When you’re a freshman quarterback at one of Ohio’s best high school football programs, you know eventually the eyes of Ohio State are going to be on you. That’s just one of the reasons that Toledo Whitmer’s Riley Keller, a 6-foot, 185-pound prospect in the class of 2020, is worth watching over the next few years.
His father, Justin, is the school’s quarterbacks coach. So, as the “coach’s kid,” the pressure increases a bit. What about the fact his cousin is two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? That cranks up those expectations even higher.
Some of that may be easy to ignore, but when you throw those things into a pile, it’s still just pressure in theory. Add to it the fact that the freshman, who entered the season as the backup quarterback on Whitmer’s varsity squad to senior Shoe Sanders, was thrown into the starting role in the second quarter of the first game of the year?
Now that’s pressure. But that moment? It didn’t seem to faze Keller.
“He came in and took charge from the first play he went in,” Brandon Carter, the defensive backs coach for Whitmer, told Land of 10. “He’s mature beyond his years. His poise is off the charts for being 14 years old. We were playing Walsh Jesuit Week 1 and he came in when the starting quarterback got hurt. He moved the ball up and down the field the rest of the night like it was nothing. On one of his touchdowns, he looked the safety off and threw a fade up the opposite sideline for a score.
“Fourteen-year-old freshmen making their first varsity appearance just don’t do things like that.”
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t nervous. Keller will admit to that. But he said the nerves didn’t last long.
“I was quite nervous,” Keller conceded about that first game. “But I feel like all those nerves make me play better. After that first snap, or hit, it all goes away for me.”
A Division I-level talent, Keller already has two scholarship offers. His hometown Toledo Rockets and the Ole Miss Rebels have each picked up on his skills early. His 6-foot-4 father was a Division I pitcher at Bowling Green, where his mother was a track and field athlete. So he’s working with quite a gene pool, and he’s got good advice coming to him from all sides, including his NFL cousin.
“We are pretty close, I’d say,” Keller said of Roethlisberger. “I go to visit quite often. I’ll actually be in Pittsburgh this weekend for the Dallas game. He invited me and my dad to come to training camp, which we went to back in June. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life by far.”
Though he’s not as tall as the 6-foot-5 Roethlisberger, Keller should add a few inches before his recruitment reaches its end. Until then, he said, the similarities between the two are more in their style of play.
“I think we could be pretty comparable,” he said. “The way we escape the pocket and make big throws down field. The advice he’s been giving me is just to keep working hard.”
That part doesn’t appear to be a problem. His father’s tutelage has his game ahead of his age, and he’s got a work-ethic to match.
“He works his butt off everyday and doesn’t expect anything given to him; that’s why he’s so special,” Carter said. “Part of that comes from his parents. They’re very down to earth and just well-rounded. They’re a blue-collar family that isn’t afraid to work hard. The Big Ben thing? It just adds to his savvy. He has been groomed to play quarterback since he was young. Being around Ben, taking him to training camp with him, seeing how Ben and the rest of the guys work? That has instilled the work ethic in him from the start.”
What about recruiting? Whitmer is basically a border school in Toledo, right on the Ohio and Michigan divide. Let’s cut to it: Is he a Buckeyes fan or a Wolverines fan?
“My family grew up Ohio State fans,” Keller said. “But, once my dad had a few former players go to different schools, we have been watching them. Like Chris Wormley is up at Michigan.”
As noted, Toledo and Ole Miss have offered, and there’s been no contact with Ohio State. But there is plenty of time to get that interest from the Buckeyes. Until then, Keller said he’s going to be focusing on his game.
“My dad has been helping me with my development,” Keller speaking of his strengths and opportunities. “I feel like I am capable of making plays when they break down. Scrambling and either tucking the ball away, or running or throwing. I need to work on my running ability and just getting more accurate with the football.”
Expect to hear a lot about Keller over the next few seasons. The question is whether the Buckeyes, who have their quarterback situation sorted out through the 2018 class, see him as an option. He is looking at them, though, among others.
“Ohio State is a great program,” Keller said. “They haven’t showed any interest, yet. I’m hoping they do, though.”