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Dane Key looks to build on promising freshman season

Key had a terrific freshman season and is expected to make a big jump in 2023.

Dane Key Dylan Ballard - A Sea of Blue

After a monster season by Wan’Dale Robinson resulted in him being taken in the second round of the NFL Draft, the Kentucky Wildcats were hopeful that the wide receiver room would be better as a whole following his departure.

The Cats also lost Josh Ali, and the room looked like the weakest position group on the team heading into 2022. However, two freshmen wide receivers grabbed starting roles from day one and put up some fantastic numbers.

One of those guys was Dane Key, and he now looks primed to make an even bigger jump in his sophomore season. Why should we expect such a big season out of the sophomore wideout from Lexington, Kentucky? Let’s find out.

Dane Key

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Measurements: 6-3, 195 lbs.
  • Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
  • School: Fredrick Douglass
  • High School Recruit Rankings: No. 235 nationally, No. 36 wide receiver via 247 Sports Composite Rankings

The former consensus four-star recruit chose the Kentucky Wildcats over offers from the Arkansas Razorbacks, Louisville Cardinals, Michigan Wolverines, Oregon Ducks, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, and Texas Longhorns, among many others.

Key’s father, Donte’, was a UK linebacker/defensive end from 1992-95. His brother, Devon, played for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers before joining the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. Due to the Kentucky connection, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Lexington native would end up at Kentucky, right?

Not exactly. Key’s recruitment was anything but easy for the Cats. During his first three seasons at Fredrick Douglass, Kentucky had poor quarterback play, poor play calling, and the offense wasn’t exactly fun to watch. Rumors began to swirl that Michigan may be in the driver’s seat, followed by Tennessee and South Carolina.

However, Mark Stoops finally stepped out of his comfort zone and brought in Los Angeles Rams assistant quarterback coach Liam Coen as offensive coordinator, who was followed by fellow Kentucky native Wan’Dale Robinson, who transferred in from the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

After a monster season from Robinson, the rest was history for Key.

Prior to Kentucky, Key excelled throughout his high career on his way to becoming a four-star recruit and the No. 1 player in the state of Kentucky. He helped lead his Fredrick Douglass team to a 34-5 record during his final three seasons, with trips to the Class 5A state finals as a senior and sophomore. He finished up his high school career putting up 959 receiving yards and nine touchdowns as a senior, earning him several honors.

Key was the Paul Hornung Award winner as the Kentucky Player of the Year, won Class 5A Player of the Year, and was named to the Lexington Herald-Leader “Class of the Commonwealth” list of the top seniors in Kentucky. He was also a two-time first-team all-state selection by The Associated Press and Louisville Courier-Journal.

Once he got to Kentucky, the 6-3 wideout continued to turn heads. His impact was immediate as he became the first true freshman to start the opener at wide receiver since Keenan Burton in 2003 and recorded a touchdown catch in the first three games of his collegiate career, the first Wildcat to do so since La’Rod King in 2011.

One of those touchdowns included this beauty in the swamp in just his second collegiate game.

Key started in 12 of 13 games played on his way to 37 catches for 519 yards and a team-high six scores. The six receiving touchdowns set a new UK single-season freshman record. He was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American (CFN) and Midseason True Freshman All-American (247 Sports). And it wasn't just the field where Key excelled as he was named to the Dean’s list in his first semester, as well.

Key was easily one of the top-five best freshmen receivers in the country last season. Now, Key is looking to build on his promising freshman season. His biggest hurdle will be establishing a strong rapport with transfer quarterback Devin Leary from the NC State Wolfpack, as well as battling fellow star sophomore wideout Barion Brown for targets.

I have no doubt that Key will progress, and his numbers will reflect that of a future NFL Draft pick. Enjoy watching him now because my guess is he’s only got two more seasons rocking the blue and white.

Go Cats!