A young man always has a special place for his first love – even when it comes to the first position he ever played in football. While Keller’s Connor Killian has moved from offense to defense, he still keeps in touch with his first love.
Originally a tight end, Killian was used extensively as a blocker in previous seasons, as the Indians’ offensive attack was heavily run-oriented.
At the end of last season – maybe just a few weeks after Keller lost to Plano West in the playoffs – Keller head coach Carl Stralow approached Killian about taking his size (6-2, 225) and athletic ability to an inside linebacker position.
The Indians had just graduated a handful of experienced linebackers and the need was there for someone to step in and step up.
Enter Killian, who spent the spring and the early stages of the season training to feel more at ease with the “Mike” linebacker spot.
Now, Killian is in for about 85-90 plays during a game, mostly on defense, but is still called into duty at tight end.
“I’m still helping out on offense in the running game, and now and then they’ll dish it out to me [on a pass],” Killian said.
The transition to the linebacker spot hasn’t been easy, Killian admitted.
“I’m catching up on the two years I missed,” he said. “You’ve got to be the quarterback of the defense. I think the technique and athletic ability comes naturally, such as my tackling form. Dropping into [pass] coverage is harder than I thought, but I’m getting it the more I do it.”
As he spends more of the game time on the defensive side of the ball, Killian said he’s beginning to have an affinity for that side of the ball.
“I like defense because it’s new,” Killian said. “My dad [Chris Killian] is a defensive coach and his brother, too. I’ve grown up in a defensive house. I love offense but defense is my role, so that’s where I’m focused. The offense is where my heart is,” he said, admitting that it’s like the first girlfriend analogy.
Killian, who would welcome the opportunity to play at the next level, said he wasn’t sure what role might be presented to him.
“It’s been my goal for a very long time,” he said of playing collegiate football. “I was told to just play your heart out and someone will take a chance on you.”
A little nervous at first, Killian had joked his way into planting a seed with coaches last year.
“Last season we were doing special teams and I went to Coach [Kris] Price and said, ‘Let me play linebacker next year,’ and he said ‘If you want to, absolutely,’ and we just laughed it off.”
“The defense is awesome and they have such a good time,” he said.
Killian said it wasn’t all just a natural move for him. He said he had an awful scrimmage against Mansfield Summit.
“I couldn’t make a tackle to save my life,” Killian said of the scrimmage. “I got run over.”
It clicked, though, was in the Midland game.
“I stepped up in the hold and hit the running back and said to myself, ‘Let’s go to work.’ I ended up with 16 tackles and I told myself, ‘I can do this.’”
Now, Killian and his teammates are looking to duplicate last year’s playoff success with aspirations to improve.
“Coach Stralow has told us we’re not going to be the most athletic, fastest and certainly not the biggest team out there, but we have a good bond and we’ve been together a long time,” Killian noted. “We know how to read each other and feed off each other.
“And we love Coach to death,” he said of Stralow, who came to Keller during the seniors’ freshman year. “He’s done a lot for us on and off the field and we want to play for him.”
Another factor which should help Keller succeed is the senior leadership. The group has endured two 5-5 seasons and is looking to make a difference, Killian said.
“We have to do something about it,” he said. “In my mind, this is the year we can do something.”