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October 9, 2007Dustin Keller owns an Xbox 360, but says he doesn't play it very much, generally leaving it for his younger brothers to use.
Keller's not one for video games.
Why should he be? He's practically living one.
The Boilermaker tight end has become a highlight-reel staple for his atypical blend of physical abilities and flair for the spectacular with the ball in his hands.
Whether Keller's using his considerable strength to run over tacklers, his ample speed to run past them or his outstanding athleticism to jump away from, or over, them, the converted wide receiver is sure to keep peoples' attention any time he touches the ball.
Listen to the way people describe the fifth-year senior - "beast," "freak," "mutant" - and you'd think he were one of the X-Men rather than a college football player.
"He's a blessed individual with a lot of athletic ability," wide receiver Greg Orton said. "(Against Notre Dame), when he caught a ball and just carried the guy a few yards, we just said to him, 'You are a beast.' He's a freakish player.
"He does a lot of things in practice, too, like jumping over people, jumping from side to side and other things. That's him."
The following's a thumb-nail look at some of Keller's most eye-opening moments of this season, and only this season.
• At Toledo, he catches a short pass in the right flat, runs over a tackler and sprints for an 80-yard touchdown.
• Against Eastern Illinois, he catches a short pass, laterally leaps out of the sight of a tackler in position to stop him, then uses a Jake Standeford block to turn the corner and run for a 37-yard TD.
• Against Central Michigan, he gets behind a defensive back deep down the field and leaps - turning his body in the air - to haul in a 37-yard strike, in the end zone, from Curtis Painter.
• At Minnesota, he literally jumps over a would-be Gopher tackler on his way to a 14-yard gain that easily could have been just six or seven.
• Against Notre Dame, with Purdue badly needing a fourth-quarter score to hold off the surging Irish, Keller leaps and catches with two hands a high-and-wide Painter pass the QB himself would call a "horrible" throw. Coming down, Keller fell backward toward the goal line and was awarded a touchdown, completing what may have been the game's decisive play.
• On third-and-eight in the second quarter against Ohio State, Keller caught a pass short of the sticks and was quickly converged upon.
But he engaged his tacklers and dragged at least two of them for the last two or three yards of a 10-yard gain. It was one of multiple impressive catches-and-runs by a player who was one of the Boilermakers' few offensive bright spots.
Keller's physical exploits have been well documented.
He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, with the weight-room numbers of a lineman, speed that would make most receivers green with envy and the leaping ability of a high school high jump champion, which he just so happened to be.
Keller's vertical allows him to catch, often with ease, passes most tight ends wouldn't even scrape with a finger nail.
Against Notre Dame, Keller caught the game-deciding touchdown, leaping to snare a pass Painter calls "horrible."
"That happens all the time, in practice, in games," Painter said. "There will be times where I throw a ball and I'll think, 'Crap, that's an incomplete pass,' but then it'll be, 'Oh, OK, good' because he caught it.
"He does a lot of things like that."
Then, there's the strength, that near 450-pound bench press, the attribute he uses to carry tacklers on his back as if they're small children or to simply leave them planted in the turf like little mushrooms.
Ask the poor kid from Toledo who got in Keller's way en route to his 80-yard touchdown this year. Or the DB from Ball State, Erik Keys, who stood between Keller and a 60-yard TD last year and was left with just footprints all over his jersey to show for it.
But it's not just athleticism, speed and power, with Keller. It's also that intangible "shake," elusiveness that makes him difficult to even lay a hand on in the open field, something rarely seen in a tight end.
On more than one occasion, a tackler's had him head-on, only to hit nothing but turf after Keller stopped short and jumped laterally out of their sight.
At Minnesota this year, he jumped over that tackler as if he were jumping rope.
"That was the first time I was ever able to jump over somebody and keep my feet," Keller said matter-of-factly, as if such things are routine. "If I could get a couple more of those, that'd be pretty cool."
Against Notre Dame, long before catching the decisive touchdown, he snared a mid-range pass from Painter as he neared the right sideline, with a tackler on his hip. But after the catch, he stopped short and spun back inside for an unconventional move that Orton says he's determined to "steal."
"I told him I'm going to have to take that and add it to my arsenal," Orton said.
Of the spin move, Keller said it was all improv.
"That came out of nowhere," Keller said. "Just instinct. Things just happen.
"I could tell you that I come out here and practice this stuff, but the reality is, it just happens."
Keller's many talents and moves have made him Purdue's foremost big-play threat, the rare tight end that's a threat to score virtually any time he touches the ball.
This season, he's caught a team-high five TD catches on just 27 grabs, now giving him 14 scores on 101 career receptions.
Keller's gotten in the end zone on about 14 percent of his catches.
That may not sound all that impressive, but it's considerably higher than the percentage of any of Purdue's other current receivers and as good a success rate as Coach Joe Tiller's seen from any of his pass-catchers in West Lafayette.
Only Brian Alford (19 percent) and Vinny Sutherland (14) - both wide receivers - have had comparable percentages in the past decade at Purdue.
Obviously, Keller's given the Boilermakers quite an offensive weapon.
Tiller might have put it best.
"He's arguably the best receiving tight end in the country," Tiller said.
Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Gold & Black Illustrated Volume 18, Issue 7. For subscription information, click here.
For the best Purdue team and recruiting coverage out there, click here.
Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.