When Tyler Gullett left St. Edward and came back to Keystone last year, it was too late for him to play football.
His impact on the baseball diamond, however, was immediate. Not only did he lead the team in hitting with a .464 average, 14 home runs and 64 RBIs, but he also stole 24 bases to help the Wildcats go 23-8 and reach the Division III regional semifinals for the third straight year.
With a baseball scholarship to the University of Toledo already in hand, Gullett turned his attention to football this fall. Eight games into his senior season, Gullett has shown he’s a definite two-sport threat.
“He’s probably the best football player I’ve ever coached,” said 10-year Keystone coach Rob Clarico.
“The easy answer to that are the physical gifts that he possesses.
“He’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and he’s strong. He’s put in a lot of time in the weight room. Plus, he’s really shifty when he’s running the ball. A couple of coaches have said they’ve underestimated his speed. He’s about as fast as anyone in the conference.
“He’s also a great leader. We vote for our captains every week and he’s the leading vote getter each week. He’s a very physical football player. He began the year as our tailback and outside linebacker, and when we moved him to quarterback, we’ve limited him on defense. But he’s not afraid to hit someone on defense. There isn’t much he can’t do.”
Gullett took over at quarterback when his friend and fellow senior Marcus Gunter was injured during a 38-21 loss to Cloverleaf in Week 2. As he’s grown more comfortable in his new role, the Wildcats have blossomed.
Keystone (6-2, 5-0 Patriot Athletic Conference) needs a win in tonight’s Stars Division game against Buckeye (4-4, 4-1) to set up a division championship game at home against Black River (6-2, 5-0).
If Keystone wins out, it will claim the first conference championship for the school since 1971.
Gullett has gained 1,254 yards on 136 carries (a 9.2-yard average) with 14 touchdowns. He’s completed 56 of 93 passes for 696 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s even caught four passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. He’s gained 1,347 all-purpose yards and 2,043 total yards this season.
His QB rating is 91, according to MaxPreps.com.
“I’m real excited to be a part of this,” Gullett said. “My team and I have been preparing for these last two weeks this whole season. We had a feeling it was going to come down to these last two weeks and we’ve been preparing and training for this moment. It’s exciting to be a part of from the team’s perspective, but also from the community’s perspective.”
Despite the impressive numbers, Gullett said the move to quarterback hasn’t been easy.
“It was a difficult at first,” Gullett said. “Before this year, I hadn’t played offense since eighth grade. At tailback, I knew what I wanted to do. Filling in for Marcus was tough, but they threw me in there and said, ‘Here’s some plays and go with it.’
“At Galion (in Week 3), we ran the same five plays over and over. But once I got used to it, we’ve added more plays to the playbook. It’s OK now, but it was a tough transition.”
The coaches have adopted more of a read-option style to accent Gullett’s mobility and strength as a runner. On a lot of plays, Gullett has the option to hand off to a tailback, do a play-action pass or simply run.
“If I see the hole open up, I’ll take it,” Gullett said. “If it’s a pass play and if there’s nothing there, Coach Clarico gives me the green light to take off. I’m still a running back playing a quarterback’s position, so they trust me to do what’s best.”
Another benefit was being in the St. Edward system for two seasons. Gullett was one of just five freshmen who were allowed to dress varsity during their postseason run to a 15-0 state championship season in 2010 and was allowed to dress and travel with the varsity as a sophomore on a team that went 8-4 and reached the regional semifinals.
He didn’t play enough to earn a letter, but he gained valuable experience that he’s brought to the Wildcats.
“Playing with all those great athletes that have gone on to Division I colleges helped me tremendously,” Gullett said. “Just being in that program taught me a lot about the game. I believe it’s helped me a lot, especially making the transition from tailback to quarterback.”
Clarico has lived next door to Gullett’s family the entire time he’s lived in LaGrange so he knew the skills he possessed.
“If you think about it, this is his first real varsity playing action, which is remarkable,” Clarico said. “You could see it in our early scrimmages, even though he was pretty raw, that he could be a difference-maker with this team.”
Gullett’s play has gotten attention from college football recruiters as well, and has made for some interesting talks at the dinner table about his future.
“A lot of the bigger colleges are done with their senior classes by now,” Gullett said. “I would have loved to play college football, but I really love baseball. My coaches have talked to their Toledo guys to see if there was a possibility if I could do both down the road. If the decision wasn’t already made, it would be a tough decision.”
Gullett also joined a team that had grown together as freshmen and sophomores and had been building for this year.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won a conference title,” Gullett said, “and it’s nice to be in the mix after Black River, Buckeye and Wellington have dominated it for so long. Not only do I hope to do it, but I hope it can start a tradition of Keystone being in the championship mix for years down the road.”