by John Unrein
Rare is it in high school football to have the physical attributes and leadership skills necessary to be a starter at varsity quarterback for three seasons. Finding a head coach that possesses the trust and patience to put a sophomore at 15 to 16 years of age in that position is rare, especially in Class 4 and 5 Missouri high school football.
The relationship between Senior Cole Keller and Grain Valley Eagle head football coach David Allie was one of those unique instances. Sideline conversations between the two have evolved since the 2018 season. Keller has become more vocal and stubborn over the years due to his competitive nature. Allie has shifted from being a “take a deep breath” coach to engaging in direct and honest dialogue with Keller as his maturation process continued.
Both Keller and Allie have benefited from their “thick skin” in the figurative marriage between quarterback and head coach. Evidence of this is provided in the dual threat Keller became as he harnessed the concepts of Allie’s spread offense. One that is “heavy” on the quarterback making the correct option reads running the football as well as recognizing coverage and where to deliver the football through the air.
“Cole has always seemed mature beyond his age. Even as a freshman, being thrown into varsity competition, there was never any hesitation to go in or outward nervousness displayed by Cole. Much of that maturity stemmed from the confidence he had in his abilities,” Allie said.
“As early as his sophomore year, there was no doubt who was in charge of the huddle, or the offense on the field. He had the proverbial ‘moxie,’ and could back it up with his athleticism and physical abilities. But, he was also mature enough to understand there was always room for growth. As much as he grew physically, he actually grew more mentally.”
Allie continued, “Cole drastically improved his grasp of the offensive schemes and took ownership in watching film of the opponent to best prepare himself and his team. Though his belief in himself and his teammates helped Cole mature, his intense desire as a competitor also played an important part in that development.”
“It did not matter if it was a group activity in our teambuilding off-season program or a play being ran in practice, Cole was always wanted to win.”
Keller’s career numbers are eye popping to say the least. Furthermore, the Eagles record has progressed positively each season that Keller was under center and Allie was at the helm. Grain Valley went from 5-5 during 2018, to 9-4 during 2019, and 10-2 during the 2020 season, including back to back district championships in the final two years of that stretch.
Grain Valley assistant football coach Ryan Adams is the team’s statistician and provides local media with excellent support in getting the story correct by the numbers. His expertise was used in compiling Keller’s high school football career stats.
Completions/Attempts: 231 completions out of 429 attempts. 53.8% Completion Rate
Passing Yards: 3,597
Rushing Yards: 1,914
Yards Per Carry Average: 6.1
Rushing Touchdowns: 35
Keller’s aptitude on the gridiron raised more than a few eyebrows of NCAA football programs, including those of Craig Schurig who is the head football coach of the Washburn Ichabods.
Topeka, Kansas is the location of Washburn University that claimed a 2019 enrollment of 6,285 students. The Ichabods play NCAA Division II football and are part of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA). The entire 2020 football schedule was suspended for Washburn due to the current pandemic.
Keller shared his thoughts behind his recent verbal commitment to Washburn University and what he is most excited about in continuing his academic career as a student athlete. A nod to the faith Allie bestowed in him was also offered.
“I feel like Washburn is where I can fulfill my potential. They offer a good mentor for me, great facilities, and a solid coaching staff,” Keller said.
“I am most excited about the vision they have for me within their offense. Playing many different places on the field will allow me to showcase my athleticism and versatility.”
“Coach Allie got the ball in my hands and let me make plays. Without his trust in me, I would not be the player I am today. That trust made it special.”
Allie was mutual in his admiration for what Keller has accomplished and where it may lead at the next level.
“Cole’s athletic and academic prowess has secured him a significant scholarship offer to Washburn University. While he was recruited by many schools as a quarterback, and even as a linebacker by a couple of schools, he chose to select a school closer to home that will use his athletic talents at wide receiver,” Allie said.
“In talking with their coach, they plan to utilize his big frame and great speed in a variety of offensive positions, from H-back, to slot, to wideout. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they used him occasionally as a ‘Wildcat’ quarterback that can run or pass.”
Keller’s cheering section and positive sphere of adult influence date back to middle school. Craig Hastings was Keller’s 7th grade science teacher and currently serves as an assistant principal at Grain Valley South Middle School. The two have stayed in touch through the years and have not stopped sharing postgame handshakes and laughs.
“Cole was well mannered, a respectful kid, and an exceptional student. I really enjoyed talking football with him, coaching his dodgeball team, and watching his progress through high school,” Hastings said.
“Cole will succeed at the college level, and in life, because he is such a hard worker and great leader. He has always been athletically blessed from a young age, but he is respected by his coaches and peers because of the work he puts in and his refusal to lose.”
The echoes of the 2020 football campaign continue to reverberate for the Eagles. Keller is one of the latest Grain Valley student athletes to make a verbal commitment to leave the nest.