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Former Nebraska, UTC wrestler Keller passes away

Matt Keller

Matt Keller, four-time Tennessee high school state champion wrestler who went on to compete at University of Nebraska-Lincoln then earn All-American honors at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was shot to death by a homeowner in Marion County, Tennessee Friday night. Keller was 33.

The homeowner told investigators he saw a man and woman he didn't know fighting on his property. When the homeowner confronted them, the man -- later identified as Keller -- stopped fighting with his girlfriend and attacked the homeowner, according to a news release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

WRCB-TV, the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga, reported that the TBI spokesperson said the man started assaulting the homeowner when he came outside to see what was going on in his yard.

Marion County Sheriff Bo Burnett said the unidentified homeowner had a .25 caliber handgun he fired at least once during the fight before it was knocked out of his hands by Keller. The sheriff said the homeowner ran inside his home and returned with a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun he used to shoot and kill Keller as the former wrestler reportedly began assaulting him again.

It's not exactly clear how Keller and the woman -- identified as Ashley Boss, 24 -- ended up on the homeowner's property, but sheriff Burnett said they were camping nearby.

WRCB said a reporter interviewed the homeowner off camera who said he begged the couple to leave, but they wouldn't. He added that he fired a warning shot before shooting Keller.

Ashley Boss was jailed for public intoxication, trespassing and other charges.

No charges have been filed against the homeowner.

Keller's body has been sent to Nashville for an autopsy.

Born in August 1983 in Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew L. Keller grew up in the Cleveland, Tennessee area, just thirty miles northeast of Chattanooga.

"When I was 6 years old, dad took me to the local Boys' Club for their wrestling program," Keller told InterMat in a 2007 feature. "You see, he was a high school wrestler."

"It took three years to wipe the smile off my face."

Keller went on to wrestle at Bradley Central High School, where he compiled an incredible 140-2 record, and won four straight Tennessee state championships.

Despite that impressive prep resume, Keller was not heavily recruited, but managed to attract the attention of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and immediately signed a letter of intent.

In three seasons with the Cornhuskers, Keller made positive contributions to the program, twice placing third in the Big 12 conference championships, and finishing just one win shy of earning NCAA All-American honors at 133 pounds.

While at Nebraska, Matt Keller's father David was called to serve in the Army in Afghanistan. Coach Mark Manning released Keller from his scholarship, allowing him to transfer to University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. At the time, coach Manning told the Omaha World Herald, "Matt wants to be closer to home, so he can be there to support his mom and his family. I completely understand his decision. We've had a great relationship and I wish him the best."

In his first season at UTC, Keller moved back to the 133-pound weight class after being at 125 his last year at Nebraska. During the 2005-06 season, Keller won the Reno Tournament of Champions, the 2006 Southern Conference Championships (and was named Outstanding Wrestler of the event), and earned All-American honors at the 2006 NCAA by placing eighth at 133.

As a senior, Keller won titles at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and the Missouri Open. He capped off his collegiate career as a two-time All-American with a fourth-place finish at the 2007 NCAAs.

When contacted about Keller's passing, his head coach at UTC, Chris Bono -- who now heads up the wrestling program at South Dakota State University -- told InterMat, "Matt was one of the hardest workers and toughest kids I had ever coached. I am still in shock and having a real hard time knowing he is gone. I loved the guy."

"I am real sorry for his family!" Bono, a 1996 NCAA champ for Iowa State, continued. "They are an awesome family who supported Matt and UTC wrestling like no other when I was the head coach."

George McIntyre, a long-time wrestling official in Tennessee who watched Keller "on and off his entire wrestling career," said this of the former UTC wrestler:

"One thing about Matt that stands out in my mind is what a loyal teammate he was. From little kids wrestling through college he would work extra with anyone who wanted extra mat time. When his individual match was over he wasn't finished for the day. He was every teammates' biggest cheerleader and coach at mat side. He was the perfect friend and when it was time to step on the mat his intensity was off the chart."

"After the dual meet or tournament was over he was one of the guys who you enjoyed hanging out with the most," McIntyre told InterMat. "He had that switch that could turn him into a beast on the mat and then a regular guy two minutes after his match was over. He had started to reconnect with friends and teammates recently and seemed to really have his life on track."

Services have yet to be announced.

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