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Smith, Keller receive all-state football honors

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SMITH: Clinton Central senior Spencer Smith punts during the Bulldogs’ win over the Clinton Prairie Gophers this fall. Smith was selected to the IFCA All-State Class 1A Team as a punter after averaging 44 yards per punt.
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KELLER: Clinton Central junior Kolten Keller was selected to the IFCA Junior All-State Class 1A Team as a defensive lineman.

By ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Clinton Central football players Spencer Smith and Kolten Keller were named to Indiana Football Coaches Association Class 1A All-State teams on Monday, with their coach at Central saying the recognition is important for the team as well.

“I’m pleased because after coming from an 0-10 record last year we didn’t really have a chance to enjoy these individual accolades,” Justin Gardiner said. “So, these awards are for the team as well.”

IFCA chose Smith as its first-team punter on its all-state team, while Keller received junior all-state recognition as a defensive lineman. Both played big roles in helping the Bulldogs bounce back from that 0-10 season in 2017 to notch a 6-4 mark this year, with Smith playing quarterback and on defense as well as punting and Keller stabilizing both the offensive and defensive lines.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” Gardiner said. “Spencer had a great year all-around for us.”

He noted Smith’s value as a quarterback where he went through the season without throwing an interception, while as a defensive back leading the team in interceptions.

“And he averaged almost 45 yards a punt for us, which is tremendous,” Gardiner noted. “That has to be near the top of the whole state.

“He played really well and he kept the ball away from returners really well. It seemed like every game he made a great punt to flip the field position for us.”

Both Smith and Keller were named all-Hoosier Heartland Conference with Smith tabbed as most valuable player this year by his teammates.

Smith averaged 44.0 yards on 32 kicks as a punter with a long of 65 yards while leaving 13 punts inside the 20-yard line. As a quarterback, he completed 40 of 84 passes for 821 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions, while running for 464 yards on 73 carries. On defense, Smith also contributed with 30 tackles including 22 solos, with three interceptions and one caused fumble.

By comparison with the big boys, his 44 yards per punt is higher than punters for five NFL teams this year (Jacksonville, Houston, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Oakland) and even with Denver’s Colby Wadman.

Could future punting be in Smith’s future?

“He’s talking to some smaller schools right now,” Gardiner said. “It probably would be his first position. He’s probably good enough to play other positions (at the collegiate level) when he gets there, but (punting’s) what he is focused on.”

While Smith will be moving on, Gardiner gets another year of Keller helping the Bulldogs on the offensive and defensive lines.

“He’ll be back next year,” he said. “He’ll be a four-year starter.

“He was a big playmaker for us this year. He spent a lot of time in opposing teams’ backfields. He had 13 tackles for loss, which is an impressive number.”

Keller also had 5.5 sacks for the Bulldogs, with eight quarterback hurries. He registered 53 tackles including 28 solos, with one fumble recovery. On the offensive line, he helped a Bulldogs running game that averaged 255.4 yards a game and 5.9 yards per carry.