Down awhile, but not out quarterback overcomes injury to lead team to state crown.
Spencer Keith, a good basketball player but even better on the football field, nearly missed his senior football season because of basketball. Last January the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament during a Pulaski Academy basketball game.
You bet Bruins coach Kevin Kelley was worried that Keith might not get to play high school football again. "Absolutely, soon as I heard," Kelley said.
"But I also know that if someone is going to battle back, Spencer's the kid."
Battle back he did. Keith capped off a senior season that saw him earn most valuable players honors in helping lead the Bruins to a 5A state title.
In the process, he set state records for single-season passing yardage (5,308), passing attempts (625) and passing completions (396) according to the Arkansas Activities Association.
For his efforts, Keith is the ArkansasSports360.com High School Offensive Player of the Year.
"I worked really hard," Keith said of overcoming the injury. "I just tried to get back by June or July. I didn't want to miss my senior season. It took a lot of hard work."
Kelley backed up Keith's statement.
"He wanted to come back. He wanted to start early. He wanted to play for a state championship," Kelley said. "For him to do that, leaves me with such a feeling of contentment that he was able to finish it off. I love him. I hope he gets to continue playing because he's fun to watch."
Keith's surgically repaired knee carried the load in the state championship game.
With his top two receivers, Carson McKnight and Neal Barlow, limited by injuries, Keith had to use his legs and running ability to hold off a second-half charge by Helena-West Helena Central.
"I didn't let him run until the semifinals," Kelley said. "He had a great game running against Greenwood ... comes back, [I] didn't want to run him a bunch, and his left shoulder was kind off bothering him a little bit, so I didn't want him to take hit and have to come out.
"But he came to me a couple of times and said, 'Coach I can run this, I can run that.' He wants to do whatever he's got to do to win a football game."
It was a good thing, too. Late in the contest, Pulaski Academy was clinging to a 35-32 advantage with less than four minutes remaining when the Bruins faced a third-and-11 situation on their own 45.
"He's the one that said, 'Coach I can pull and make six or seven yards' and he made eight or nine," Kelley said. "That was huge."
Keith converted a fourth-and-2 with a 3-yard run, all but sealing the win.
"To play a team that arguably has eight [NCAA] Division I players, to manage the game, to make plays when he has to, and make plays with his feet, just shows you what kind of kid he is," Kelley said.
Keith's play left Helena-West Helena Central coach Russell Smith impressed.
"We knew he had a great arm," Smith said, "but he really hurt us on the ground, too. [We] didn't really know he was that fast. He's a great quarterback."
Keith said he was just trying to run down the clock.
"I don't know how to describe it," he said of winning the state title. "It's just a great feeling."
FINAL OVERALL POLL
1. Bentonville (12-1)
2. Pulaski Academy (13-1)
3. Helena-West Helena Central (12-1-1)
4. Fort Smith Southside (10-3)
5. Lake Hamilton (10-3)
6. Springdale Har-Ber (10-3)
7. West Memphis (10-1-1)
8. Cabot (9-2)
9. Shiloh Christian (13-1)
10t. Charleston (14-0)
10t. Junction City (13-0)
SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR
Fayetteville's Allen Learns Under Close, Watchful Eye
BRANDON ALLEN doesn't have to Look far for extra help honing his football abilities. Anytime he's searching for somebody to dispense advice on playing college football, Allen doesn't even need to Leave the house.
Fayetteville High School's sophomore quarterback has grown up around the game. His father, Bobby, has been a defensive assistant coach at Arkansas for 11 seasons and doesn't mind doing a little extra coaching once he gets home.
Every Tuesday night around the Allen house is reserved for father and son to talk football. Typically, coach Allen evaluates his son's technique, watching his feet and how he's throwing the ball.
That extra attention paid off in 2008 for Allen, the ArkansasSports36D.com Sophomore of the Year.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder threw for 30 touchdowns and completed 58 percent of his passes. He set school records in both completions (251) and attempts (434) as Fayetteville advanced to the 7A playoffs.
"I think he's got a Load of talent," Springdale coach KEVIN JOHNSON said. "He's going to be a great quarterback for Fayetteville."
Allen certainly has the pedigree. His father, a native of the Washington, D.C., area, was a three-sport standout in high school. At Virginia Tech, where he graduated in 1983, BOBBY ALLEN was a quarterback, kicker and outside Linebacker.
Now he coaches the defensive Line for the Razorbacks. Allen has coached a number of defensive positions during his tenure at Arkansas, giving him an additional vantage point when working with his son.
Brandon Allen showed an array of skills this season, but it was his consistency that drew accolades from Fayetteville coach DARYL PATTON and others. Allen's work ethic has been much Lauded, and his ability to Learn on the fly is an advantage. Fayetteville threw him in the fire this season, and other coaches quickly took notice at how Allen handled the situation with ease and composure unlike a prep sophomore.
"If you've seen him pumped up, Let me know," Patton said. "I've never seen him just excited."
Rarely did Allen seem ruffled by the prospect of playing as a sophomore in the 7A-West. His coot off-field demeanor carried over onto the field, where he was one of three first-year quarterbacks in the tough league.
According to Patton, colleges already are taking notice. Texas A&M UCLA, Oregon, Alabama are just some of the teams that have shown interest in Allen.
All the accolades and attention have clearly not fazed Allen, and he still credits his teammates first.
"I have some [faith] in my own ability, but I have more in the receivers Looking to make plays," Allen said. "I just stay Level-headed and humble. It really doesn't change anything no matter who's Looking at you."
It's safe to say at least one Arkansas staff member is evaluating Brandon Allen. He can't escape it, even though NCAA rules generally prohibit contact between a player and college coaches until after their junior season. How will that work out for the Allen family in the years to come?
"The NCAA allows us," Bobby Allen said. "If it's family there are no rules. There are no rules against us going to watch him play on Friday nights."
And, of course, talking football will never be off limits in the Allen household.
--Brady Holzhouer is freelance writer living in Fayetteville.
QB--Brandon Allen, Fayetteville
QB--Reed Brown, Rogers Heritage
RB--Desmond Cox, Conway
RB--Dylan Hale, Fayetteville
WR--Taylor Reed, EL Dorado
WR--Zann Jones, Shiloh Christian
WR--Demetrius Dean, Fayetteville
OL--Travis Bodenstein, Shiloh Christian
OL--Marcus Danenhaur, Bentonville
OL--Mitch Hall, Russellville
OL--gave Fair, Greene County Tech
OL--Mitch Smothers, Springdate
OL--Logan Purtle, Russettville
K--Logan Spry, Cabot
All-Purpose--Darien Griswold, Dumas
All-Purpose--David Reeves, Shiloh Christian
All-Purpose--Kiehl Frazier, Shiloh Christian
DL--Samuel Harvill, Shiloh Christian
DL--Dirk Tanner, Pulaski Academy
DL--Reid Schatzman, Rogers Heritage
DL--William Conley, Beebe
LB--Colt Thomas, Shiloh Christian
LB--Marquez Massey, Conway
LB--Cameron Mahone, El Dorado
DB--Ryan McDonald, Charleston
DB--Colby Jacobs, Fort Smith Southside
QB--Seth Keese, Harding Academy
DB--Ke Andrae Balance, Prescott
All-Purpose--Garrett Harper, Shiloh Christian
All-Purpose--Mark Makin, Fountain Lake
All-Purpose--A.J. Richardson, White Hall