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His dad played for Kentucky. Stepp, USC are recruiting him to be a Gamecock

Phil Kornblut
·6 min read

Wide receiver Dane Key of Lexington, Kentucky no doubt will get a lot of pressure to stay home and play his college football for the hometown Wildcats.

First, he’s one of the top players in the state, rated a four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite and ranked No. 31 nationally among receivers and No. 2 overall among Kentucky prospects. And second, his dad Donte Key who is the linebackers coach at his school, played for Kentucky in the early 1990s.

But that hasn’t stopped USC and others from trying to convince Dane Key (6-2 170) that the grass might not be bluer outside of Kentucky, but perhaps it’s greener. He has a top 10 of South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Virginia Tech and Purdue.

“It’s not about where my dad played or where I live,” he said. “It’s about where I feel best at, not about where my dad played. This process is about me. My family will be involved in the decision, but they want what’s best for me.”

His contact with USC started through the Gamecocks new defensive coordinator Clayton White, who coached at Western Kentucky before moving to Columbia.

“My brother played for Western Kentucky and coach (Clayton) White, when he got there (USC), I was one of the first kids he contacted,” Key said. “Once he got there, he said he wanted me to come play for him. He got with coach (Justin) Stepp and they really liked my game and how I played. They really wanted me to come play for the Gamecocks.”

Stepp, the Gamecocks’ wide receivers coach, is now handling Key’s recruitment.

“Me and coach Stepp, we have a great relationship going on,” Key said. “He doesn’t just contact me. He’s actually contacting my mom, my dad, my whole family, just reaching out to them. The recruiting is going good. He says he wants me, but not only does he want me, he needs me to come play for him. He tells me I’d play not just outside receiver but a receiver that would play every position.”

Key has never been to USC but he plans to set an official visit with the Gamecocks. He has done a long Zoom video call with the staff, and he said Stepp does a FaceTime meeting with him weekly.

“The Zoom was three days after they offered me,” Key said. “It was an amazing feeling to get on there with the whole staff. The whole staff told me how much they liked me and needed me and how much they all wanted to be my coach when I play at the collegiate level.”

Key also has gotten some insight about playing in Williams-Brice Stadium from his dad, who had the chance to play there just after the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992.

“He’s told me a lot of stories about that stadium,” Key said. “He said it was one of the loudest stadiums he’s ever played in. He was telling me about the crowd and the fan base, and right when he walked on the field they were screaming out him. He said the stadium is right behind the field, so you hear it all game.”

Key also is a high-level baseball player who could be drafted, but he said his heart is in football and playing in the NFL. He is focused on his baseball season right now and won’t really turn his attention to football recruiting and setting up visits until that’s over.

He plans to make his decision at the end of his football season. He will sign in December but will not graduate early.

Last season Key had 30 catches for 478 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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USC continues to load up the month of June with official visits.

The latest target to announce a scheduled visit is cornerback Chris Graves (6-2, 180) of Fort Myers, Florida. He has set his official visit for June 25. Graves said he’s been talking with Gamecocks secondary coach Torrian Gray, and he has enough interest in the Gamecocks to take a closer look.

“We’re developing a relationship right now,” Graves said. “He said he loves my speed, my length and my size. He likes my physicality and the way I can cover receivers. They are in the SEC, so they are a big school.”

Graves also has set an official visit with USF for July 16. Some of his other offers include Coastal Carolina, Louisville, LSU, Minnesota, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Illinois, UCF, Florida State, Miami, East Carolina, Boston College, Penn State, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia and West Virginia.

Graves is a two-way player who also stars at receiver. Last season on defense he had 26 tackles with four pass break-ups and one interception. On offense he had 27 catches for 500 yards and four touchdowns. He’s rated a three-star in the 247Sports Composite and is ranked the No. 47 athlete nationally in the 2022 class.

Other Gamecock recruiting notes

USC offered running back Dylan Sampson (5-10, 180) of Geismar, Louisiana. He’s rated a three-star in the 247Sports Composite and the No. 44 running back nationally in the 2022 class. Some other offers are Tennessee, Duke, NC State, Memphis, Houston, Purdue, Wake Forest, Cal, Indiana, Louisiana, Western Kentucky, Colorado and Vanderbilt. In eight games this past season, Sampson rushed for 1,357 yards averaging 10.8 yards per carry, and he scored 15 touchdowns.

USC offered running back De’Anthony Gatson (5-10, 198) of Newton, Texas. He’s rated a three-star in the 247Sports Composite and is ranked 46th nationally among running backs in the class. Some other offers include Baylor, Houston, Colorado, Iowa State, Michigan and Southern Cal. Last season he rushed for 1,974 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 4,070 yards and 62 touchdowns in his career.

USC OT target Ryan Brubaker was offered by Florida.

Hammond OT Drew Bobo confirmed he will play his senior season at Auburn High in Alabama. His family is moving to Auburn, where his father is the offensive coordinator. Bobo was offered by USC but said their interested has dropped off. He also picked up an offer from Virginia Thursday night.

Penn State offered Dutch Fork WR and USC target Antonio Williams

USC offered 2023 DB Chris Peal (6-2, 162) of Charlotte. This spring season he’s had 30 tackles and one interception, according to MaxPreps. He also plays running back.