FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Matt Keys learned about the importance of the name on the front of his shirt well before he joined the New England Revolution academy program.
As Keys meandered along the circuitous path toward his spot as one of Massachusetts' brightest young talents, he adopted the approach required to succeed both at the high school level for King Philip Regional High School (Norfolk, Mass.) and at the academy level with the Revolution.
“Our high school coach, Kip Lewis, he was really about (professionalism),” Keys told MLSsoccer.com last month. “He works with the school administration, so he always told us that we were wearing the school name and told us not to tarnish the colors.”
[inline_node:325964]Keys grasped similar lessons in his club career before he joined the Revs' academy program. Former Chicago, Miami and New England defender Francis Okaroh – now a successful youth coach in the state – imparted his intensity on Keys during the central defender's stint with FC Blazers.
Those days with Okaroh included considerable successes at the state and the regional level, but Keys eventually joined the Revolution academy last year in an attempt to continue his development.
The transition made sense for Keys – he had tried out in the past without success – as he sought to continue to raise his profile with college on the horizon in the fall of 2011.
He soon learned that the Revolution's academy program reinforced on many of the same lessons he had heard from other mentors along the way.
“It's very structured and very professional,” Keys said. “You're wearing the jersey and you're wearing the name. You have to perform like it.”
It has taken a bit of time for the physically imposing Keys to adapt to the challenges presented by playing at the academy level. While the 6-foot-4, 190-pound center back possesses the commitment and the size to perform at the college level, he needed to improve the intricacies of his defending to thrive once he entered the academy, according to Revolution director of youth development Bryan Scales.
“What's been great for him in our environment is that he really has to be precise in his defending,” Scales said. “There are guys in our team that will get right around him. Being in the academy will expose that, and he's had to make an adjustment in how he defends individually so he doesn't get sliced up out there. He's done that and he's slowly making that adjustment on the field.”
By adjusting his game to fit the needs of the academy game and focusing on his role within the team structure, Keys has watched his profile increase substantially in time to make his college decision.
Between his status as a Revolution academy player and his selection as one of two Massachusetts representatives on the NSCAA All-America team this fall, Keys has garnered increased interest from several Division I colleges in New England over the past few months.
Although Keys remains undecided about his future college plans, he wields the tools required to ensure people remember the name on the back of his shirt at the next level, according to Scales.
“He's a big, strong centerback,” Scales said. “He's going to win a ton of balls in the air for you (because) he's competitive and courageous.”