In all likelihood, the end of Sam Keller’s football playing days at Arizona State happened when he lost the starting quarterback role in a surprising reversal by his coach last weekend. However, it became official on Wednesday, when he stepped off a plane in Omaha, Neb., for the hour-long drive to his new school and what he hopes is a new beginning to his career.
Keller, a 21-year-old senior, utilized the scholarship release ASU promised him and transferred to the University of Nebraska, where after sitting out this season, he will get an opportunity to be at the controls of the Cornhuskers’ offense in 2007.
“It’s exciting and it feels good,” Keller told an Omaha television reporter at Eppley Airfield. “I’m happy to be here. . . .
“The University of Nebraska has one of the greatest programs in the history of college football. It’s steeped in tradition, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Nebraska’s sports information department did not make Keller available to reporters. A press conference is scheduled for today.
Keller’s father, Mike, labeled the transfer as a “fresh start” for his son.
“He’s going to a place that can win a national championship,” the elder Keller said. “He doesn’t know if the current situation at ASU will ever win, but the guys at (Nebraska) have convinced him that they’ll be a national title contender.”
The arrival in Lincoln ended a five-day whirlwind that began when ASU coach Dirk Koetter changed his mind after naming Keller the starter on Friday night. On Saturday, he gave the duties to sophomore Rudy Carpenter, who Keller battled for the job during preseason camp.
In explaining the decision, Koetter said he “screwed up.” The switch came after Koetter discussed the quarterback position with a group of players, some of whom expressed concerns about the leadership and off-field behavior of Keller, who passed for 3,018 yards and 26 touchdowns as a Sun Devil.
The circumstances that encompassed Keller’s departure from Tempe did not discourage Nebraska coach Bill Callahan from bringing in the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder.
“Things happened, and I really don’t want to get into Arizona State and what transpired down there,” Callahan said. “This is a new opportunity for Sam, and we’re going to do be very supportive of him and do everything we can to assist him in maximizing his talents.”
After ASU’s mock game Wednesday night at Sun Devil Stadium, Koetter had little to add to the myriad of Keller answers he has given since Sunday.
“Best of luck to him. I hope he tears it up,” Koetter said.
Said Carpenter: “I’m serious when I say that Sam and I were friends. Not best friends, but . . . I know some people said our friendship wasn’t real, but we got a lot closer because of (the competition).”
With Keller gone, true freshman Danny Sullivan is Carpenter’s backup.
The quarterback situation at Nebraska in ’07 figures to be much more crowded. With current starter Zac Taylor a senior, Keller will be favored to win the job, though he likely will have to beat out three returnees: Brian Hildebrand, Joe Ganz and Beau Davis.
“He certainly deserves this opportunity,” Callahan said. “Sam is willing to compete, just like everyone else. He wants to earn his stripes, earn his role and prepare himself for the competition in the spring.”
After sitting behind Andrew Walter for two seasons, the Danville, Calif., native was ASU’s starter in 2005 until suffering a seasonending thumb injury. In seven games, Keller threw for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Carpenter took over the job, finished as the nation’s passing efficiency leader and forced Koetter to declare a competition between the two during camp. Neither established a clear advantage over the other, and Koetter said that Keller’s seniority played a factor in the decision. After Koetter’s about-face, Keller was excused from the team to explore his options. He and his family also considered Oklahoma, Louisville, Texas-El Paso, Iowa and Notre Dame, but decided Nebraska provided the ideal opportunity to be a starting quarterback again.
“He’s going to have to earn the job, and we don’t want it any other way,” Mike Keller said. “Despite what anybody thinks, Sam does not mind competing for a job. When you compete for a job, win it, and then have it taken away, that’s what stinks.”