Great anticipation didn't precede Matt Keator's arrival in Chesterton's lineup last season.
A little-used JV player as a sophomore, he was pressed into duty at center -- never mind he hadn't played the position in a game before -- when starter Grant Zakhar was lost with a torn labrum the week before the opener.
"I played some center at option camp when we didn't have a lot of people," Keator said. "I was a fill-in for practice and it went from there."
Keator started the first game in 2012 and hasn't left the lineup since, a string of games that will reach 22 in tonight's Class 6A Sectional 2 final at No. 1 Penn.
"The neat part with Matt is I've been around him his whole high school career," Trojans coach Mark Peterson said. "He's a heck of a football player and a great kid. He sets our fronts, makes adjustments. You've got to love somebody who's able to do that. It's like having a coach on the field."
That was particularly crucial this season, when Peterson moved up to head coach and Rob Kania came on to coach the offensive line.
"He bought into everything we wanted to do from day one, which made it easier for me, starting late like Pete and I did," said Kania, who coached and played at Penn. "He knows the game. He makes the right calls. Not a lot of teams pull their center. He has the athleticism to get up to a linebacker, to kick out ends. I have a biased opinion, but I think he's one of the best centers in the area. He just doesn't miss a block."
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Keator isn't built for power blocking, but in Chesterton's read option attack, his lateral mobility is an asset.
"In high school, the quicker, lower man wins," Keator said. "I'm not the biggest guy. I do have quick feet. I can go right, left, turn. A lot of it falls on the technique the coaches teach. (Kania) does a good job of keeping things simple."
At the same time, Kania gives Keator the freedom to 'audible' on his blocks if he sees something different.
"There are multiple ways to block a play," Keator said. "He tells me the way (he says) isn't always the best way, so do what you're comfortable with. If you do it well, you might as well go ahead. My junior year, I absorbed a lot from the seniors I was around. Now I don't think twice about it. We've got a high-tempo offense and I just go with the calls I make."
Last season, Keator benefited from battling immovable nose tackle Eric Madry five days a week in practice.
"When a kid like Madry is struggling with Keator, that's a great attribute, and he's built on it," Peterson said.
Now Keator is the fulcrum of a veteran line that has powered an offense which has generated plenty of yards, if not always points, this season.
"In our wins, we only had three, four turnovers," said Keator, the recipient of only one holding penalty this season. "We could really be a 7-3 team. If we go out and play Chesterton football, eliminate the stupid mistakes, I truly believe we can play with anybody in the state."
Whether it's tonight or a point later in November, the last game may be the end of football for Keator, who has played since fourth grade. An aspiring engineering student, he may consider walking on at Colorado School of the Mines, where his sister Melissa is a student. Peterson believes the Division II school would be a good fit.
"I'd definitely give it a shot," Keator said, "but I'd rather get a good education."