Opportunity and desire finally meet as Byron Keller gets first head football coaching job _lowres

Photo provided by Byron Keller St. James assistant coach Byron Keller gets players ready to take the field. Keller was hired as the head coach at Lakeview High last week.

Some of the best stories to write are the ones about the underdog.

That kid who came off the bench to make game-winning free throws. Or how about that seldom-used pitcher who came on to get the final out?

These “look at me” moments are special. But they typically involve athletes, not coaches.

Byron Keller hasn’t had his moment yet, but the former St. James player and longtime assistant football coach may be getting close to it.

Keller was named the football coach at Class 2A Lakeview High on Thursday. I know you’re wondering why a 33-year-old coach from south Louisiana would head to a school located in Campti, about 25 minutes from Natchitoches.

The short answer is this: to be a head coach for the first time.

“I’m not going in blind,” Keller said. “I know what the challenges are. I was very impressed with the professional way the whole interview process went.

“It’s always been a basketball school. The school and the administration showed me they’re committed to supporting the football program. I’ve been through the success and losing, and it has helped get me ready for this.”

About now your first thought is still probably, “What is he thinking?”

Lakeview was 1-9 last year and is located in an area with one of the state’s highest poverty levels.

Keller knew these things before he interviewed for the job earlier this month. He is a Northwestern State graduate who saw his college football career cut short by an injury. His wife, Rebecca, is from Natchitoches, so they will be “trading hometowns.”

But there is more to Keller’s story than just a first head coaching job and an out-of-town move now set for someone next month. To understand that, all you have to do is look at a list of social media well-wishers, including former St. James coaches Rick Gaille and Dwain Jenkins and current coach Robert Valdez.

When Gaille moved toward retirement from coaching, he wanted Keller to be the heir apparent. I know this because Gaille told me. But hiring a 28-year-old head coach had to be a hard sell.

Opting to go in a “different direction,” the Wildcats had two winless seasons before Jenkins came across the Mississippi River from rival Lutcher, where he had been in the offensive coordinator.

Within three seasons, St. James was back in the spotlight, finishing as the Class 3A runner-up to Lutcher. So when Jenkins was picked to replace another coach moving toward retirement, his mentor, Lutcher’s Tim Detillier, Keller’s name again came up as a candidate. He was the Wildcats running backs coach-special teams coordinator from 2011-15.

This time Valdez, a coach with St. James Parish ties and the former head coach at nearby West St. John and more recently Scotlandville, was the choice.

“That part of it was tough, because I am a St. James guy,” Keller said. “But I’ve learned so much from all my experiences, the winning and losing. I’m bringing all that with me.

“With coach Gaille there was always a method. You went through each step, and he would teach and explain how and why things are done. Those two years when we didn’t win, the approach was more like, ‘Here it is, let’s do this.’

“When coach Jenkins came in, there was that purpose again … that attention to detail. There are no shortcuts, but if you can teach and show players you care about them you have the chance to build something.”

Predictably, Keller plans to run a Wing-T offense, something that was a signature part of the Gaille era, along with some spread offense wrinkles picked up from Jenkins.

Like any new head coach, Keller’s mind is racing with ideas for offenses, defenses, special teams and potential fundraisers.

Like those kids who finally got their opportunity, Keller is relishing his.