Zone Read: UCF’s Keene Idea

Arizona Sports News online

“You’re One Play Away”

Playing two years behind a legend in Jacob Conover, not many outside of the Chandler High football program knew much about young Mikey Keene two years ago.

Now, many University of Central Florida fans may be saying the same thing about their new starting quarterback after Knights’ star Dillon Gabriel fractured his clavicle in an upset loss to Louisville last week.

With Dillon, who has amassed over 8000 yards and 79 touchdowns in 26 career games, out indefinitely, UCF’s offense will now be run by the true freshman from the southeast Valley who didn’t lose a game as a starter in two seasons for head coach and offensive wizard, Rick Garretson. 

Keene, one of the most humbled, grounded, mature student-athletes I’ve ever covered, isn’t changing his approach heading into his October 2nd starting debut against Navy.

“My family, team, coaches, and supporting staff have all been great to me this week,” Keene said to the “Zone Read.” “Everyone has rallied together at this time and I’m taking things day-by-day. I’m going to prepare myself for Navy to be able to play confident and efficient and do whatever I can to help the team be successful.”

He’s also taken the bye week to pick the brain of his high school coach but admits he’s had to re-focus on the challenge ahead as his phone has “blown up” since being named the starter by head coach Gus Malzahn.

“Yes, I have talked to him,” Garretson said to the “Zone Read.” “He and I [also] talked about this before he went to UCF in January. He would be working to be the backup quarterback. When you’re the backup quarterback, you’re one play away from being the guy in there and that’s exacly what’s happened.”

Garretson, who watched Keene lead Chandler to back-to-back Open Division Championships, believes the moment won’t be too big when he takes the field in Annapolis, Maryland.

“Mikey Keene is a mentally tough, mentally disciplined kid,” he explained. “When you don’t even get to [take your official visit] because of COVID. The first time that you arrive at the school you’re going to is the first day you arrive in January. Two weeks later your head coach [Josh Huepel] leaves and goes to [Tennessee]. All that uncertainty and everything that comes along with that.”

“He’s just stood the course.” 

I don’t think any of us who watched Keene play over the last two years would expect anything else.

Jack Stomped

It’s hard to put into words just how big NAU’s stunning comeback win over Arizona was last Saturday night in Tucson.

The Lumberjacks entered the game 26.5-point underdogs, coming off two lopsided losses to open the season.

Oh, did we mention Chris Ball’s team was playing their fourth quarterback of the season?

“I feel like we shocked the world but I don’t feel like we shocked ourselves,” sophomore star wide receiver Hendrix Johnson told the “Zone Read” earlier this week. “Coach Ball told us all week we were going to go down there and win. We prepared that way. He said, ‘Don’t be surprised. Don’t be shocked when it happens.’ He said it before the game. He said it in meetings. He said it at halftime. He said it at the start of the fourth quarter. ‘Don’t be shocked. It’s going to happen.'”

Johnson, the former Boulder Creek High standout, caught what would turn out to be the winning touchdown, a 9-yard reception from true freshman quarterback RJ Martinez midway through the fourth quarter to put NAU ahead 21-13.

“Once I saw the way they were playing and once I got my first release, I pretty much knew that the ball was going to come to me as long as RJ was able to see me,” Johnson explained. “So, I threw my hand up once I came across and he threw a strike.”

Johnson wasn’t the only local player to make an impact in the Old Pueblo.

Graduate transfer Harrison Beemiller (Ironwood Ridge) tallied a game-high 10 tackles (4.5 for loss). Glendale High alum Kevin Daniels carried 27 times for a game-high 127 yards and a touchdown. Fellow true freshman Brady Shough (Hamilton High) swung the momentum in NAU’s favor with a 28-yard pick-six in the second quarter. Former South Mountain High star Devontae Ingram had a huge interception in Arizona territory to go along with four tackles. Highley’s Dracen Hall added four receptions out of the backfield for a team-high 48 receiving yards. 

— Hendrix (@HendrixJohnson) September 19, 2021

“For us to go down there and do it against a team that doesn’t recruit Arizona very much,” Johnson noted. “Obviously, there are now but in the past, not as much. That means everything because it shows the coaches that they’re right. We’re going to be successful in the future. We’re going to be successful this year. It’s going to be thanks to a lot of Arizona kids.”

Johnson continued.

“We’re not even close to reaching our potential. The thing with every guy who comes here is, they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder.”

Last season the Jacks came close to winning a Big Sky championship.

Despite being 1-2, their conference future is in front of them, starting Saturday at Northern Colorado.

 

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.