Desert defeat marked triumphant homecoming for C.J. Keller

Dec. 3, 2014, 10:02 p.m.

Stanford football’s demoralizing 26-10 loss to Arizona State was probably one of the lowest points of the season for all of the players and coaches that made their way out to Tempe.

That is, all of them except for C.J. Keller.

It’s hard not to be happy when you get to tell your family that you’re going to be making your first career start in front of them, in your home city, against the team you grew up supporting.

“Incredible. It’s [a feeling] that really can’t be matched,” Keller recounts. “So many emotions just kind of running through you once you walk on the field. It’s like ‘Wow, I made it. I’m here.’”

Keller is probably the least recognizable of the true freshmen that have contributed significantly to the team this season to casual fans, but as a long snapper, that’s probably not the worst thing in the world — in that position, you only really get noticed if you botch something.

Freshman long snapper C.J. Keller (above)
Since taking over that starting job halfway through the season, freshman long snapper C.J. Keller (above) has turned in consistently impressive performances. The proof: The Cardinal have missed just one field goal with Keller snapping the ball, four more than when he hasn’t. (CASEY VALENTINE/

That’s actually the reason that Keller got a good look in the first place — the Cardinal’s previous field goal snapper, junior Reed Miller, had been fairly wild through the opening stretch of the season, including a snap on a field goal at Notre Dame Stadium that sailed far over the head of holder Ben Rhyne.

Stanford lost that game by three points.

“We opened the competition back up,” said special teams coach Pete Alamar. “You compete every week, but there comes a point with a specialist: If a specialist is struggling, then sometimes you open the competition.”

In a position like long snapping where consistency is key, the Cardinal’s four long snappers competed to be most accurate and timely in their snaps to the holder — factors that were measured by mapping a spray chart of each player’s snaps on an image of a holder, as is done for pitches in baseball.

“The measurables said C.J. Keller was the best guy to put in at the time, and that’s why we decided to go with C.J.,” Alamar said.

Alamar insists that the decision to start Keller against Arizona State had nothing to do with the fact that Keller was from the Phoenix area; it was just a happy coincidence for the freshman that his career was able to get off to such a seemingly scripted start.

After Keller was first notified that he would be traveling to Arizona State on the Wednesday before the game, he assumed that he was just traveling because the team was bringing the freshmen from the area to let them see their families.

He had been told on Monday that the competition had been opened and he’d just been competing hard in practice all week, hoping for the best.

“On Friday right before practice was about to start, they told me I’m playing this week,” Keller said. “And that was awesome, just being able to call my parents right after practice and right before we hopped on the plane.”

His parents, including his mother, an ASU graduate, were at the game to watch him make his first career snaps. As expected, the first-game jitters and goosebumps were there, but as soon as he settled in and got a snap in on a third-quarter Jordan Williamson field goal, it’s been smooth sailing since.

“Even though the score didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, playing in front of your home crowd — the crowd I grew up there with — it was just amazing,” he said.

You’re not going to see him featured on ESPN highlight reels: he won’t burst through a seam and leave defenders in the dust like Christian McCaffrey or (almost) run back a pick-six like Terrence Alexander. But Keller doesn’t need to be flashy to be valuable — just consistent.

True freshman or not, his consistency has won over his coaches. And the results have been apparent: Williamson started the season 6-of-11 with Miller snapping but has been 8-of-9 since with Keller keying the sequence. And it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.

“I’ve just got to keep continuing to get better, keep working and keep proving to the coaches that I can do that job, and who knows?” Keller said. “Anything can happen, but hopefully I continue to keep it.”

“I’m confident in C.J.,” Alamar said. “C.J.’s done a great job. As long as C.J. does a great job, C.J. will hold that job.”

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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