COLUMBIA — As practice wears on for the Hickman football team Wednesday, coaches beganyelling encouragement to players.
One player has more chatter directed at him than most. Even though he is wearing a No. 27 practice jersey, coaches seem to be watching Alex Keith, who wears a No. 8 game jersey, with particular interest.
Three quarters passed before the Hickman football team finally gained focus last Friday night in a 30-7 victory against Wentzville Holt.
Kewpies coach Arnel Monroe says it can't happen again.
"There are many factors that played in to that," Monroe said. "The simple fact is that we are a young team."
Trailing 7-6 going in to the fourth quarter, the Kewpies (1-1) scored 24 points in the final quarter. Deven Larry and Will Owens each had important runs to spur the offense.
The Kewpies are set to play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Hazelwood West, which lost 35-7 to Belleville East to start the season, then fell 20-0 at Harrisonville.
Monroe said that's no excuse not to be prepared for a fight.
"Coach Hawthorne has done a really good job to get prepared," Monroe said. "Last year, I didn't believe that they got better from Week 1 to Week 2. This season is different. They're aggressive and they're physical. I'm impressed with them as a team."
“I see you working eight,” yells one coach as he grins. “You’re still No. 8 to me.”
Keith is easy to notice, whether it’s on the practice field or during a game. His talents and his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame not only catch the attention of his coaches and teammates, but colleges as well.
"He's a playmaker," Kewpies coach Arnel Monroe said. "He's a guy who can change the game for us."
Big 12 Conference programs have certainly noticed him. Big Ten schools such as Minnesota and even this year’s Pac-12 Conference favorite Oregon have showed interest.
“I’m not sure where I want to go yet,” Keith said. “My parents are from Oklahoma, so I would like to go to Oklahoma State for sure. But hey, whatever happens.”
The prospect of choosing a college will be different for Alex Keith. Instead of seeking out schools, the schools will come to him. The only thing he is nervous about is college competition.
“I’ve been playing football here for four years, and I’ve been playing since I was little,” Keith said. “But it’s going to be a pretty good jump because of the talent level.”
One transition he is sure he will have to make is from defensive end to outside linebacker. His days playing tight end might be over after this season as well.
“I think most teams want me to play outside linebacker," Keith said. "I kind of want to stay on defense. It shouldn’t be a big change because I’m basically playing outside linebacker right now. I’m just down on the line.”
Football won't last forever, though, and Keith also has been thinking about what he could do after his career.
“Probably criminal justice, something like a police officer. My dad is a police officer, and so that’s all I know really.”
Keith used to play basketball, but it’s all about football for him now. He said despite all the options swirling around him, he is staying on track.
“Coach has us so focused on the now," he said. "I can’t really think about anything past tomorrow’s practice.”