Home away from home.
Those were the words from Seminary’s Austin Keys on Early National Signing Day. As the second 2020 recruit to pledge his commitment to Ole Miss back on March 24 of this year, Keys put pen to paper Wednesday morning inside Seminary’s Library and inked his LOI (Letter of Intent) with the Rebels.
“It feels great,” said the four-star inside linebacker. “I’m thankful for the fans, my family, teammates, classmates, and the coaching staff. It feels amazing to be a part of something like this. I can see something special going on at Ole Miss.
"Ole Miss stood out for its family environment. It's a home away from home. There was a lot of love when Coach Matt Luke was there, and now Coach [Lane] Kiffin is there. I'm just ready to work."
Keys remained committed to Ole Miss in the days and weeks after the news broke of Luke’s firing, despite decommits from six within the Rebel’s 2020 class.
“Coach Luke was the one who offered me,” said Keys. “[The news] shook me.”
After the hiring of Lane Kiffin, Keys received an in-home visit from the new Rebels head coach on Thursday of last week.
“After an in-home visit from Kiffin, and an official visit to Ole Miss this past weekend, I knew things would work out,” said Keys. “Kiffin is a laid back person. We talked about how the next three or four years would be like.
“Kiffin asked me why I was committed to Ole Miss. Then he told me why he came. He told me he felt like he could make a good change at Ole Miss. It made me remain solid about my commitment.”
The 6-2, 241-pounder is rated as the nation's No. 39 inside linebacker and the state of Mississippi's No. 22 overall player by 247Sports.
“The last couple of years he’s bloomed and has become a really good football player,” said Seminary head coach Brian Rials. “I’m proud to see another one sign and play SEC football.”
Keys became the second player from Seminary in consecutive years to sign with an in-state SEC school. Nathan Pickering signed with Mississippi State last year as a part of the 2019 class.
"Nathan and I always talk about the Egg Bowl," laughed Keys. "I was talking smack to Nathan. I thought Mississippi State would lose this most recent Egg Bowl. I can't wait for the next one and playing against a former teammate."
“It’s nothing I’ve done,” added Rials about the back-to-back signings of Pickering and Keys to SEC in-state schools. “These kids work hard and do everything we ask them to do.
"It's a proud moment for Seminary. We've never had two kids in the history of this school to sign back-to-back SEC scholarships. It's big-time for Seminary right now and hopefully it's not the end. Hopefully, we have some more coming in the future. I'm just proud of these guys and what they've been able to accomplish."
Tall and lanky, as Rials describes Keys early on at Seminary, he was focused on playing just basketball at first. After a conversation with parents and coaches, Keys decided to give varsity football a try as a junior.
"I was a basketball guy," said Keys. "One day I was sitting on the couch with my mother and brother, and they mentioned [me playing] football. I told them I'd consider it.
“After the first season I played, I gained confidence in myself. I began to believe that I could be the player everyone said I could be.”
"Austin played junior high football with us," Rials added. "At the time, he was just an average junior high football kid. During his ninth and tenth grade years, he decided that he would stick with basketball. [At the time], he was a tall and lanky kid. After we talked him into coming out and playing varsity football, I was like, wow, where did this come from? We saw what his potential was."
As a junior Keys recorded 79 total tackles, 25 solo, and 23 tackles for loss, and three sacks. This past season, he had 58 total tackles, 20 solo, and 10 TFL. Keys also had 13 quarterback hurries, five forced fumbles, and two blocked punts on special teams.
"It's God's plan," said Keys when asked about the role he'll play for the Rebels in the near future. "They told me I'd play at middle linebacker."
Ole Miss is currently ranked No. 40 in the nation with its 2020 class, which is to be expected with the coaching changes made so close to the Early Signing Period.