COLUMBIA — Justise Keith pleaded.
The Hickman football team was neck-and-neck last week in the middle of the third quarter against Fort Zumwalt East, and Keith, one of the Kewpies' most potent offensive weapons, remained on the sideline at the hip of coach Arnel Monroe.
Hickman (1-3) at Helias (2-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Helias High School
The injured senior running back had watched the previous game in a shirt and jeans. But now, he was in uniform and pads. Time ticked and ticked on Friday's scoreboard with the score remaining still, and Keith's fidgeting became more of a bouncing.
"He wore me out after two quarters," Monroe said. "He said he was ready to go, ready to help his teammates."
Finally, Monroe turned to Keith. "Start stretching," he said.
"That's when I got hyped," Keith said.
Soon enough, he ripped off a 30-yard scamper, and Hickman went ahead 12-10. Keith finished the game with 60 yards on eight carries, playing less than half the game.
But Keith's late entry wasn't enough for the Kewpies (1-3) to complete a rally. Fort Zumwalt East won 18-12.
"We're not making excuses. Zumwalt East played a great game, and we didn't execute," Monroe said earlier this week looking ahead to his team's road contest Friday against Helias. "But we also know we've got two stallions in the barn. Getting one of them out will help us."
On Wednesday, Monroe said Keith was "probable" to make his first start Friday night in Jefferson City since suffering a leg injury in the team's season opener.
Fellow senior Bohannon Davidson, the other "stallion" Monroe refers to, will be a game time decision Friday. Davidson, who was also sidelined with a lower body injury in Week 1, missed his second game at Fort Zumwalt East. He was limited in practice this week.
"I'm definitely a full-go," Keith said Tuesday.
If so, Keith won't have to endure watching his teammates from the sideline.
"That's the worst feeling, seeing all your buddies fighting and not being able to get out there and help them," he said. "It's like watching somebody beat up your little brother."
In the absence of Keith and Davidson, Hickman has opted for a pair of sophomores in Cameron Wright and Elijah Crum. The two have been productive, but in their first varsity games, Monroe said inexperience can expose itself.
"The mistakes you make as a sophomore back, Justise (doesn't) make," Monroe said.
Having started as a running back and linebacker in his junior season, Keith carries a body molded by physical exertion. When it comes to athleticism, Monroe calls Keith "one of our top kids."
"You can just look at him," Monroe said.
Out on the practice field, Keith glides through plays in a mesh jersey that has no sleeves, so that his arms seem to be ripples of muscle extending from a shell of shoulder pads.
"It's natural, really," Keith said with a modest shrug and big grin. "I don't take supplements or anything. I just ate my way up to 200 pounds. I just work out, go to McDonald's or Burger King, go home, see if my mom has food, you know."
He wears a black brace over one knee to protect an MCL he strained in practices over the summer. The other knee is hugged by a bulge of gauze.
"I'm definitely feeling like Iron Man out there with it all on," Keith said, laughing again.
He knows he plays a physical role on the team, after all, and he smiles with the light-heartedness he shows with teammates during water breaks at practice.
"Justise keeps everything light. He's a fun-loving kid," Monroe said. "He loves to play the game, and he plays with a different heartbeat. You've gotta love having a kid like that."
As he plans to reboot his senior campaign Friday, though, it will be no laughing matter for Keith.
"(It's) my last year of high school football," he said. "Just to be recruited, I want to play at the next level, so I have to take this year seriously."