Jamaal Lewis for a touchdown. On the team's last possession, a dropped ball on fourth down prevented him from possibly engineering a fourth quarter comeback. All this despite Arizona's best efforts to rattle him early and often.

"When I first got in there, they brought in everything," he commented. "I probably could have gotten the ball out a lot quicker. I guess you can attribute that to a little bit of nerves. I just wanted to get the ball out, and let someone else make a play. Keep the drive going…if you get a sack or throw it away it's not really helping."

Following his touchdown pass, the sophomore did believe that the maroon and gold were capable of coming away with the win. While there's obvious disappointment over the loss, Keller can take solace in his 8-13 passing for 94 yards. "I felt like I performed, but I didn't do everything perfect," he said as he critiqued his showing. "Every time you watch game film, there's gonna be things you can improve on. But just looking at the throws I made and how I handled it, I was pleased. I would love to win the game first and foremost, but it was something to build on."

Time usually can heel the wounds of defeat, and Keller did affirm that notion. "We had our banquet on Saturday, which was nice," he stated. "Me and the team are just trying to forget that U of A game. There's nothing we can do about it now – we're looking ahead. We're taking this week to take the pads and helmets off, relax a little bit, and go out there and run. We have practices Friday and Saturday. We're not sure of who we're playing yet, but it will be good to go out there and get some work done."

Pegging Keller as the starter in 2005 is the popular notion among the maroon and gold. Thus, does he consider the start at the bowl game as a chance that just came a bit earlier than expected? "That's what it's turning into," he agreed. "It's good for me for next season to get a solid game under my belt – I'll know what to expect. I'm looking forward to it – it will be a fun game. Not many times do you get to start your first game at a bowl game."

"It's new, and it's probably gonna start sinking in once I start practicing and actually being the guy taking all the snaps," Keller continued. "It will make it a lot better for me. It will get me used to the speed, and prepare me that much better."

On the surface, his first ever start could generate low expectations from some fans who are probably willing to give Keller the benefit of the doubt. However, the sophomore's aspirations are quite different. "I know that I expect a lot from myself," he commented. "I'm going into this bowl game expecting to perform and expecting to win. That's all I can think about. I'm not gonna think about anybody else or expectations. One thing I'm able to do is to go out and play. I'm gonna learn the game plan and go out and win for the 13 seniors and give us a jump start into the next season."

Being a backup signal caller doesn't always guarantee adequate training. Then again, one can assume that Keller had a great advantage being tutored by one of the better quarterbacks in the country in Andrew Walter. "You look at everything he did," he explained, "and I had the front row seat to how he prepared, how he was in practice... everything he did good I can take from that. In the same sense, I'm a lot different than Andrew. There's a lot of different stuff that I do. But everything good he did, I can take that and it will help me. He's a great guy and a great friend." Keller added that he hasn't seen Walter since the banquet, but they did talk at length during that Saturday function. "He's definitely someone I'll go to if I need anything."

The 2004 campaign didn't necessarily start on the right foot for Keller, who confirmed that his Camp Tontozona showing was one he'd like to forget. "I was trying too hard to show myself and the coaches how much better I got from last season. I think that (since then) I relaxed a little bit and understood that I'm gonna get better as the weeks go on. During the season, it's about watching film, talking to Andrew, understanding the game plan."

As a backup quarterback, Keller never felt like his role was less important, and he treated his preparation with the outmost seriousness. "Being the second quarterback in practice they still gave me a lot of reps and chances to study the game plan," he said. "Being the #2 guy you have to go out there every week and prepare yourself for anything drastic that can happen. I stayed focused. I think I did a good job, and pretending, if anything, to be the starter."

Keller admitted that have such a great complement of wide receivers will only make his life easier, and he doesn't expect any painful growing pains due to perceived lack of reps with the first teamers. "You look at all of our receivers," he commented. "Those guys are good and all back next year too. We're gonna get out there and throw, and I'll get extra work just for being the first guy. Before, I still got to throw to them. They're still good buddies of mine, we've got out there and we've thrown. My timing with them can only get better and it will."

The sophomore got his first extensive action in last year's UCLA game, where just like this season's Arizona contest, saw Walter go down with an injury. Keller was 11 for 21 and 79 yards in Pasadena, and by his own admission was far from spectacular. This is why he's elated that the Arizona game has shown him how much further he has come along.

"Those are my only two experiences of really getting thrown into there," he stated. "The other times it was mop-up duty. That (UCLA) wasn't good. When I think about when I'm thrown into a game, when the game is on the line, all I have to judge myself on is that game. Now that I have this game (Arizona) where I was a little bit more successful, and it helps in my confidence. If I get thrown into another game, or now that I'm starting, that's how I'm gonna play."

As some Sun Devil fans may recall, Keller de-committed from Michigan, where his father Mike was an All-American, before committing to ASU in January of 2003. He said that he believed he was going to Michigan for the wrong reasons, and although it was a hard resolution to make, being a Sun Devil is the best decision he made. "I like the offense. I love Arizona. It looked like a place I would be comfortable at, close enough to home, and have a good time. The whole atmosphere really drew me. If you're comfortable – you'll play good." He did however downplay the impact that the legendary ASU co-eds may have had on his decision. "I have a girlfriend (smile)…"

Keller does enjoy a lot of support from his family, from the time he decided to come to Tempe and until recently following the loss to U of A. "Dad took it real well," he said when discussing his de-commitment from Michigan. "He bleeds maze and blue. But he's my dad, and he was very supportive. I couldn't ask for a better situation to go down as well as it did."

"My mom was proud (following the Arizona game). My dad always talks to me about what I could have done. But the general feeling is that they were proud of the way I played. I could tell by my dad's face that he feels good about how I'll do in the future."

Having the pigskin in the Kellers' blood is a benefit that Sam will always value. "It helps," he remarked. "My dad never brings up his football days. He lets the coaches coach. That's the important thing. If there's something I want to talk about as far as football goes, I'll go to coach Koetter or (quarterbacks) coach Helfrich. He's just supportive. Being in football all my life has just help me understand the game that much better from an intangible standpoint."

Keller relishes in playing quarterback at a school like ASU, where the quarterback isn't regulated to the proverbial concept of just take care of the ball. One can sense the flow of adrenalin in his words when he talks about this topic. "I love it," he exclaimed. "Put the ball in my hands and make plays, that what makes it fun. I can't wait to go out there and do it myself. I still think I have a lot to work on in my mechanics. This season I think I got more mature, my decision-making processing got better. I think I understand the flow of the game a little better. My confidence is better. If those things are in place, you'll be able to play well in the quarterback position."

There are many reasons why a victory in the bowl game will be invaluable. And while most of those reasons relate more to the future of the program, the factor that Keller holds in a very high regard is one that is tied to the present. "These 13 seniors have done a lot, not just for me or the team, but for the whole program," he explained. "In the spring and during the whole year we had these leadership groups, and our seniors took total control of the team. They deserve more than anybody I've ever known to get a victory and go out winners. I'll do everything I can to get that for them."

Sam Keller isn't thinking of the bowl game as a tool that can give him a leg up on the quarterback competition next year. All of his attention is devoted to the last game of this season, and how special it is that his first ever start will be of the post-season variety.

"I thought it (starting) was going to happen eventually," he said. "Every football player thinks about the best situation – that's what keeps you going. I knew that someday I was gonna be in a bowl game, and I know we're gonna be in bowl games in the future. Being a starting quarterback – I had dreams about it ever since I was a little kid. It's really neat that it's happening right now. I'm just living it. Now I got to get ready."

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