Vaught's Views: Could Dane Key Follow Father’s Footsteps And Play At Kentucky
Frederick Douglas High School receiver Dane Key -- shown with his mother, Nicole, and UK coach Mark Stoops -- has a Kentucky scholarship offer that his father, former UK linebacker Donte Key, calls a “real blessing.” (Photo from Larry Vaught)
Donte Key won’t call it a dream come true for his son to have a football scholarship offer from Kentucky, his alma mater, but he also won’t deny it is special.
“It’s something you envision or think about. You play at Kentucky and then for your son to get the opportunity to maybe experience the same thing is a true blessing,” said Key, now the linebackers coach at Frederick Douglas High School in Lexington where his son, Dane, plays.
Dane Key, a receiver/athlete, attended UK’s summer camp and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow told the sophomore he was going to be keeping an eye on him.
“Vince told him, ‘I am coming for you. Just be prepared,’” Donte Key said.
The 6-3 sophomore had four catches for 46 yards and two scores in 2018 when he played in 11 games. Through three games this season he had seven catches for 119 yards and three scores. In a 40-0 win over Lafayette he was at his versatile best with three punt returns for 107 yards and two scores, two receptions for 20 yards and a score, and a 2-point conversion pass completion.
He had scholarship offers from Western Kentucky, where his brother Devon plays, and Marshall before the season started. He got his scholarship offer from UK after attending Kentucky's win over Toledo and two days later got a scholarship offer from Louisville when he attended the Louisville-Notre Dame game.
Donte Key, an all-state player at Franklin-Simpson High School, credits Dane’s brother for inspiring his athletic success.
“He’s trying to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and going to school to play major college football. He has potential in baseball, too,” Donte Key said. “But his older brother is doing well on the field and in the classroom, so Dane wants to do the same.
“He has really big hands. They are bigger than mine. He has really good ball skills. That is what makes him want to play receiver at the next level. Dane is also a fierce competitor. He’s always been like that. He hates losing more than he loves winning. That comes out in his play and coaches like that. One of the great things about Dane is he is really aggressive when blocking people. He just kind of enjoys the contact.”
Donte Key knew the Kentucky and Louisville coaches were impressed with Dane at the camps this summer. Still, he admits it was “kind of surprising” for both in-state schools to offer him now since he’s only a sophomore.
“But his athletic prowess and skill level at this stage is not a surprise. He’s pretty good,” Donte Key said. “At Louisville he went against seniors in the 2020 class and really was impressive. He ran good routes and caught balls on those guys who are supposed to be elite defensive backs in the 2020 class. At Kentucky (coach Mark) Stoops and his staff saw him making plays for just a sophomore and know he’s just going to get better.”
Dane Key also went to camp at Virginia last summer and his father expects a scholarship offer could be coming once the coaches see game film from this year. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm recruited Devon Key at Western and Dane also went to Purdue last summer.
“I think they will come in at some point,” Donte Key said. “We also went to Vanderbilt’s camp and the wide receiver coach pulled him aside and talked to him. Other coaches are starting to follow him on Twitter and I am assuming other coaches are going to be coming around. I just tell him to enjoy his time and press (media) but make sure to stay humble.”
Dane Key was a superb basketball player, too, before giving that up in high school to concentrate on football and baseball where he plays center field and sometimes first base.
“He likes center and covers a lot of ground with his speed and length,” Donte Key said. “He bats left-handed and gets down the (first base) line pretty good, so that also makes him attractive.”
Donte Key says his son Devon “grew up on Kentucky’s football field” and probably envisioned himself playing there but is “happy and succeeding very well” at Western.
“Dane was actually probably more about baseball growing up but he has grown into a football player even I did not know was coming,” the former UK linebacker said.
Of course, football should be in the Key genes. Donte helped Kentucky beat Louisville 20-14 in 1994 in the first meeting between the two in-state rivals in 70 years. He set up the game-winning touchdown with a fumble recovery and intercepted a pass to secure the win and earn game MVP honors.
“That Louisville game comes up a lot when I am talking to different people,” Donte Key said. “It was a huge thing playing Louisville and made for some great memories. You really cherish those times as you get older.
“Coach (Bill) Curry is one of the most influential people I have had in my life. He told me you had to do something every day to get better. He changed my life to put me where I am today. I firmly believe that. He instilled discipline in me that was much needed.”
Donte Key has tried to pass lessons he learned playing for Curry on to his sons.
“One of the greatest things about being a dad is the job that having sons brings you,” Donte Key said. “I have always pushed both of them to show me what they are doing every day to work toward their goals and tell them if they have not anything to get better that they won’t get to the point they want. They accept that just like I learned to do from coach Curry.”
* * *
Obviously getting a commitment from five-star shooting guard Terrence Clarke last week and then having him say he was reclassifying to the 2020 recruiting class was a huge deal for Kentucky basketball. However, don’t overlook that four-star power forward Lance Ware also verbally committed to UK last week.
Rivals.com recruiting writer David Sisk, a former AAU coach, likes a lot about Ware’s game.
“Defensively, I like that he is versatile and can guard multiple positions while still being a rim protector. In today's game that is everything for a modern big,” Sisk said.
It’s also something that Kentucky desperately needs more of knowing it might lose all three bigs off this year’s team.
“Offensively, I like that he has both soft hands and good feet,” Sisk said. “That makes me believe he will develop a good back to the bucket game over time. His strength is his mid-range game, so adding that would bode well.”
Sisk has watched Ware “continuously” get better during his high school career and he sees no reason to think that progression won’t continue at UK.
“His skill level and his basketball IQ have improved. If he continues that pace, and I see no reason why he shouldn't, then he should very good at Kentucky,” Sisk said.
There could also be one huge upside for Ware that Kentucky fans should really like.
“He will be in the program for at least two years, and I wouldn't be surprised if he made it three,” Sisk said. “Under the eyes of John Calipari and Kenny Payne, he could be outstanding before he leaves.”
Sisk said it’s hard to know which previous Kentucky big to compare Ware to even though Rivals.com recruiting analyst Corey Evans told him he didn’t think another player like him had played for Calipari at UK.
“He likes the defensive side of the floor and he has a motor. Offensively, I'm not sure what the Calipari system is. Personally, I believe it is recruiting players he likes then building an offensive style around them. Ware will give him some options in both the full court and in the half court,” Sisk said.
“Lance is a good athlete and has good feet at the four spot, but he isn't a stretch guy. His range goes out to 15 feet. To be a complete four in 2020, he will need to move his range out to the 3-point line. That will be the hardest thing to improve. Like most high school players, he needs to gain weight, but that won't be much of a problem with the program he is going into.”
* * *
Senior receiver Ahmad Wagner has certainly turned out to be one of Vince Marrow’s biggest recruiting steals at Kentucky. A three-year basketball player at Iowa, Wagner has become a big-play receiver at UK.
The 6-5 Wagner drew a key pass interference penalty in the last-minute game-winning drive at Missouri last year. This season he has a 54-yard touchdown catch — even though defensive pass interference was called on the play — against Eastern Michigan. The first 14 passes thrown his way at UK, eight led to defensive pass interference calls. He drew two more pass interference flags against Florida last week and had a phenomenal touchdown catch. He now has nine catches for 198 yards — 22 yards per catch — and two scores this year to go with the pass interference calls.
He’s been so good for Kentucky that I had to ask him why he played basketball at Iowa instead of just going with football immediately because he had a list of impressive options for football despite playing just his senior year in Ohio when he had over 1,000 receiving yards.
“I love basketball. I made a commitment (to Iowa) and wanted to stick to my word (after signing early),” Wagner said. “At the time, I wasn’t going to change my mind. It was set in stone then that I would play basketball in college but things change.”
His playing time decreased his junior year at Iowa and he thought why not make the move to football. When he did, Marrow was waiting because he managed to keep tabs on Wagner even while he was at Iowa.
Any regrets about not playing football immediately?
“Not at all. I am so happy I played basketball and made great relationship at that school and now I am really happy I am playing football and making new relationships at Kentucky. So no regrets at all. I consider myself luck,” Wagner said.
* * *
It’s still not likely that Kentucky will need to play true freshman quarterback Amani Gilmore but after the season-ending injuries to starter Terry Wilson and true freshman Nik Scalzo, the Cats are down to three quarterbacks — Sawyer Smith (who threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns in last week's loss to Florida), Walker Wood and Gilmore.
Smith is now UK’s starter and Wood, a redshirt sophomore with no experience , is the backup. However, Wood has been plagued by injuries his first two years at UK.
Former UK All-SEC defensive back Van Hiles knows plenty about Gilmore, a Louisiana native like Hiles.
“If he keeps progressing, he is special,” Hiles said. “He is left-handed and has a great arm. He is Terry Wilson almost. He has great straight line speed. He played in a spread offense on a really good team in high school that won the state championship his senior year.
“He has all the attributes to be a really special player. He will be more than just good, especially since UK is bringing in receivers for him to have a really good group of skilled players around him. Coach (Vince) Marrow is getting really good tight ends every year. He should really have a lot of talent at his disposal going forward.”
Hiles isn’t saying Gilmore is ready to play this year and understands a redshirt year would benefit him unless injuries force him into action.
“I think eventually he is really going to be special. Kentucky fans are going to love to see him if he stays on the path I think he will going forward,” Hiles said.
* * *
Quote of the Week: “I don’t think there is anything else to prove in high school. I think another year of high school would have done a disservice to me whenever I could have went to college and got better for the next level. Me, being in high school now, I am obviously going to work as hard as I can, but college is just a different level,” UK commit Terrence Clarke on why he is he reclassifying to the 2020 recruiting class.
Quote of the Week 2: “We have to work harder and come with a different mindset than we had last week. We have to involve everybody. It’s going to take all of us to get this next win. We have to keep moving forward and not look in the past,” UK defensive back Brandin Echols on preparing for Mississippi State after the disappointing loss to Florida.
Quote of the Week 3: “I have a couple, but there are still some more I wish I had. It’s very exciting and humbling just to think he has his own card. But he’s still always going to be my little boy and son. He’s not going to change to me no matter how famous he gets,” April Snell on her son, Benny, having his own football cards now that he’s with the Pittsburgh Steelers.