CAMP TONTOZONA - Some quarterback controversies destroy a friendship and poison a locker room. Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter won’t let that happen. In fact, the only thing Arizona State’s quarterbacks seem to fight about is where they’re from.
Carpenter is SoCal (Southern California). Keller is NoCal (Northern California).
That’s a civil war in the Golden State.
“He always talks about where I live. He’ll do a surfer voice and say, ‘Let’s go down to the county line and catch some waves,’ ” Carpenter said. “I make fun of him because he’s from Northern California. They’re squares in Northern California.”
A passer-by who happened upon practice Thursday might never have known Keller and Carpenter were locked in such a tight race to be the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback. While ASU’s scout team quarterbacks were getting some work, Keller and Carpenter kneeled on the grass next to each other, chatting away. Soon their conversation erupted into laughter.
“Oh, we were reinventing words that no one uses anymore,” Carpenter said. “Like cowabunga, gnarly, killer. We said (defensive coordinator) Bill Miller had a burly moustache.
“We have to keep camp interesting, you know.”
As if it weren’t interesting enough.
Coach Dirk Koetter has not referred to the battle between Carpenter and Keller as a quarterback controversy, instead calling it a “quarterback blessing.”
He has a point. ASU is one of the few schools — if not the only school — in the country that could lose its starting quarterback and not skip a beat.
In a few days, however, Koetter will have to make the most difficult decision of his coaching career. Both Keller and Carpenter deserve to be the starter. But there’s only one ball to throw, only one offense to lead.
Who gets the nod?
Offensive coordinator Roy Wittke said the coaching staff evaluates the quarterbacks every day, and the final decision will be based on consistency, decisionmaking and “making plays when the opportunities present themselves. A big part of our offense is taking shots and going down the field with the ball.”
The daily scrutiny could mess with a quarterback’s head and affect his performance. Carpenter admits that every practice “feels like the Super Bowl. When you have a bad day you think about it. It weighs on you a little bit.”
Keller, on the other hand, seems unfazed by the pressure. It could be a defense mechanism or a reflection of his carefree personality, but he refuses to acknowledge the importance of every throw and every practice.
“If you look at it like, ‘Oh gosh, I can’t have a bad day and what’s going to happen,’ you’re going to screw up,” he said. “Plus, you’d be selfish if you did that. You’d be worried about yourself more than you would be the team.”
Observers of the Devils’ eight practices through Thursday believe Keller has strengthened his hold on the No. 1 job. Koetter isn’t giving daily updates, nor should he. He’ll announce the starter about 10 days before the Aug. 31 season opener against Northern Arizona University, and that will be that.
Who will it be?
The guess here is Keller, but — and this is hard to say given how well Keller played last year — it’d be best for the program if Carpenter won the job.
In no way is that a knock against Keller. It would be a shame if his senior season is spent standing on the sideline.
But Carpenter will be the starting quarterback the next two seasons, and the more he plays this year, the better he’ll be in the future.
The white elephant in the locker room is what becomes of Keller if he’s not named the starter. He wants to play in the NFL, and he has a redshirt year at his disposal. Would he consider transferring?
“It’s not something that’s even crossed my mind,” he said. “My loyalty is to this team and coach Koetter.”
So we’re back to where we started, two California dudes fighting for the chance to be ASU’s quarterback.
It could be ugly.
Thanks to the mature attitudes of Carpenter and Keller, it’s not.
“I can’t be mad at him, he can’t be mad at me,” Carpenter said. “Whoever is the starter, that’s just the way it is.”