Young, handsome and super talented, rising football star Dustin Keller is a sportsman with a big heart. The 21 year-old New York Jets tight end is a passionate supporter of charitable causes and has pledged $100 to autism research for every touchdown his team makes. The Indiana native credits his mother, who runs a non-profit that works with adults with developmental disabilities, with instilling a benevolent philosophy in him.
Keller has proven himself a worthy tight end, being drafted in the 1st round selection of the 2008 NFL draft. He is widely regarded as one of the top young dual-threat tight ends in the NFL. But it’s his humanitarian persona that makes him stand out from the rest of the Jets. Keller took time out to talk to Clutch about his football, family and philanthropy.
Clutch: Tell me a bit about your upbringing. What was it like for you growing up?
Dustin: I’m from Lafayette, Indiana. I’ve lived there my whole life. I was pretty much raised by my mother with my brothers and little sister. And my entire life sports have been a really big part of me and I’ve always been involved in sports, which made me work harder at school.
Clutch: Did your mother always encourage you in sports?
Dustin: Well, actually, my father is the one who, early on, started me in sports and my mum was the one who continued to push it. He wasn’t around after that. She always took me to all my athletic events and always worked extra jobs trying to get me involved in all these extra activities. My mom made it clear that as long as I kept up with my studies I could continue playing all the sports I wanted to so that was something that definitely encouraged me to work harder in that area but I never really had to choose between sport and any other activity. I pretty much was always involved in everything.
Clutch: You excelled at various sports. How did you know football was for you?
Dustin: I played football, basketball, baseball, I ran track and when I was younger I wrestled for a year or two and that was most definitely not my sport. When I got in to high school my favorite sport and the one I was concentrating on was basketball but then I started to realize that football was my better sport that I could play in college, possibly even further than that. That’s when I decided I needed to focus on football and it worked out for the best.
Clutch: How has being brought up by a single mother shaped your view of women?
Dustin: My mother is the strongest person I know. Raising five boys all by herself and at the same time she was working multiple jobs and going to school. The things she’s done for us to have as good a childhood as we did, we can’t say enough about her. It’s just amazing the things she’s been able to do.
Clutch: Your mom ran a charity. How did that affect your view of those less fortunate than yourself?
Dustin: It makes me wanna do anything that I can to help out. My mother worked for a company called Indiana Mentor and she got me involved. She worked with people with developmental difficulties so all through high school and college I was always making visits out there and hanging out with the people who lived in the group homes and spending any extra time I could out there and I really enjoyed that. That’s a credit to my mother because she didn’t make me do it but she always pushed me, whenever I had extra time, to go out and do these things. That’s why now I want to get involved in a few more charities and in the off-season I’m gonna spend a bit more time doing that kind of stuff.
Clutch: Apart from the autism charity, what other causes are you involved with?
Dustin: Right now that’s the only one I’m completely involved with but I’m just starting. Once the season’s over and I have more spare time I plan on getting involved with more stuff.
Clutch: What does volunteering give you? What would you say to others to encourage them to do the same?
Dustin: Because of the position that NFL football players are in, where they can have that kind of influence on people where they’re willing to come out and help that much more makes me know that anything that I can do to help I’m willing to do.
Clutch: You’ve been playing closely with football legends. Were you ever star struck coming to the Jets?
Dustin: No, the only time I did was when they traded to get Brett Farve on the team. It was kind of crazy. But then you realize that Brett’s just a normal guy and just really cool and you get to know him pretty fast.
Clutch: Who did you look up to / aspire to in sport when you were growing up?
Dustin: Well, when I was growing up, basketball was always my favourite sport and I was always a Kobe Bryant fan, and Michael Jordan. But playing football and being a receiver when I was younger I was always a big fan of Jerry Rice.
Clutch: Tell us something about you that not many people know.
Dustin: I consider myself to be the greatest ping-pong player that ever lived, the greatest to ever pick up a paddle (laughing). Also, on Nintendo Wii Tennis, I’m absolutely unbeatable! That’s a challenge. Ping-pong, it’s possible for me to lose. Wii Tennis, impossible!
Clutch: Did you ever consider becoming a professional ping-pong player (laughing)?
Dustin: No, it’s not something I really thought of and I think football is gonna pan out a little better for me so I think I made the right decision!
Clutch: Is it difficult to date when you’re in the public eye?
Dustin: I don’t know if I would say it’s difficult. It’s a little bit different than it was before just because it’s hard to see who’s real and who’s not.
Clutch: What keeps you grounded?
Dustin: My family. I talk to them every single day and they’re a huge reason why I’m able to do what I do so just speaking to them everyday helps me to see the reality of everything. That’s what keeps me grounded.
Clutch: What do you like to do to relax?
Dustin: I like to sit back and watch movies, that’s my favourite thing in the world to do.
Clutch: Who are you listening to on your iPod?
Dustin: More than anyone I’d have to say Lil Wayne but my favorite music is R&B. But I listen to The Dream, T.I. and Jay-Z the most.
Clutch: Where would you like to be in five years time?
Dustin: Hopefully, I’ll still be in the NFL. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll be playing a couple of pro-bowls that I’ve been invited to.
Clutch: What would you like your legacy to be?
Dustin: I’d like people to see that I’m just a very hard working guy. I don’t want anybody to ever say that he was talented but he could’ve done better, that I went out and I used every last bit of my ability and I always took advantage of every opportunity I’ve been given.