José Luis Villegas Brandon Kellermann has parlayed a walk-on role at Sacramento State into a starting running back spot because of a rash of injuries.

Hornets' Kellermann goes from obscurity to starting

Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C

Brandon Kellermann's road to becoming Sacramento State's starting running back offers some improbable twists and turns.

It starts when Kellermann turns down a walk-on offer to play linebacker for the Hornets out of Bella Vista High School in 2010.

It continues at Sierra College, where he earns all-conference linebacker accolades but chases off any college recruiting interest because he chooses to play on a gimpy knee rather than sit out.

Next is a season as a junior varsity football coach at his Fair Oaks alma mater, a year that only reinforces how much he loves playing the game.

Then comes another chance to walk on at Sac State, but this time after an emotionally and physically exhausting tryout. It leads to an offer not at linebacker but at fullback, a position he hasn't played since high school.

But when Sac State's three top running backs get injured and a fourth, a true freshman, gets banged up, the 6-foot, 230-pound Kellermann suddenly finds himself as the team's centerpiece rusher in a one-back-dominated spread offense that is designed for a much smaller, quicker guy.

And he doesn't do half bad, including some highlight-reel runs while rushing for a combined 128 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown in a 37-21 win over Northern Colorado two weeks ago and a 39-38 loss to Northern Arizona last Saturday.

"It's a pretty unbelievable story, isn't it?" said Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck. "Brandon has made the most of his opportunities. He's such a smart kid that he's been able to come in and make quick adjustments, and he just outworks guys."

Kellermann admits what he thought would be an in-the-shadows role as a special-teams performer and short-yardage blocker has morphed into something much bigger.

"I'm just taking it a day at a time," Kellermann said of his newfound celebrity. "I walk into the Board Field House (the Hornets' locker room) and some of my teammates are good-naturedly saying, 'Don't try to act like you're not showing off.' But I've always been a humble person. I'm just trying to go with the flow."

Kellermann was a bruising All-Capital Athletic League linebacker who led Bella Vista in tackles as a junior and senior.

He played primarily fullback and a little tailback on offense, rushing for 257 yards and 12 touchdowns on 59 carries as a senior, when the Broncos made the playoffs for the first time in six years.

After graduation, Kellermann turned down a walk-on offer from then-defensive coordinator Lou Baiz (now at Folsom High School) because he thought he could earn a Division-I scholarship playing at Sierra College.

But he said he played most of his sophomore season in Rocklin with a partially torn medial collateral ligament for a Wolverines team that struggled to a 3-7 finish.

"The scouts were telling me I looked slower on film," Kellermann said. "I probably should have sat out."

With no scholarship offers, Kellermann spent last football season as the JV defensive coordinator at Bella Vista. He kept in shape by lifting weights and running stairs, but had no grand plan.

He enrolled in the criminal justice program at Sac State and decided to try to walk on with the Hornets. It helped that Tyler Almond, who had recruited him to Sierra, was a linebackers coach and walk-on coordinator at Sac State.

After an exhausting one-day tryout in February, Kellermann got an offer – to play fullback, not linebacker.

"We saw his toughness, and we needed a fullback," Sperbeck said.

When running backs Ezekiel Graham and Demetrius Warren were injured against Weber State, and with no other healthy backs available, Kellermann finished as a running back, though he never touched the ball because he still had a cast protecting a fractured middle finger on his right hand.

True freshman Jordan Robinson, whom Sac State had hoped to redshirt, debuted and started over Kellermann the next week against Northern Colorado.

But when Robinson was shaken up early in the third quarter, Kellermann, sans the cast, came in and carried 15 times for 72 yards in helping the Hornets control the clock in the team's best win of the season.

With Robinson still nursing a tender ankle, Kellermann got the start against Northern Arizona. He had 56 yards on 15 carries, including a 22-yard burst early in the third quarter in which he hurdled a would-be Northern Arizona tackler. That came shortly after he scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 1-yard run.

Graham (ankle) and Warren (shoulder) could return to the lineup as early as the Nov. 2 home game against Montana, something Kellermann welcomes.

"Everyone loves to carry the ball and score a touchdown," said Kellermann. "I'm happy to play where I'm needed, and if that means blocking for those guys, that's fine by me. It's been a big morale boost to see them back at practice."

Sperbeck said Kellermann won't drop into obscurity when they do return.

"He's proved himself," Sperbeck said. "He's earned the right to be in the rotation."

Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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