Joe Keller’s story isn’t exactly a new one.
Most high schools have a guy like Keller. He’s a talented athlete who decided to focus on one sport — baseball — at an early age.
The Plaquemine coaches saw Keller’s potential to excel in football along with baseball. So the fact Keller is a key part of the top-seeded Green Devils arsenal probably isn’t a huge surprise.
The way Keller has owned the experience over the past two seasons is what sets him apart as the Green Devils (11-1) prepare to host No. 9 South Terrebonne (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in Class 4A quarterfinal action.
“I played youth football with the (Plaquemine) Renegades,” Keller said. “When I got to middle school, I decided to stick with baseball.”
Paul Distefano wasn’t the Plaquemine High coach in those days. He coached his nephew’s youth baseball team and knew Keller as a baseball player.
“To see the way Joe has grown is amazing,” Distefano said. “At one time he was a small kid, and then he was a little on the chunky side. You could see his (baseball) skills.
“Now he’s this tall, lean kid who’s about 6-foot-2 and weighs maybe 210 pounds. He’s always been a quiet and humble. Joe’s the kind of kid who comes in here everyday and does what we ask him and never complains. He just works.”
Getting Keller to become a tight end/linebacker for the Green Devils did take some work behind the scenes. PHS Athletic Director Scott Allen went to work on Keller first, getting him to become part of his baseball team as a sophomore.
“Joe played travel ball, and when I got to Plaquemine, everybody said I needed to get him out for the team,” Allen said. “He came out as a sophomore and did well from the start. Last year he hit over .450 for us with four home runs, and he was 7-3 as a pitcher.
“He’s playing shortshop for us, but he’s a true third baseman. He’s right there with the Chris Reid kid from St. Michael who signed with LSU skill-wise at third.”
Allen and others kept after Distefano and the football coaches to “recruit” Keller for their team. Once Keller agreed to play football, the plan was to start small. He hadn’t played since he was a 12-year-old.
Knowing his baseball skills and hand-eye coordination, the coaches decided to try Keller at tight end. Soon they were just as impressed with Keller’s blocking skills in the Green Devils’ Wing-T as they were with his ability to catch the ball.
“It really wasn’t that bad last year because the offense was new,” Keller said. “Everybody had to learn it, so I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do.”
Though the Green Devils are run-oriented team, Keller has 33 catches for 541 yards and seven touchdowns.
The biggest transition came at midseason when Keller start filling in at linebacker to help PHS bolster its run defense. Now he’s a regular on defense too.
“At first coach (Kelcy) Dotson (defensive coordinator) wasn’t sure we should try Joe on defense because he plays such a big role on offense,” Distefano said. “I thought he’d be a natural at it, and he has been. Because he’s an infielder he knows how to break on the ball. And he’s not afraid to hit people.”
Keller got a baseball scholarship offer from Grambling over the summer. Now he’s getting recruiting inquiries for football from McNeese, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern and Delta State.
Ideally, Keller wants to find a school that would allow him to indulge his love of both sports.
“I always wanted to play college baseball,” Keller said. “Now I want to do both.”