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 linebacker coach at Frederick Douglass 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.”
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 bigplay 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. Of 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.”
After 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 relationships 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 lucky,” Wagner said.