Abilene Christian Basketball Commit Making a Name for Herself on the Football Field

Five-sport athlete Tristin Keller isn’t interested in limits

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The first time Tristin Keller put on pads for a football practice, her dad wasn’t sure how it would go. “I will let you play,” he told his then-third-grader. “But you can’t cry if they hit you.” He may have been better served giving that advice to the kid across from Tristin in the team’s first hitting drill.

“I just hit him with as much force as I thought I could,” she said. “I just plowed over the kid [on] the first try.”

Tristin knew then that football was for her. “The adrenaline — I loved it,” she said. “I was like, ‘I want to keep doing this.’”

Tristin Keller poses for a photo for her high school’s varsity football team. (Photo courtesy of Tristin Keller)

The now-16-year-old high school junior committed to Abilene Christian’s basketball team earlier this month, but football made her an overnight social media sensation. Tristin is a backup wide receiver and cornerback on her school’s varsity football team. After one of the team’s starting cornerbacks got sick on September 11, Tristin was called on for her first varsity start. Following the game, she tweeted a photo of herself on the field.

The post quickly went viral, racking up over 3,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 likes. People from all over the country began reaching out to Tristin to show their support. Some have been parents thanking her for setting an example for their daughters. Others have been young girls who hope to follow her lead. One girl told Tristin that she loved playing football with her brothers and cousins in the yard and was inspired to try out for her school’s team after seeing Tristin’s tweet. Tristin even received a message from Philadelphia Eagles safety Grayland Arnold telling her to "follow her dreams and keep working hard."

Tristin is still adjusting to her newfound fame. “It’s crazy to know people were sitting there like, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope she responds to me,’” she said. “It seems like I’m a nobody in the middle of nowhere, and yet a bunch of people think I’m a hero.”

Tristin lives in Mason, Texas — a rural town of just over 2,000 people in, as she puts it, “the middle of nowhere.” It’s the type of town that captures the essence of “Friday Night Lights.” When she takes the court for Abilene Christian in the fall of 2022, she’ll be the first ever from her school’s girls basketball team to play in Division I, adding to her growing list of accomplishments. The five-sport athlete has already earned All-State honors in basketball and placed fifth in the state in pole vault, in addition to competing on the school’s football, tennis, and softball teams. (And, just for good measure, she went to state in debate last year.)

Tristin Keller brings the ball up the court during a game last year. (Photo courtesy of Tristin Keller)

That type of grind isn’t for everyone, but Tristin wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s no better way to practice than to compete,” she said. “Being able to compete all year round I feel like just makes me better overall.”

Football and basketball are Tristin’s first loves. With better college prospects in the latter, the All-State point guard decided to continue her hoops career at the college level. The future Wildcat describes herself as a do-everything type of player: “Whatever we need for the game, that's what I’ll do,” she said. “If it's defense, I’m the defensive player; if it's ball-handling, I'm the primary ball-handler.”

For the next two school years, however, she’ll be busiest during the spring sports season. She starts her typical spring day with early-morning triple jump workouts, then she heads to track practice after school to work on pole vaulting. Next is tennis practice, then softball practice. After softball, Tristin grabs something to eat before going back to the track for more pole vaulting. And in the midst of all of that, she finds time to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

Tristin Keller launches a three during a contest last season. (Photo courtesy of Tristin Keller)

Tristin credits her older brother Tyson for helping her develop the determination to succeed in so many areas. “He definitely had a tremendous amount of impact on my competitive edge,” she said. “[Growing up] we were always competing — whoever wins this, you get the last Nutter Butter at the house or whatever.”

Tyson was a senior when Tristin was a freshman, and both were on Mason High School’s state championship football team that year after the junior varsity season ended and Tristin got moved up to the varsity roster. Their mother, a basketball and volleyball player in college, is Mason’s cheer coach. Their father is an assistant coach on the football team and is also the head coach of the boys basketball team. Playing sports is in Tristin’s blood.

Being raised by a football coach meant that Tristin was around the team from a young age. That familiarity has made it easier for her to find her place in the male-dominated sport. "[As a young kid], I would always run around with the boys," she said. "It was just kind of natural — I always wanted to be like the football boys."

Tristin Keller (No. 14) defends an opposing wide receiver during a game this season. (Photo courtesy of Tristin Keller)

Tristin's fit with the team doesn't free her from discrimination on the field, however. There have been times when referees have called the game differently for her — for example, assuming that a girl couldn’t possibly knock down a boy without committing a penalty. There have also been times when opponents have targeted her. But her teammates have her back. “They don’t let people talk trash to me,” she said. “It’s like a brother-sister thing. Brothers don’t let guys pick on their sister.”

Not that Tristin needs anyone's help to stand up for herself. She handles her haters with the unflappable composure of someone twice her age.

“They think it’s insulting me, but I honestly think it’s funny,” she said. “I don't care what you have to say about my mom or about my grandma. I don't care. Just go back to your huddle. I'm here to play a game.”

For a sport that's sorely lacked female leadership for so long, the landscape is finally beginning to shift. The NFL has more female coaches than ever before (seven full-time coaches as of the 2020 Super Bowl), and on September 27, for the first time in league history, women were on both coaching staffs as well as the officiating crew when Washington defeated Cleveland 34–20.

Add Tristin's name to the list of female role models in football. As her renown continues to grow, she hopes her journey will inspire other young athletes to chase their dreams — especially girls looking to forge their path in a sport that hardly welcomes them. And the advice she gives is the way she lives.

“Follow your passion; don't let anyone stop you. … Just do what you love and do it 100 percent.”

Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!

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