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<i>This feature story is from the August 2004 issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, <a href=http://northcarolina.scout.com/3/icmag.html>CLICK HERE</A>.</i>

A Legend in Half the Time
In only two years, Chris Keldorf left quite a mark on Chapel Hill. During his brief tenure as a Tar Heel, the stately quarterback led North Carolina to a remarkable 21-3 record and littered the school record books.

Inside Carolina Magazine
August, 2004
WORDS: Jack Morton
PHOTOS: Jamie Squire/Al Bello/Ted Mathias

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s Chris Keldorf ('98) drives along Interstates 5, 8, 15, and others across Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona, he is a world away from the savory, green sod of Kenan Stadium and the powder blue armor that shielded his 6-4 frame.

The former Tar Heel quarterback now sells Nike Team gear to high school and college athletic programs and spends far more time in his car than his home in Hermosa Beach, California. Seems an appropriate means of working for a man that has persistently made the necessary moves and transfers to reach his ultimate goals, be it between the hashes or in a suit and tie. It has been years since the former First Team All-ACC dignitary visited Chapel Hill, but he fondly reminisces about his days at Carolina at the drop of a hat, and excitedly expresses his intent to return, perhaps this coming fall.

"I really need to get back to Chapel Hill," Keldorf said. "I should get back there more often, looking back on it. It's such an amazing place, and it all goes to show that if you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard, you can achieve pretty much anything."

Keldorf graduated from Saint Bernard High School in Manhattan Beach, California in 1992, a three-year starter at quarterback for the varsity football team. Having a niche for the position, he began focusing on quarterbacking as a 6-2 freshman, and after growing two inches prior to his junior year, he started to realize that football could take him to college.

"I was a big Dan Marino fan growing up," Keldorf remarked. "I really admired his grit and leadership abilities, and his toughness. He was everything I wanted to be in a quarterback."

As a sophomore, Keldorf started receiving attention from Pac- 10 schools, and the attention spread nationally throughout his junior campaign. As a senior, he signed with Cal-Berkley, but was dropped unexpectedly, thus beginning a series of moves and transfers.

"I went to Utah State briefly, and then transferred to Palomar Junior College in San Diego, where I spent two years," Keldorf said. "During my sophomore year I had pretty heavy interest from San Diego State, Southern Cal, and Ohio State, but I also got a call from Mack Brown. I committed immediately after my visit to North Carolina in December of '95."

Keldorf was drawn to Chapel Hill, as many are, by the quaint yet feverish atmosphere, the charm of a small college town blended to perfection with the impassioned environment of ACC athletics. According to Keldorf "everything felt right," and he enrolled in January of 1996. After a productive spring competing with Oscar Davenport for the job under center, Keldorf sensed that he, and the team, had nothing to lose entering the fall of '96.


"The expectations for me to succeed were pretty low, to be honest," Keldorf laughed. "But to come out like we did against Clemson, man, that got everyone's attention really quickly."

The Tar Heels demolished the Tigers, 45-0, behind Keldorf in the home opener at Kenan, followed by a win on the road at ninthranked Syracuse, UNC's first on the road against a Top Ten team in 30 years, and then beat Georgia Tech in Kenan. At 3-0, Carolina's visit to Tallahassee was highly anticipated, but the wet weather and stalwart Seminole defense were too much to overcome, and the Tar Heels lost a well-played game, 13-0. Five consecutive wins followed, and an 8-1 Carolina squad traveled to Charlottesville for a cold November meeting with Virginia and a potential trip to the Orange Bowl on the line. With their destiny in their own frigid hands, the visiting Tar Heels marched down the field late in the game, an additional field goal or touchdown sealing their fate. What happened next still baffles the former Carolina signal caller.

"Why we're throwing on 3rd down on their three-yard line, I still don't know," Keldorf chuckled. "Octavus [Barnes] was supposed to run a slant, but there was some sort of mix-up. Next thing I know, Antwan Harris [Virginia cornerback] steps right in a takes it 96 yards for the score, and totally reversed the momentum. It still confuses me to this day, because we only needed three–six or seven would've been gravy. Oh, well."

Following the deflating 20-17 loss to the Cavaliers, the Tar Heels traveled to Durham for the seemingly customary, annual victory over Duke. Keldorf's nightmarish November continued, however, when a Duke defender rolled over his right ankle, resulting in a fracture dislocation. The junior watched a 27-10 Carolina victory from a stretcher on the sideline, a vantage point he maintained five weeks later as Carolina defeated Amos Zereoue and West Virginia, 20-13, in the Toyota Gator Bowl, finishing the season 10-2 and tied for second in the ACC. Keldorf was named First Team All-ACC.

"The expectations were completely different going into my senior year," said Keldorf, reflecting on the summer and fall of 1997. "Writers were talking about the Heisman and the national championship; it was a world away from the previous fall."

Oscar Davenport had played well in Keldorf's absence in the Duke victory and the Gator Bowl win, and coach Mack Brown seemed content to approach the season with a two-headed monster at quarterback. Davenport, a junior, could scramble with his athleticism and deliver the ball with accuracy. Keldorf was a stoic presence in the pocket, and what he lacked in mobility he made up with in arm strength, able to accurately hit a moving target with a deep bomb. After three months of rehabilitation, Keldorf ultimately started seven of Carolina's 12 games, and never held resentment for the situation.

"Oscar could've started practically anywhere in the country, he was that dynamic," Keldorf stated. "You can't look over your shoulder if your pass falls incomplete, wondering if you're going to get yanked. Coach Brown made the best decision for himself, and we knew going into any given game that we could win if we'd just play to our expectations, regardless of who started at quarterback."


Keldorf credits former offensive coordinator Greg Davis for much of his success in Chapel Hill. Davis, according to Keldorf, was a "great coach because he was able to tell you the why of a situation, whether or not what you had done was good or bad." Behind the QB duo, the Tar Heels roared to an 8-0 start. On Oct. 4, Keldorf set a single-game UNC record by throwing for 415 yards at Texas Christian, and he engineered the Tar Heels' first win in Death Valley since 1980 when they beat Clemson, 17-10, near season's end. In early November, the Tar Heels found themselves nationally ranked in the top five heading for an early-November home encounter with Florida State. Set among a frenzied climate of 62,000 fans— never before seen at Kenan Stadium—the anticipation was overwhelming for the contest pitting the second- and fifth-ranked teams in the country.

"The build-up of hype all week long almost made it nerve-racking," Keldorf recalled. "Nov. 8, 1997, it was the biggest game I've ever played in, no doubt. FSU came hard and hurt Oscar in the second quarter, and I tried to step in and right the ship, but we just couldn't get it together. But, that night was what college football is all about, with excitement surrounding the allure of two topfive teams squaring off."

Carolina lost the game, 20-3, and won their final two regular season games under Brown before he departed for Texas in December. Under the guidance of former defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, the Heels dismantled Virginia Tech, 42-3, in the Toyota Gator Bowl, and Keldorf's 290 yards passing and three touchdowns garnered him the game's MVP trophy. Carolina finished the year 11-1, fourth in the final coaches' poll and sixth in the final Associated Press poll, having spent the entire season in the Top 10. Keldorf had set school records (since surpassed by Darian Durant), in only two seasons, for career touchdown passes (35), career completions per game (15.25), and completions per game in a season (18.3). In 1996, Keldorf threw only five interceptions in 338 attempts and torched opposing defenses for 23 touchdowns (school record), one of the most superb individual, single-season performances in school history. Throughout the 1997 season, he split time with Davenport, only to lead the Tar Heels to three victories to end the season. Keldorf ranks sixth in school history in career passing yardage (3,795), second in career touchdown passes (35), fourth in career completion percentage (.588), and his career pass efficiency rating (137.05) is good for third in the record books. Over his two years in Chapel Hill, Keldorf joined Davenport in leading the Tar Heels to a record of 21-3, tied with the 1980 and '81 seasons as the finest twoyear span in UNC history.

Nate Hobgood-Chittick ('98), a former teammate and current next-door neighbor of Keldorf, adamantly credited the quarterback with the football program's resurgence in 1996-97. Hobgood-Chittick, who recently signed as a defensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals, lived with center Jeff Saturday ('98) and Keldorf in Chapel Hill.

"Chris was one of the main forces that turned that program around, and I hope the Carolina fans over the years will recognize the impact he had," said Hobgood-Chittick. "Tar Heels everywhere need to realize that his incredible statistics in the record books came in only two seasons, not four.

"He's such a quality guy and has an amazing work ethic. Knowing him was one of the greatest highlights of my years in Chapel Hill."

Keldorf experimented with a different brand of football a year after graduating, and although he enjoyed the pace of the game, he realized the time was right for other pursuits.

"I tried out for several NFL teams in '98, but nothing really panned out," Keldorf said. "After graduating, I worked for ESPN for a year as a production assistant, but still had the football itch, so I signed on with the New England Sea Wolves."


"Chris was one of the main forces that turned that program around, and I hope the Carolina fans over the years will recognize the impact he had."

Keldorf spent a season as a backup quarterback in the Arena Football League, thoroughly enjoying the fast-paced action of the game, which he referred to as a "quarterback's dream" due to the constant throwing and quick decision-making. After returning to Hermosa Beach, he spent four years with Student Sports as their events director, organizing the Nike football camp and the Elite 11 quarterback camps. He continues to work for Nike in his current capacity.

"My days at Carolina definitely helped me with my current job," Keldorf explained. "People are always interested in my college years, curious about UNC. It's a great conversation starter."

Chris Keldorf continues to cruise the interstates of the west coast, a world away from his two years in Chapel Hill. However, it is the fondness for those two years that makes him laugh, in and out of an unstable cell phone signal.

"Man, I've got to get back," said Keldorf, with a

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twinge of longing. "There is nothing more beautiful than Chapel Hill on a football Saturday."


Jack Morton (jmmorton00@aol.com) is the publications coordinator at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, N.C.


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