TERRE HAUTE —
Nic Keller isn’t without answers very often, either on the football field or in the classroom, but there was one question the Terre Haute South senior had trouble answering earlier this week.
What is his main position?
“Tight end slash defensive end is what I say when I’m asked,” the 6-foot-2, 210-pound two-way standout said. “Wherever [the coaches] need me.
“Last week I was used more on offense, but other weeks I’ll be used more on defense,” Keller continued, “and with injuries we’ve had this year, I’ve played more both ways — but I’m fine with that. It’s my senior year. I’ll take as much time on the field as I can take.”
Asked which side of the ball he preferred, Keller was stumped a second time.
“If [the coaches] asked me, I wouldn’t be able to say [if I liked offense or defense better],” he answered.
“I like defense, flying around and hitting people, but on offense I like the feeling of being able to do whatever we want, lining up and knowing what we’re going to do and executing it.”
Keller’s offensive half — the cerebral side that enjoys the cat-and-mouse game of trying to outwit the opponent’s defense — is what coach Mark Raetz will probably remember most.
“He’s an extremely smart kid and a smart football player,” the coach pointed out this week. “He’s a two-year starter, on both sides of the ball, and he’s one of the players who truly appreciates the intricacies of schemes and strategies. He does a very good job picking up things, and he helps his teammates do the same.”
Although he said most of his work last week was on offense, Keller had a defensive play that was huge. He recovered a fumble at the 7-yard line to set up the touchdown that gave the Braves a 13-10 third-quarter lead over second-ranked Ben Davis.
He didn’t take much of the credit for it, however.
“That was more [defensive lineman] Junior Berry,” Keller said. “He drove the [Ben Davis] center back into the running back and forced the fumble. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
That the Braves weren’t able to hold that lead against Ben Davis — or the fact that they let a close first half slip away for a deceptively one-sided loss at top-ranked Carmel two weeks earlier — was disappointing to Keller. Those games also represented something good about the Braves though, he indicated.
“We don’t like to use the words ‘moral victory,’ but after those two games we know we can compete against anybody in the state,” he said. “We’ve shown that our offense can drive down the field, and we’ve shown that our defense can stop anybody if we read our keys. We’ll be playing our best ball at the sectionals.”
Keller and the Braves are looking to get their first Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference victory soon, preferably tonight in the homecoming game against Indianapolis North Central. It’s a game that has particular meaning for Keller, who was injured at North Central last season and missed the second half of the game, and for all the Braves, who played their worst game of the 2011 season there.
“I need redemption this week,” Keller said, “plus our team needs redemption. We’d beaten [North Central] two years in a row, and then we go up there and play like that [in a 47-0 loss].”
Competing — and winning — in the MIC is one of the things Keller will eventually miss about high school football, that and “coming out every day and joking around with the other players and coaches and still doing work,” he added.
Whether he’ll be missing football entirely is still uncertain. He’s getting more college interest as a discus thrower than as a football player right now, and various school and career options could determine whether he’ll be a college athlete at all.
But since Keller is coming off a straight-A trimester and is easily in the top 10 percent of his graduating class, he’ll be able to choose whatever option he wants.
Just don’t ask him to choose between offense and defense.