Going into his senior year of high school, Malcolm Key decided to give football a try.
Jacksonville State University sure is glad he did. The Gamecocks believe the 6-foot-8, 360-pound lineman could have massive upside.
Key, a student at Ivy Academy, made history for Sale Creek by becoming the first Panthers football player in program history to sign a college scholarship for that sport. Key committed and signed during the early period in December, but he celebrated during a ceremony with friends and family at Sale Creek on Wednesday, the traditional national signing day for college football.
"As soon as I started playing this past year, I knew I wanted to play college football," Key said. "Even when it didn't seem like it would be possible, I believed in myself that I could do it. You just have to keep on keeping on. I feel like when you work hard, an opportunity will arise."
Key learned the sport quickly enough to become a standout noseguard and right tackle for the Panthers, whose four wins this past season are a program best. He also made the tackle for a safety in a first-round playoff game against Clay County.
Opposing offensive lines often had to double- and even triple-team Key, whose recruitment by the Gamecocks was a fast process once it started. Coaches from the Football Championship Subdivision program in Alabama attended the Scenic City All-Star Classic on Dec. 14 at Boyd Buchanan and were impressed, with Key signing four days later.
"They contacted me right before the end of the game wanting my opinion on Malcolm," Sale Creek coach Ron Cox said. "I think they realized this is a diamond in the rough, and they wanted to get him signed before anyone else could. The sky is the limit for Malcolm, and I think they realize that."
Having played soccer growing up, Key impressed his football coaches with his footwork this past season, when the Panthers' four wins came in succession and included a 23-20 road victory against North Georgia he noted as his favorite memory of the year.
Key was also new to the weightroom, and he looks forward to building on his maximum lifts for bench press (245 pounds), squat (435), deadlift (455) and power clean (225).
"I am discovering strength I never knew I had and using my size to my ability now," said Key, who hopes to cut his weight down to 330. "I had never worked out this intense before. I think it's exciting that this is just the beginning. I am excited to see where I can grow to with the proper training and nutrients."
Key scored a 27 on the ACT and is part of the youth group at Sale Creek Church of God.
"Malcolm is an awesome and extremely humble young man," Cox said. "He has great character and is much more than just a good football player. I truly believe whatever Malcolm wants to do, he will do."
The Class A Panthers also expect Ethan Hyde, a senior middle linebacker this past season, to sign a scholarship in the upcoming weeks.
"Our players now can realize they can make it to the next level," Cox said. "Getting the first one out of the way now gives younger players a belief one day it could happen for them, too, with hard work and being humble."