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From mayor to quarterback: Keller to play for Gladiators in exhibition

When the Duke City Gladiators play their annual preseason game at Tingley Coliseum on Saturday, fans will be getting their first look at coach Dominic Bramante’s fourth-year unit, which was 7-5 last season and qualified for the Champions Indoor Football playoffs.

Among the players they’ll surely be curious about is the quarterback wearing No. 18. He starred at St. Pius in the mid-’90s but hasn’t played organized ball since his intramural tackle-football days 20 years ago in college at Notre Dame.

That QB would be Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, who took time out from his day job Wednesday morning to participate in drills with the Gladiators at a local indoor soccer facility.

Keller, 40, is expected to play a series or two when Duke City takes on the Fort Worth City Gunslingers of the Elite Indoor Football league. They are a late replacement for a team of metro-area first responders who didn’t have the numbers for a squad this year.

The idea to play – just for this game – was Keller’s. Apparently there isn’t a clause in his city contract that forbids him from doing stuff like wrestling bears or playing in a pro football game.

“Maybe there should be,” he said smiling. “It’s a little bit of a dream come true to come out here and wear this helmet.

“It’s a contact sport, but politics is a contact sport, too. I’m mentally ready, but maybe not physically. Obviously, I can use several years of practice, but luckily I was able to come out this morning. … I’m not afraid of getting hit, but I’ve got no interest in being a hero, so I’ll go down real fast.”

Keller, 6-foot, 180 pounds, took 14 reps in Wednesday’s team period, alternating with first-team QB Caleb Holbrook. The mayor was 3-for-5 passing and even handled keepers on run/pass options, but there was no tackling or hard hitting. On another occasion, as Keller turned his head to bark signals, the snap sailed over his head. After practice, he spent about 15 minutes throwing to receivers.

Said Bramante: “This is unheard of for a mayor to get in the pit and play with us.”

And it’s not like the Gunslingers will be instructed to treat Keller with kindness.

“Heck no!” Bramante said. “He wants the full effect. But when he’s in there we’re going to have our front-line troops in.”

Among Gladiator newcomers this season is DE Matt Moss, 30, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound Texas A&M alum who won three indoor titles with the Wichita Force. He’s also played indoor ball in China, and with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League and had looks by the NFL Chargers and Vikings.

“I’ve been all over the place and this was one of the most professional camps I’ve ever been in,” said Moss, who said he’s totaled 72½ sacks in his indoor stops. “It was physically and mentally demanding. And one of the best for talent and speed.”

JERSEY AUCTION: Keller’s jersey will be auctioned after the game, with proceeds going to two first-responder families in need. Also, 50 percent of the money from reserve seats and VIP seats will benefit local fire and police departments.

UP NEXT: Duke City will open the regular season March 17 with a road game against the defending champion Texas Revolution. On March 24, Duke City will play host to the Wichita Force at 6:05 at Tingley.