When Jim Hilvert was named La Salle football coach last winter, he inherited plenty of talented football players.
And Hilvert has always taken into consideration the character and leadership each of those players brings to the program.
“Every time you go on the field you got to earn your respect and earn what kind of program you are every single Friday night,” Hilvert said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season, the last game of the season or the 10 th game. Every single night you have to go out and prove yourself.”
Senior defensive lineman Nolan Keller consistently proves he is a leader.
Hilvert, the former Thomas More College coach, can’t say enough about the way Keller has conducted his business this season.
“He has a lot of personality,” Hilvert told Cincinnati.com after practice Wednesday. “Very enthusiastic. He brings the juice every single day. I talk about bringing the juice – he brings it every day.”
Keller, a second-team All-Greater Catholic League South selection this season, has been an instrumental part of a Lancers’ defense which allowed just seven points in the fourth quarter last week in a regional final win over Kings.
La Salle (11-2) plays Perrysburg (13-0) in a Division II state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Piqua. The Lancers are in the state semifinals for the second straight year after winning the 2014 state title.
The Lancers knows the challenge they face on Friday night. Hilvert said the Lancers are the underdog despite what rankings and recent history suggests.
Keller was with the Lancers during their 2014 state championship season and soaked in the leadership characteristics from players like Jordan Thompson (now at Northwestern) and Quintin Herbert (Yale).
“The senior class last year – they were a great group of leaders and I looked up to a lot of them,” Keller said. “I think just having them through a 15-game journey with them last year and making sure we took care of little things and took care of each other.”
Keller, who lives in Western Hills, said he knows the potential of each player since being with his teammates since June 4. He wants every player to compete at the highest level.
It doesn’t matter if it is the scout team or the first unit.
“He’s not afraid to speak up which I think is unheard of nowadays,” Hilvert said.
“All these young kids want to be everybody’s friend. He doesn’t care. He wants to win. He wants to leave his mark here. He’s done that. A guy that plays hard. Guys will follow him in a burning building which says a lot about his character and what type of person he is. It’s been a huge thing for us on the defensive side of the ball.”
La Salle defensive line/special teams coach Brian Heidorn said Keller has a motor that never stops on the field.
“He is constantly working hard,” Heidorn said. “He is dedicated to what it means to be team. He is a definite team player. He’s making sure that his teammates are headed in the right direction. He’s got nothing but heart and soul and passion about his teammates and this school.”
Keller has 50 tackles, including three sacks and a fumble recovery. Just like his teammates, he knows the sense of urgency this week.
“Nolan is not going to hold anything back,” Heidorn said. “Everything is pretty much out on his sleeve. He wants to make sure the program is headed in the right direction.”
Keller understands the task at hand in preparing for Friday night but is enjoying the late November camaraderie with his teammates.
“The best game ever,” Keller said. “I couldn’t picture playing anything else. This has been one of the best years of football so far with a new coach and everything. I’ve just had a blast. It’s been a lot of fun.”