TAYLORSVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - Shortly after seeing his alma mater win its second state football championship in three years, Taylorsville High School coach Mitch Evans quickly cut short a statement that had characterized junior Ty Keyes as one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
“He’s the best player in Mississippi,” Evans said. “Period.
“I don’t care who your (other) guy is, (Keyes) is the best player in Mississippi.”
Call Evans a tad biased, but he’s also seen Keyes, day in, day out, over the past three years, watching as a 15-year-old freshman phenomenon developed into the leader of teams that made a run at three, consecutive state football championships.
The Mississippi Association of Coaches certainly thinks the world of Keyes, declaring him “Mr. Football” in Class 2A in back-to-back seasons (2018-19).
And the numbers — oh my, the numbers — certainly back any contention regarding Keyes’ excellence and the Tartars’ dominance.
- In a three-year span that first saw him assume the reins of a potential state title contender as a freshman, Keyes has played in 47 of the Tartars’ 48 games.
- In that stretch, Keyes has thrown for more than 11,000 yards, connecting on more than two-thirds of his throws.
- In three seasons, Keyes has thrown 125 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
- In three seasons, Keyes has rushed for 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards a carry.
- Taylorsville has won 45 of the 47 games Keyes has played, winning three consecutive Region 5-2A titles with unblemished records as well as two Class 2A state championships.
When Keys is presented with the glowing accolades and golden numbers, he’ll simply nod in acknowledgement then shrug.
“When people mention Taylorsville, they always mention me,” Keyes said. “But it’s not about me. It’s a team thing.”
Fair enough. Linemen must block to open running lanes and provide time for quarterbacks to throw the ball. Receivers must receive, running backs, run. The defense must hold the other side to one less point.
But Keyes has been front and under center, the focal point of the Tartars’ offense, and that “we-can’t-lose-with-him-on-our-side” swagger that he elicits from his teammates went a long way in Keyes’ selection as WDAM-TV “Player of the Year.”
“What a lot of people don’t see is that he’s a leader,” Evans said. “That’s what he is to this team. It showed a lot last year when he went down.
“You lose a player like that with his caliber, your team will struggle a little bit, so I think the biggest thing is his maturity in the locker room and on the field as a leader.”
Indeed. The contest that Keyes missed in 2018 was the Class 2A state championship against Scott Central High School, a game the-up-to-then-unbeaten Tartars dropped for their only loss of the season.
Keyes said that pain of that loss lingered far longer than the pain of the foot he broke in the 2018 South State championship game.
“It was terrifying,” Keyes said. “When I got hurt, I thought it was a sprain or something, but then I went to the doctor and got an x-ray.
“My mom came out and told me it was broken. I wanted to cry right there, but I just took it in.”
Like his teammates, Evans said Keyes and the Tartars allowed those unfortunate circumstances to stew into an inspirational brew that the team turned to often over the summer and into the season.
“That feeling that we had walking off this field last year, our guys, our seniors, they rallied and come June 4, that was our call: ‘Remember that feeling,’” Evans said. “You don’t want to have that feeling again.”
Keyes certainly didn’t.
“I didn’t play last year, and I was heartbroken,” Keyes said. “I came back in, worked hard all summer, and led us to the (2019) state championship. It was a special moment.”
Keyes didn’t shred the state sheet in the 2019 championship game earlier this month.
Keyes completed an efficient 12-of-16 passes for 124 yards. But he rushed for 72 yards and a score as Taylorsville turned to a ground game that cranked out 271 yards and six rushing touchdowns in a 48-18 victory over North Side High School.
The championship game was reflective of a playoff run that saw Keyes put up modest numbers by his standards. In five games, he did not throw for a touchdown; in three games, he did not reach 125 yards passing.
Yet, his completion percentage was slightly higher than his seasonal rate (69.3 percent to 68.9 percent), and over that five-game stretch, the Tartars rushed for 1,139 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 227.8 rushing yards and 3.8 touchdowns per game.
De-emphasizing the passing game was by design, Evans said.
“You go back and look, starting with that Union game, those guys were bringing three, maybe four, and dropping seven,” Evans said. “Well, as a coach and as a play-caller, you’re not setting Ty up to succeed or Taylorsville to succeed, if you’re dropping back to throw 30 times a game and they’re dropping seven into coverage.
“With those guys having to drop so many to protect against him, that made him as valuable as anyone else for us.”
Keyes will guide the Tartars once more in 2020 before likely having his pick of colleges.
“I want just to be the first one in my family to play at the next level and try to go to the (National Football League),” Keyes said. “That’s my plan. I just want to get my mom and dad a house.
“Every game, they’re in the stands. Well, my dad stands over by the fence. When we score a touchdown, he’s right there, smiling. That’s what I like to see.”
Evans said he’d be surprised if Keyes’ plan doesn’t become a reality
“He’s no doubt, hands down, the best player I’ve seen,” said Evans, a former quarterback himself. “I’ve been around Mississippi football since I was old enough to remember so that’s going on pushing 40 years, and I have not seen a kid do what he’s done for three straight years.
“I’ve watched all the good ones come through, His upside is through the roof…If he gets in the right situation in college, gets the right guidance, he’ll be playing on Sundays. I really believe that.”