There Keller stood, hands thrust into the pockets of a hooded gray sweatshirt bearing the ‘A’ and ‘U’ of a previous employer, head tilted slightly downward as he fielded questions about his new program’s 15th straight loss.
This time the result was a 35-7 defeat at Westerville South, a final that could have been more lopsided. South (3-3) played the game without its best play-maker and sat its starting quarterback for almost the entire second half.
The loss was the sixth setback in six tries for Mount Vernon, which only now begins the most difficult part of its schedule
Keller searched carefully for answers.
“I’m trying to think of something to say,” Keller said. “We just couldn’t control the line of scrimmage.”
For a coach who had success in two-plus decades at the collegiate level with Ashland University, Mount Vernon is proving to be one of the most challenging fixer-uppers in Central Ohio. Unlike recent quick turnarounds by new coaches at New Albany and Hamilton Township, there is less big-school talent to work with at Mount Vernon, one of the state’s smallest Division I schools.
In the three years prior to hiring Keller the Yellow Jackets were 2-28. They have not won a football game in 13 months.
A recent column in the Columbus Dispatch dissed the Cleveland Browns offensive line by comparing it to Mount Vernon’s.
The coach said he has found a hard reality, especially in the numbers game.
Mount Vernon has 58 names on its roster, with probably two-thirds of those full-time varsity players. Only seven are listed as 240 pounds or heavier.
The team, at least this season, will struggle with less depth and less size than its opponents — especially those in the OCC.
Even against rebuilding South, Keller’s charges had trouble at the point of attack.
When starter Cortez Fleming (253 all-purpose yards) was under center the Wildcats were able to move the ball consistently. On offense, Mount Vernon struggled to keep defensive lineman out of its backfield.
“I would love to have 80 guys like some of the other schools,” Keller said. “Any coach would like to have that. We just don’t have that yet.”
He mentioned losses to Morgan, Wooster and Madison as bright spots. Those games were decided by an average of less than seven points each and the first went to overtime.
On Friday Mount Vernon did not give up. The team got its points and almost all of its yards after halftime, when trailing by a large margin.
Yellow Jackets quarterback Kyle Shackle led the team on several productive second half drives, finally hooking up with wide receiver Caleb Tier for a long completion to set up a fourth quarter score.
None of these facts, however, will change the final score. And Keller did not sound like someone that wanted to settle for moral wins.
“We’ve had the opportunity to win some games and that’s a positive,” he said. “But would I like us to be further along? Yes, I would.
“We are going to have to hang tough and fight through this adversity; that’s our challenge.”
It is a challenge, which will get tougher the rest of the fall.
Beginning with Worthington Kilbourne next weekend, Mount Vernon’s final four opponents this season have a combined record of 17-7.