Zach Keller was one of several Bel Air soccer players who had to fight back from a serious injury this season. Keller suffered a fractured left ankle in a preseason scrimmage against Wilde Lake and missed several weeks before coming back to help the Bobcats make it to the Class 3A state final. Keller's return helped settle the Bobcats, who were rocked by having seven players suffer serious injuries. He hadn't missed a game in two years before being hurt, and he played every minute after coming back midway through the season.
Keller, a senior who also wrestles for Bel Air, aims to play soccer in college. He has a 4.3 grade point average, is a member of the National Honor Society and is looking at Elon, Delaware and Virginia Tech. Keller is considering studying to be a physical therapist.
How did you get hurt in the preseason scrimmage?
I was going against a Wilde Lake player. We were going for a ball in the air. He pushed me one way, I tried to get up, and my ankle just went limp. I thought it was just like a little tweak. I told the coaches I could probably get up, but it was a good thing the coaches told me to stay down because it was fractured.
Did you think you'd be out for a long time?
I thought I was probably going to be out for four weeks, but it turned out to be about six weeks because I sprained all the tendons around the ankle in addition to the fracture. I had a big boot and was on crutches.
Was it hard to watch and not play?
In the beginning, it was really hard because I just wanted to be out there so bad. The team started to become very successful, so it was good motivation for me to come to a winning team. Once I got out of the boot, I tried to get right back on the field. I was playing in the game two days after I was cleared.
Did you ever expect that Bel Air would get to the state final?
With all the injuries occurring, it was pretty much a dream. But once it became a reality, it was pretty amazing. We never thought we'd get that far, but it was always in the back of our minds. We took every game one step at a time. We never thought too far into the future and just played one game at a time.
What was the toughest thing about getting back after the injury?
Getting my speed back was the hardest. I could jog easily, but the sprints put so much pressure on my ankle that it was hard to muscle through. It definitely hurt the rest of the season, but it felt much better when we got into the playoffs because we had that three-week break between regular season and the playoffs.
What's in your iPod now?
I listen to a wide variety of music. I'll listen to anything from rock to rap. It just depends on my mood. I'll usually listen to rap before games.
What's your favorite TV show?
My favorite TV show right now would have to be Man Vs. Wild. The guy just has no fear. He'll take on any challenge anytime.
Were you surprised that American coach Greg Ryan, who changed starting goalies late in the women's World Cup, was fired last month?
I wasn't that surprised. I don't know why he would take a goalie out who was having such a good tournament. It seemed like such a stupid decision.
How old were you when you first started playing?
I think I was 7. I started playing Bel Air Recreation, and then towards fifth grade and sixth grade, I started playing for the Bel Air Blue Devils, and then in seventh grade and eighth grade, I played for the Abingdon Football Club, where most of the Bel Air High players played.
Who is one big-time soccer player you'd love to play with?
I'd love to play with Ronaldinho from Brazil. His skills are phenomenal. I don't have much skill, so I love watching people with so much skill because it makes the sport seem so perfect.
What was special about this year's Bel Air team?
Every single player was my best friend. We were all very close and shared a bond. It just came from playing with each other for so long. We just knew everything about each other. Most teams have to work on chemistry, but we already had it, and we were grateful for that.
How nerve-wracking were the three penalty-kick wins in the playoffs?
From a defensive perspective, it's very frustrating. You know if you screw up once, that could be it. We had a lot of faith in our goalie. We tried not to get into penalty kicks, but we knew if we did, we had one of the best goalies in the state and good shooters.
How hard was the state final loss?
Of course, it was a heartbreaker to the whole team. After a day or two, though, everyone realized how far we actually got and how successful our season was. We were proud of ourselves for making it that far. I'll never forget this season.