By Jack Williams
ATLANTA – Football fame certainly didn’t come easily for Brent Key, Georgia Tech’s four-year starter at offensive guard. He was cut the first time he tried out for a team and never started any game until his junior year in high school.
“In junior high when I first went out for the team, the coaches told us we could try out for any position we liked,” Key said. “I chose quarterback just because that is the big-time position. They first moved me to tight end and finally, to the offensive line. When the coaches posted the team after the final cut, my name wasn’t on the list. I was crushed.”
Fortunately for Key, he was recalled a few weeks later when three team members went down with injuries.
Times have really changed for Brent Key! The Tech senior from Trussville, Ala., heads now into his final season as as a pre-season All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick and a strong candidate for All-America.
He and another veteran, tackle Chris Brown, are the players who are counted on to lead the Tech charge in the new campaign. Key has made 31 career starts and was a driving force on last year’s team which led the nation with 509.0 yards total offense per game, including an average of 225.6 yards rushing per contest.
The rise to stardom at Georgia Tech has surprised many because Key came to The Flats with absolutely no fanfare. He was snubbed by both Auburn and Alabama in his home state. In fact, he never even received a routine recruiting letter from either of those schools. Georgia Tech was the only Division I school that recruited him.
After the scheduled road opener against Virginia Tech last Sunday was halted by an electrical storm, Key has a special mission this week.
Looking ahead to the home test against Central Florida, at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, Key’s big concern is helping three new starters on the offensive line get adjusted to the toughness and the speed of college football.
“I take our guys aside every chance I get and try to give them a feel for what it will be like in their opening college game,” he said. “I remember my first game at Notre Dame and how much help I got from the veteran players.
“There’s nothing quite like playing in your first college game,” he said. “You go through every extreme, every emotion possible. Some guys actually get sick on their stomach. I’m trying to tell our guys that everything will be coming at them 10 times faster than they have experienced before. It’s another level, another intensity, another speed.”
The new Tech players are up to the task, in Key’s opinion. “David Schmidgall at center is a former walk-on, but he’s a very smart player,” Key said. “I don’t see a drop-off for us at center with him in the lineup. Clay Hartley (at guard) and John Bennett (at tackle) are freshmen who like to get after people. They just simply love to play the game. The only thing they need to be really good is a little experience.”
Key also had good things to say about a number of key reserves, guards Raymond Roberts-Blake and Leon Robinson and center Hugh Reilly.
Much has been written and said about the graduation loss of quarterback Joe Hamilton, runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race last season. Key, for one, believes the offense will get along well without Hamilton.
“George Godsey has had a fine fall practice,” he said. “He has proved himself in every practice. I don’t know that he can do all the things Joe did, but George is going to be a good quarterback. He has a strong hold on the offense.”
Key also has great things to say about the new coach of the offensive line, Mac McWhorter. “He’s a good person and a great coach,” Key said. “At first, I thought it would be a tough transition, changing coaches at the end of the regular season last year. But it didn’t turn out that way. Everything went smoothly.”
Key (6-4 and 290) says playing in the offensive line is no easy task. “The little things are what make an offensive lineman,” he says. “There are a lot of big guys out there who are not good offensive linemen and there are a lot of smaller guys who are good. Each little step and movement are important. There’s a huge difference between aiming at somebody’s armpit and his outside number. Those three inches make a huge difference.”
When he was a youngster, Key was a catcher on the baseball field-and a very good one. But these days, his only connection to baseball is as a devoted fan of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. “I’m the team’s No. 1 fan,” he said.
Key, in fact, is a big fan of everything connected with Georgia Tech. Counting football, academics and other aspects of college life, he says the Georgia Tech experience has been more than he bargained for.
“I used to hear a lot of older people say how lucky I was to get a Georgia Tech education,” he said. “Now, I don’t need anyone to tell me that. Georgia Tech is a school that is held in high regard across the country. Not everyone can handle the tough academics here. It’s been quite an experience.”
Key majors in management – and football. He’s a winner in both of them.