Utes put last Key on ring of offense

By By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

Backup quarterback Chad Manis is probably used to having people follow him around8212;siblings, wannabe girlfriends, recruiters, you name it.

Saturday in Logan could have been the first time he’s been stalked for any considerable amount of time by a 6-foot-4 male, with hair that sat coiled outside of his helmet, but still managed to reach mid-back. However, don’t expect Manis to file a report. He was just helping the newest Ute, Aiona Key, brush up on his knowledge of the offense.

“I just asked (Manis) what play it was, and then I try to see if I knew it, and he’ll just tell me either “yes’ or “no,'” Key said.

Since June, Key has been a much talked about addition to the Ute receiving corps that already features 6-foot-3 wideout Bradon Godfrey, 6-foot-4 Freddie Brown and the ever elusive Brent Casteel. Until Saturday, it was unsure whether Key would ever don Utah’s crimson and white in 2008.

“It feels good, finally,” Key said after Utah’s 58-10 win over Utah State. “I’m late, but it’s better than not being here.”

Key’s holdup was caused by the delay of the posting of his associate degree from Mt. San Antonio College. The former five-star Boise State recruit (according to scouts.com) finally cleared the system and arrived on campus Friday. He is enrolled in classes and is cleared to begin practicing with the team immediately.

“I’m going to hop in there on Monday and see how fast I can learn this,” Key said. “See what the coaches want. I’ll play whatever, special teams, I just want to help the team win. Contribute, that’s about it.”

Questions about how fast Key will adapt to Utah’s offense can at least partially be put to rest considering that both Boise State and Mt. SAC ran variations of the spread offense.

“I’m kind of familiar with the offense from Boise and from Mt. SAC, running the five-spread,” Key said. “Just different names, but he helps me out a lot, so it’s good.”

Another thing that should help Key adapt is the fact that he’s an exceptional athlete. Aside from the 1,112 yards he posted last season with Mt. SAC, Key is a former high school national champion in the high jump. His leaping ability, which allowed him to clear 7 feet 1 inch, also allowed him to star in other sports. Key played for the Mt. SAC basketball team and averaged 12 points and nine rebounds.

Key says he wasn’t the only one who had a hard time waiting for the transfer process to run its course.

“It just kills me because I know people are waiting. I’m waiting,” Key said. “A lot of people are working for it to get done, and it’s just frustrating to a lot of people other than myself.”

Key was allowed to dress for the Utah State game and wasn’t afraid to show off his broad smile afterward.

“I was just happy to get out on the field,” Key said. “Just to dress up was good enough for me today. It felt good.”

Key said he should have no problem hitting the ground running during his first week of practice.

“I feel in shape,” Key said. “I’m just ready to go.”

Key’s first order of business is to get the offense’s mentality to mirror the defense’s.

“Really, I just want everyone to get excited some more on offense,” Key said. “You see the defense gets hyped up a lot. I kind of want to help the offense get hyped up too, so we can get on a roll just like the defense do. Just bring excitement to the game really. I think I can do that.”

When asked how he can immediately help the team, Key coolly responded, “Anything I can do. I returned in high school.”

That might not be a bad skill to have, considering Utah’s punt-returning debacle Saturday, but Key is most passionate about a different aspect on special teams.

“I really want to punt block,” said Key, who tallied four punt blocks last season. “I want to be the one blocking the punt.”

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Aiona Key