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Keyes' Allegiance Goes Across Town

High schools: Birmingham safety dreamed of playing for USC but accepts offer from UCLA.

September 08, 2002|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than 30 years, Dennis Keyes Sr. has been a USC football fan, his loyalty seemingly assured after watching Anthony Davis score six touchdowns against Notre Dame in a 1972 televised game from the Coliseum.

"My dream was I wanted to be a tailback at USC and win the Heisman Trophy," he said.

He didn't play football after high school, but he hoped his first son, Dennis Jr., might be good enough to play for the Trojans.

Keyes, an All-City running back and defensive back at Lake Balboa Birmingham High, attended the final day of a USC camp this summer thinking the Trojans would offer him a scholarship.

"I wanted to go to USC," he said. "I played what I thought was real good football. I was ready to commit that day. They said they weren't sure yet. They wanted me to come out again and show more. It was like I had to audition."

Not long after the USC camp, Keyes attended a one-day camp at UCLA. The Bruin coaches didn't need to see him play anymore. They immediately offered a scholarship.

"They treated me like I was at home," Keyes said.

Keyes committed to the Bruins, forcing his mother, father and four siblings to change allegiances.

What UCLA will be getting in another year is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound hard-hitting safety who also could be one of the City Section's top running backs this season.

As a junior, Keyes rushed for 1,172 yards, averaged 9.1 yards per carry and scored 18 touchdowns. He helped Birmingham win its second consecutive West Valley League championship.

"He's got a linebacker's mentality," Coach Ed Croson said.

From the time he put on football pads as a 6-year-old, Keyes has loved to hit. He remembers following his father's simple instructions in those early days: "Whoever has the ball, get 'em."

"I just ran into a lot of people because I was pretty big for my age," he said. "It was fun, but I still had no idea what I was doing."

Versatility became a Keyes trademark. On Birmingham's varsity as a sophomore, he played every defensive position except tackle and nose guard. He made his biggest impact rushing quarterbacks, with teams struggling to find blockers quick enough to slow Keyes' relentless pursuit.

He continues to blossom as a ballcarrier, using superb vision, speed and instincts. Last October in a 40-21 victory over Woodland Hills Taft, he rushed for 216 yards in 26 carries and scored on a 96-yard reception. He also dropped All-American receiver Steve Smith of Taft for a loss on a screen pass with a hit so intense that it made Birmingham's highlight film.

"When you're playing people like Steve and Taft, you have to come with your 'A' game or you're going to lose," Keyes said.

Keyes receives plenty of support from his family, particularly his two younger brothers, Julius, 11, and Spencer, 6.

"They kind of worship the ground he walks on and I let them know he's not God," Dennis Sr. said.

Spencer, who started playing tackle football in August, is a running back in the making.

"My little brother tries everything I do," Keyes said. "He watches a highlight tape, sees me spinning off a tackle, so he'll go run into the couch and spin off it."

Keyes may have to do some redecorating of his bedroom. He played for the East Valley Trojans youth team and liked everything about the Trojans.

"I have Trojan trophies, helmets and jerseys all over my room," he said. "I love the Trojans, but now I'm a Bruin."

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