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Where are they now?

Tyrone Keys wanted to give something back. He had just about everything an athlete could ask for. He played during a winning era at Mississippi State. He played on the 1980 team that beat #1 Alabama in Jackson, his hometown. He went on to a nine-year pro football career, including a stint with the Super Bowl Champion 1985 Chicago Bears.

Tyrone Keys
Former Defensive End Giving Something Back

But Keys grew up into the football player and human being that he would be with the help of others. With that in mind, Keys started a non-profit organization in Tampa, Florida, that mentors high school-aged athletes and guides those athletes through the process of entering college. Keys and other mentors help those kids find schools and scholarships, and help them grow as human beings.

All-Sports Community Service has assisted 332 kids since Keys began the organization in 1993. More than $15 million in scholarships and financial aid have been awarded to those kids in a span of less than nine years.

Most of the students in the program have a talent that they want to pursue on the next level. Keys and his organization just try to help those students find the right fit. And Keys stresses that his students must show that they have done the things that society has asked of them.

"We look for kids who show a desire and put forth an effort to make it on the next level," Keys said. "Most of our students are not blue-chip athletes. About 90 percent of them are the first members of their families to go to college. We provide a safe and caring place for them to come after school when their parents may not be home."

All-Sports provides a safe haven where the students can have access to computers, make long-distance phone calls and meet educational recruiters from different schools. There is also a Saturday morning workshop session where the students learn such things as test-taking skills and personal etiquette.

The students participate in community service activities throughout the year. They visit juvenile detention centers and once a month they throw birthday parties for a local orphanage. Each child at the orphanage that had a birthday during that month gets a party and the students stay and play sports games with the children.

"We don't leave until every child scores a touch down," Keys said. Pro athletes have joined the cause, Chidi Ahanotu, Trent Dilfer, Derrick Brooks, Santana Dotson and Tyrone Williams are just a few that have set up scholarships in their names for students to use for travel and books.

Once a high school student finds a college upon graduation, they are required to submit two students from their own high school who would be a fit for the program.

"We keep the cycle going," Keys said. "We encourage them to do well and keep things going so they can come back and strengthen their neighborhoods." Twenty of his former students have returned to the Tampa area to assist Keys with the mentoring program. One has even started his own mentoring organization In Baltimore.

Keys, much like MSU baseball skipper Ron Polk, keeps in touch with his students after they leave. A freshman student will receive a phone call from Keys once a week, and the calls will continue, even when they graduate from college.

"I go to a lot of weddings, graduations and funerals, " he said.

The day of this interview, Keys attended the funeral of MSU running back Fred Reid's mother, who passed away recently. Reid, who came to Mississippi State by way of Tampa, was a student in Keys' program.

Nate Peoples was another student in Keys' program who came to State. Peoples walked on and eventually earned a scholarship, lettering in 1997.

Right now, approximately 115 of his former students are in college and 40 are freshmen.

Keys came to Mississippi State as a highly recruited defensive lineman from Jackson Callaway High School. Although Notre Dame, Alabama, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh (then coached by Jackie Sherrill) all offered him scholarships, Keys ended up signing with the Bulldogs.

"I wanted to be close to home. I remember watching State games through the fence at Memorial Stadium, and I wanted to be a part of something special in the state of Mississippi."

Keys, who was awarded second-team, All-SEC honors for three-straight season (1978-1980), was involved in perhaps the biggest play of MSU football history. He laid the hit on Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs, forcing him to fumble on the last play of State's storied 6-3 win over the top-ranked Tide in 1980. Ironically, Jacobs is a minister in the Tampa area, and Billy Jackson, who recovered the fumble for the Bulldogs, is a high school coach in the area. Both have been involved in Keys' efforts.

Keys fondly recalls the confidence that that Mississippi State team had, and attributes that to then-head coach Emory Bellard.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. He met with the defense individually the Monday morning before the game. He said, 'Do exactly what I tell you to do and we will shut them down and we will beat them. I invented the wishbone, and I know better than anybody else how to stop it. And I have the players that are capable of stopping it.'

"That uplifted us even more, " Keys said. "We paid attention to detail and went out there and played out hearts out."

Keys followed his brilliant collegiate career with a nine-yard professional career that saw him play in British Columbia, Chicago, Tampa Bay and San Diego.

Injuries forced him to retire in 1990, and he returned to Tampa where he took up coaching and counseling at Tampa Catholic High School. While there, he began the mentoring program on the side that would eventually blossom into a full-time operation in 1993.

Eight year later the success stories continue. Youngsters in the Tampa area who need a hand can find one in Tyrone Keys, as long as they are willing to work for it.

"Everybody at Mississippi State was instrumental in developing me as a person," he said. "I keep telling coaches that they can make or break a person. We have a chance to elevate these kids beyond sports. And we need to do that because sports is only one -fourth of you life. You have another three-fourths of your life to live."