NEW MARTINSVILLE - Graduation hit the Magnolia football team in an unusual way last Spring.
Not only did the Blue Eagles have to absorb the loss of the all-time leading rusher in school history - Stingray Bates - but Dillon Jackson, the second-leading rusher in school history, picked up his diploma, as well.
With record-setting quarterback Justin Fox returning for his fourth season behind center, the Blue Eagles passing game was all but set for the 2010 season.
Magnolia’s Jayson Keller (6) fends off Barnesville’s Brandon Burkhart last Friday night.
File Photo by Art Limann
The running game? Well, that would require more thought.
Coach Mark Batton had a number of preseason candidates to replace his dynamic duo. There were seniors Traeh Keller, Timmy Shreve and Tanner Fluharty, along with junior Jayson Keller, Traeh's younger brother, in the mix.
''The guy that has the hot hand any particular night will get the ball,'' Batton said during preseason workouts in August.
After eight games, Jayson Keller has emerged as ''the guy.''
Jayson Keller leads the state's second-rated Class AA squad with 639 yards and seven touchdowns heading into tonight's tilt at Oak Glen. The unbeaten Blue Eagles are riding a 22-game, regular-season winning streak.
And the best part for Batton is, he's getting better every game.
In last week's 40-0 romp against Barnesville, Jayson Keller ran the ball 14 times for a career-high 167 yards and a score. He entered the game averaging a shade more than 67 yards per contest.
''Everyone is getting better,'' Jayson Keller said in the trainers' room following the game. ''The offensive line is getting better, too. I just try to do the best I can.''
That's all Batton has ever asked of the 5-foot-9, 180-pound workhorse.
''Jayson has really come on the last few games,'' Batton said. ''It seems like he's getting more comfortable back there.''
And harder to bring down.
Against the Shamrocks, he averaged 11.9 yards per carry. Numerous times he broke two, sometimes three tackles, before being brought down.
''Jayson ran over their guy or either bounced off him,'' Batton explained, adding Barnesville had six players in the box to oppose Magnolia's five offensive linemen.
''Jayson took care of that, and that's the mark of a good back to break that first tackle,'' Batton said. ''Then, he'd break three or four after that.''
But is he fast enough?
''Speed,'' Jayson Keller said. ''I want to get faster in the open field.''
Traeh Keller had the most yards of any returning back this season. But with the senior more focused on his play as an all-state linebacker, his younger brother has been able to shine.
''I asked Traeh if he was ready to get back into the offense a little bit more and he told me that Jayson was having such a great game and to let him handle the ball,'' Batton said.
''That's the kind of kid Traeh is.''
Batton said the bond Jayson, Traeh, and even their freshman brother, Drew, share is evident during practices.
''They all feed off each other and they do a great job,'' Batton said. ''All three Keller boys are a pleasure to coach and be around.
''What people don't realize about Jayson is that, yes, he's a great football player, but he is one the greatest kids you want around in your life,'' Batton added. ''He's always smiling. He's a delight to coach and he's a heckuva a runner.''