Keys looks to bring back wins to Wildcats

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Mar 21, 2018 at 11:20 PM

NEW LONDON — Kemmes Keys loves a challenge.

He’s certainly walking into one, now.

The 1992 Sandusky graduate and longtime assistant football coach was recently named the head coach at New London High School.

He will inherit a Wildcats program that has just three winning seasons since it last made the state playoffs in 1995.

A year ago, New London went 1-9 — and was historically bad in seven Firelands Conference games. It was outscored 353-13 and were shutout six times in games that all had running clocks in the second half.

“I take a lot of pride in loving a good challenge,” Keys said. “I’ve never been one to always seek the easy route, so I look forward to it. I think there is a lot of potential that has been untapped here. The hardest part is selling the kids. There has to be a change in culture and mentality here.

“Let’s face the reality for what it is, and that is New London hasn’t experienced a whole lot of success in football in quite some time,” he added. “They’ve had a lot of success in other sports though, and that is what I want to tap into. There is no reason why the student body success in other sports can’t translate over to the football field.”

In high school, Keys was a wide receiver and defensive back for the Blue Streaks, who went 37-7 with two playoff appearances in that span. A three-sport athlete at Sandusky, he went on to play college baseball at Ashland University, where he graduated from in 1997.

The 43-year old has held positions with the Erie County courts as a probation counselor, and has been an investigative agent for the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities and most recently, the Clearwater Council of Governments in Oak Harbor.

Since 2000, Keys has been in assistant coach in some capacity for the Sandusky football program. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave, especially with the Blue Streaks coming off a 10-0 regular season in 2017.

“I’ll be absolutely honest — it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Keys said. “I’ve been around Sandusky football in some capacity — other than my four years at college — since I was six years old.

“I started off as a waterboy and team manager until my playing days came along, then after college I came right back,” he added. “It sounds kind of cliche, but I truly bleed blue. That’s all I’ve really ever known. It’s where I grew up, it’s my heart.”

But there was one factor in the process of the New London job being open that Keys simply couldn’t ignore. His wife, Adrianne, is a New London graduate — and the couple has lived in the community for the past decade.

Their son, Jaden, is currently a sophomore at New London, and a member of the football team. So while it is tough to leave Sandusky, Keys will be minutes from the football field as opposed to nearly an hour — and gets to coach his son.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to see my own son play, and now I get to coach him,” he said. “My son and I had countless talks about what that means throughout the process. I spoke with (Sandusky coach) Mike (Franklin), and he really supported the idea and helped push me in that direction.

“There has been nothing but support from Sandusky, and at that point the decision became easier,” he added.

While stressing that he will play to team strengths, Keys said at least initially, he’ll likely run some form of spread offense and a 4-2-5 defense at New London.

“Looking at what’s here, I think New London has several athletes who can be utilized and operate in space,” he said. “My mindset initially is to spread it out, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll adapt to what we have.

“A lot of what we did will mirror Sandusky because it’s what I’ve been around for years and most comfortable with,” he added. “Defensively I’m leaning toward a 4-2-5. We want to be aggressive and create turnovers, and just have a little fun out there.”

On the job at New London for a few weeks, Keys has been putting on his best recruiting hat in the early going.

“A lot of what I’ve been doing is talking to kids who haven’t played football in a while for whatever reason, and presenting them with the opportunity to give it a chance again,” he said. “A lot of the challenge is getting the buy in and the belief that it can be done, but again, I look forward to it.

“Growing up, Sandusky football was top tier,” Keys added. “We fell on some hard times and a lot of people didn’t see us coming back. So I’ve seen both sides of it, the success and the rough years. I look forward to doing that here at New London and the challenge of getting it back there.”

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