If it were possible to put 11 Alex Keys in the Derby offense, coach Brandon Clark wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
The Panther coach isn’t holding his breath for that day to come, but he and his staff are pouring in hours to help Key (6’4”, 260) and one of the state’s best offensive lines to grow through an up-and-down year.
What attributes make up an ideal offensive tackle in a Derby offense?
Is it footwork, hands, strength, speed, agility or perhaps position I.Q.? Within an offense that plays from sideline to sideline and doesn’t keep its running between the tackles, each characteristic holds plenty of value.
That list of attributes is why Key is being talked about as being one of the most productive linemen – if not player – in the state regardless of age or position.
“Alex is one of the best players in Kansas right now,” Clark said. “He’s a leader, he plays fast and physical. He’s one of those guys that plays the offensive line with a defensive lineman’s mentality.”
Colleges are taking notice too as Butler CC, Kansas, North Dakota State and South Dakota have begun expressing interest during his junior season.
Clark and offensive line coach Chris Pinaire said the junior is as good as any in the program at finishing blocks and carrying that mindset from play to play within a game.
“He’s exactly what we’re looking for at offensive tackle,” Pinaire added. “He’s longer, rangy and has good feet to play out in space.”
Clark also said that it’s a major benefit for the rest of his roster when one of his best players is as bought in individually as any player on the team.
“Technique-wise, he’s one of our best on the offensive line,” the Derby coach said. “You take his size, physical traits and his knowledge of the game … he’s a total player and I even thought he played like a senior as a sophomore last fall.”
Both Clark and Pinaire said it was invaluable for Key and the rest of his returning teammates to get reps alongside Alex Conn (Nebraska), Philip Icenhour (Benedictine) and Kevin Washington (Butler CC). All three players were multi-year starters themselves and became a part of arguably one of Derby’s best offensive lines a year ago.
“Just to be able to watch those guys, he played right tackle while Conn was on the left side,” Clark said. “He’s the type of guy that when you’re talking to the tackle on the other side, he’s thinking about what he should be doing if we run the play to his side. He’s such a student of the game.”
Key’s impact is felt alongside fellow lineman Jonas Vickers in the weight room. The two are lifting partners and set a foundation in arguably Derby’s most successful homes other than a football field.
Clark admits that it’s hard not to include Key on the defensive line as his skill set is a perfect match for both sides of the line of scrimmage. However, he’s slid in at left tackle and not looked back.
“It’s hard to tell our defensive coaches that he can’t play defensive line too,” Clark said. “He’s that fast and usually we try to fill our defense with quick-twitch, fast guys that have good size. He’d be a tremendous defensive end, but he’s such a technician on the offensive side of the ball.”