2006-01-26 / Sports

Keys to victory

Oaks Christian freshman Brent Keys wins NFL Pepsi PuntPass and Kick competition
By Stephen Dorman sdorman@theacorn.com

TRIPLE THREAT—Brent Keys, a Simi Valley resident and Oaks Christian freshman, demonstrates the form that earned him the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick title in the 14/15 age division. TRIPLE THREAT—Brent Keys, a Simi Valley resident and Oaks Christian freshman, demonstrates the form that earned him the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick title in the 14/15 age division. One day you’re a freshman at Oaks Christian who’s just trying to establish yourself amongst a wealth of athletic talent at the school.

The next day you’re on national television.

And the week after that, the local media is requesting your time, too.

Welcome to Brent Keys’ world.

“I think that (the exposure’s) pretty cool,” the 15-year-old Keys said. “I’m not used to it. I’m not very good at it. But. . . .I like it.”

If talking with the media isn’t Keys’ forte, football might be.

On Sunday, Jan. 14, Keys won the 14/15 age division of the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick Challenge at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

NFL Punt, Pass and Kick (PP&K) ranges from ages 8 through 15 and is split into eight divisions— 8/9, 10/11, 12/13 and 14/15 boys and girls. Youngsters compete in local and sectional division in each of the NFL’s 32 cities.

Competitors who advance from the sectionals move onto team championships. Only the top five team champions in each division qualify for the PP&K finals.

All told, nearly four million youths competed in PP&K this season, the NFL reports.

According to NFL corporate communications manager Adina Ellis, Keys captured the 14/15 division championship with a total distance of 426 feet, 1 inch.

Keys’ punt attempt traveled 154 feet. His pass attempt was 147 feet, 9 inches. And Keys kicked the ball 124 feet, 4 inches, Ellis said.

“The score was determined by distance minus accuracy,” Ellis said. “The goal is to get the ball as far and as straight as possible.”

Keys, a Simi Valley resident who played wide receiver, kicker and defensive back on the Oaks Christian junior varsity team this season before moving up to the varsity squad for the postseason, flew to the final in Indianapolis with his father, Jim, and his uncle, Scott Keys.

After arriving at the hotel and later attending a banquet for all of the PP&K contestants, Keys said he wasn’t feeling nervous about the finals as he went to bed that Saturday night.

But standing on the RCA Dome turf the following morning, Keys’ nerves kicked in a little bit.

“My dad told me before that the hard part was making it to the finals and to have fun when I got there,” Keys said. “But, yeah, I was nervous doing each (event).”

All of the contestants were required to wear a jersey and jogging pants during the PP&K finals. Keys was issued a San Diego Chargers jersey, which he said fit fine. The jogging pants, however, were less than acceptable attire.

“The thing that probably bothered me the most was that we had to kick in sweatpants,” Keys said.

Jim Keys said half of the kids’ pants were too small.

“They couldn’t get full extension on their kicks,” the elder Keys said. “They wanted all the kids to match because CBS was going to show bits and pieces during the game.”

Despite the NFL’s latest wardrobe malfunction, Keys came out on top thanks, in part, to a solid punting effort right off the bat.

“I knew I was doing well after my punt because the rest of the guys didn’t do too good,” Keys said. “I thought I had a good shot.”

It wasn’t until all of the contestants went into a room where the scores were being tallied that Keys, his dad and uncle found out he’d won.

“I was just really proud,” Jim Keys said. “It was also kind of a relief. After four years he’d finally did it. He’d finally put all three of them together and, he did it.”

Keys made national television during halftime when the league announced the PP&K winners. After the announcement the trio went to their seats in “the very last row of the stadium” and watched one of the most thrilling and bizarre ending in NFL postseason history between the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was wild,” Jim Keys said. “My ears were still ringing when we went back to the hotel.”

Keys has been competing in PP&K competitions in Agoura since he was a young boy. Two years ago he advanced to Qualcomm Stadium and had a chance to win his division with a good punt. The attempt, however, came off his foot bad and he ended up in third place.

“I was doing my regular routine,” Keys said, “but it went way right.”

This year, Keys started his title trek at the Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard. He advanced out of the sectionals at Jessie Owens Park in Los Angeles before winning at Qualcomm in record breaking fashion.

Keys’ 485-foot total at Qualcomm broke the previous PP&K record by 25 feet.

His accomplishments earned Keys recognition this week as the Fox Sports West’s High School Athlete of the Week. The television network came to the OCHS campus Tuesday to film the freshman for a feature story that was aired the following night.

Keys, who’s hoping to make the Oaks Christian varsity baseball roster in the spring, has become a popular figure, both locally and nationally.

He said he’s recently received several new messages on MySpace.com from people who saw him on television. But nothing compares to what happened to Keys on the plane ride home from Indianapolis, where a passenger recognized and congratulated him almost immediately on his PP&K championship.

His dad could hardly believe it.

“That was pretty cool,” Jim Keys said. “I just kind of chuckled at that. . . .Wow.”

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