By Jack Williams
Georgia Tech offensive guard Brent Key watched last year’s National Champion game on a fuzzy 13-inch television screen that he figures was at least a few years older than any of the players in the game. Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick was REALLY a blur on that TV set – here one minute, gone the next.
Key will have a much better view of Vick this Sunday night at Blacksburg, Va., when the Yellow Jacket take aim at the Hokies in the Black Coaches’ Association Bowl game that kicks off the new season.
“On the day of that Virginia Tech-Florida State Sugar Bowl game last season, my grandfather (Don Martin) and I went deer hunting in Pickens County in Alabama,” Key recalls. “We came back to his cabin to see the game on TV. It was quite an experience. The TV set was probably a 1976 model and the reception wasn’t all that good. I think it was a color set, but you had trouble telling for sure.”
Now, Key and his Jacket teammates will try to score an upset over the Virginia Tech team while many others watch on TV.
How many points does he figure the Jacket defense will have to put up to win the game?
“I hope just three,” Key answered with a smile. “I have confidence in our defensive team. There is no question it will be improved. We’ve got a lot of good athletes on defense.”
In his fourth season as a Tech starter, Key’s biggest 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 at Blacksburg Sunday,” he said. “I remember my first college game at Notre Dame. I remember 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 to 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.
But Key and another veteran, tackle Chris Brown, are the players who are counted on to lead the Tech charge in the new campaign. Key, a redshirt senior from Trussville, Ala., 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.
Key (6-4, 290) now is a preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick and is rated a strong bet for All-America honors.
Those are interesting preseason ratings for a player who came to Tech with absolutely no fanfare. Key was snubbed by both Auburn and Alabama in his home state. He never even received a routine recruiting letter from either of those schools. In fact, Georgia Tech was the only Division I school that recruited him.
To make Key’s college feats even more impressive, consider the fact that he was cut by coaches when he tried out for his first team in junior high school. “The coaches told us we could try out for any position that we liked,” he said. “I chose quarterback just because that is the big-time position. They moved me to tight end and then 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. He never started a game that season, however, and, in fact, never made a starting lineup on any team until his junior year in high school.
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 just fine 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.”
Counting football, academics and other aspects of college life, Key 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.