Kentucky football: It may be early, but Dane is already a key for Wildcats
One of the biggest questions about Kentucky football has had an unexpected answer.
With the loss of standout wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson to the New York Giants, who would catch passes from quarterback Will Levis in 2022?
Virginia Tech transfer Tayveon Robinson was one answer, but aside from Robinson the Wildcats’ top returning target was tight end Izayah Cummings, who caught all of 14 passes in 2021.
It turns out that Kentucky’s most important receiver in 2022 actually was in Lexington in 2021.
He just wasn’t at UK.
He was across town playing his senior season at Frederick Douglass High School.
Dane Key has the bloodlines. His father, Donte, was a solid linebacker in the 1990s under UK coach Bill Curry. Donte has a big catch of his own in Wildcats history — his interception in the final seconds clinched Kentucky’s victory over Louisville in the 1994 matchup of the rivals.
Dane’s older brother, Devon, was a standout defensive back at Western Kentucky, racking up 350 tackles and earning a spot on the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad in 2021. But unlike his brother and father, Dane’s football gifts didn’t extend to preventing others from catching passes but rather to hauling them in himself.
At Frederick Douglass High School, Dane was one of many gifted players, sharing roster spots, touches and playing time with Power 5 recruits like Walker Parks (Clemson), Jager Burton (now starting at guard for UK), Devin Neal (Baylor), fellow receiver Dekel Crowdus (also at UK) and current Power 5 recruits Ty Bryant (committed to UK) and Jamarrion Harkless (decommitted from Illinois).
But even among other talented players, Key stood out, seemingly contributing a weekly SportsCenter Top 10-type play.
Key made the decision to stay home and attend Kentucky, and as a 6-3 wide receiver with next-level skills, the 4-star recruit was placed among the nation’s top 250 players by 247Sports. At the time of Key’s commitment, aside from Lynn Bowden, who was classified by 247 as an athlete and not a receiver, Key was the highest-rated receiver head coach Mark Stoops has signed at Kentucky — although he was joined later by even higher ranked 4-star Barion Brown.
But would high school accolades translate into production at the collegiate level? The answer has been a resounding yes.
In his first 2 games, Key has 7 catches for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, a skinny end zone grab against Miami of Ohio in Week 1 and a SportsCenter-level bomb against Florida in Week 2.
Along with the aforementioned Robinson and fellow freshman Brown, Key gives Kentucky top-shelf receiving talent, even if he is a year removed from high school’s Friday night lights.
Given his productivity at Douglass, his coach there, Nathan McPeek, was quick to acknowledge Key’s special talent.
“I’m not shocked at all by his play at UK,” said McPeek. “Dane possesses great athletic ability, catch radius and speed. The thing that makes him special, though, is his work ethic, film study and understanding the little parts of the game.”
Asked about Key’s potential, McPeek said: “He’s only going to improve.”
Stoops understands the importance of plays like Key’s 55-yard TD grab against Florida.
“It’s plays like that that we need to make,” Stoops said.
It’s plays like that which made Key the SEC Freshman of the Week.
And it might be plays like that which push Kentucky into contention in the SEC East.
Kentucky’s search for a big-play receiver ended up being a little easier than expected.
It just had to wait for Key to arrive.