SEMINARY, Miss. (WDAM) - After playing a variety of sports during his days in junior high school, Austin Keys decided basketball would be his focus at Seminary High School.
But a few years later, he got the football itch after a conversation with family.
“We were just sitting around in the living room one time, my mama and my brother, and we were just talking sports, and it was my brother, he’s the one who gave me the idea about football, how people were playing and getting exposure and all that,” Keys said recently during a break in the Bulldogs’ summer conditioning.
“I was like, ‘Well, let me think about it,’ because I knew I was going to grow into my body and that I had a really good body (for football). I came in as a junior and just kept putting on weight, putting on weight.”
Indeed. And after just a season back in the ranks, collegiate programs took notice. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Keys, who was tabbed Seminary’s “Player of the Pine Belt,” has verbally committed to the University of Mississippi.
“He’s really gotten bigger and stronger during this offseason,” said Seminary coach Brian Rials. “He’s gotten some offers and he’s committed to Ole Miss. So, we’re excited about that, having another (Southeastern Conference) player coming out of Seminary.”
The Bulldogs saw defensive tackle Nathan Pickering take his talents to Mississippi State University after spearheading a Seminary defense that led them to an 11-4 record and a South State championship.
The Bulldogs fell 34-28 in the Class 3A title game to Water Valley High School.
“It was hard,” Keys said. “That pushes me so much, you just don’t understand. I just want to see my teammates do great and get back to that spot.
“I feel like I’m a leader on the team, so I just want to push them, too.”
The Bulldogs will need all hands on deck this season pulling in the same direction.
“We lost some really good players from last year,” Rials said. “Nathan Pickering’s at Mississippi State now, and it’s hard to replace a kid like that. It’s going to take several guys stepping up to fill those big shoes.
“We lost four out of our five starting offense linemen, so we’ve got some work to do there.”
The Bulldogs also will have to replace 2,000-yard rusher Marquis Crosby, who transferred to Presbyterian Christian School.
But Rials said the Bulldogs return a solid nucleus to build around, and that he’s liked what he’d seen this summer.
“We had a good spring and we’ve had a good offseason,” Rials said. “Our goal, just like everybody’s, is to get back to (the championship game) again this year.”
And Rials said the Bulldogs have been very pleased with the return of Keys.
“He’s really come on the scene,” Rials said. “He played in junior high, took a couple years off to play basketball, and decided to come back out and give it a shot. We’re sure glad he did. He’s grown, gotten bigger, stronger, just a leader for our team now. We’re just expecting big things out of him this year.
“We didn’t know what to expect after he took a couple of years off. But (when) one of our linebackers got hurt (in 2018), he kinda stepped into that role, and just kinda took off from there. He just got better as the season went along and just continued to get better each day.”
Keys was asked what he’s most enjoyed since his return.
“Practice,” Keys said. “I’ve actually had a lot of fun in practice with the teammates. Everybody gets really hyped and that just keeps me going.”
Rials had another take on why Keys’ comeback has so far been a rip-roarin’ success.
“We just kinda talked him into coming back out, and he decided, ‘Hey, this is pretty good,'“ Rials said. “Once he figured out that he was pretty good at this game, it didn’t take long to realize that he was going to be pretty darn good for us. He had a good year for us, and we’re expecting really big things this year."
“Smart kid, great kid, makes good grades. Doesn’t get in any trouble _ that we know of. His mama stays on him pretty good, is really involved, so he’s easy to coach. Just kind of get him out there and let him get at it.”