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Keenan Isaac might not have grown up at the Magic City Classic. It just feels that way.
Isaac, a Birmingham native and Midfield High graduate, estimates he was three years old when he attended his first one. As far as he can remember, he hasn’t missed one since.
His support during Classic week, and really year-round, was solidly toward Alabama A&M. This is natural, considering his father is a former Bulldog football player and his mom graduated from the university. He went to homecoming and other Alabama A&M football games throughout his life.
On Saturday, he will play in the Magic City Classic for the fourth and final time. However, he won’t be in an Alabama A&M uniform. Isaac switched allegiances in 2018 when he signed to become an Alabama State Hornet.
“He wised up and went to Alabama State,” Hornet coach Eddie Robinson said during Wednesday’s Magic City Classic press conference while looking toward Alabama A&M head coach Connell Maynor. “Y’all let him get away, y’all didn’t even recruit him, Coach. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be an all-conference pick, a guy that will play at the next level. He’s looking forward to closing out his Magic City career with another W.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Isaac will be one of the best players at Legion Field on Saturday and with his size and athleticism at cornerback, he’s definitely on the NFL radar. In his first two seasons on campus, Isaac played in 22 games with 18 starts. In the spring of 2021, he played in just two games because of an injury that led to surgery. He was on the sideline last fall. This season, he has 24 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions and six pass breakups as a full-time starter at cornerback.
All that is part of his story, for sure. Yet, the main question that comes to mind, at least this week, is how in the world did he end up at Alabama State?
Perhaps the best answer is that recruiting is an inexact science.
Isaac was a standout two-player at Midfield High, seemingly checking all the boxes in college football recruiting. However, he was lightly recruited.
“I had a crazy recruiting process out of high school,” Isaac said. “I had a lot of looks but, when it came down to it, I only had two offers, that was Middle Tennessee and Alabama State. Because of my HBCU background with me going to a lot of Classics and A&M homecomings and stuff like that, I had love for HBCU. So, I chose Alabama State.”
Fifty-one weeks of the year, that is not a bad thing, then comes the week of the Magic City Classic.
“This week it’s going to always be a hostile environment – a lot of talking, a lot of joking between me and my family,” Isaac said. “It’s all love, at the end of the day. They’re rooting for me, just as much as they’re rooting for Alabama A&M, with them being alumni. It’s always a lot of jokes, a lot of noise, the week of the game.”
Last year, his family had shirts made that were two-tone. On one side it was maroon and said ‘Go Bulldogs.’ The other side was black and gold with Isaac’s jersey No. 10.
“It was pretty cool,” Isaac said.
Alabama State is 1-3 in the Magic City Classic since Isaac joined the program. The lone win came last season and he had two tackles in that game. He will carry with him special memories of this game but also special memories of being an HBCU football player.
“It’s great,” Isaac said of the SWAC growth over the last few years. “I think this is well deserved. It should have been this way for much longer than this. I’m just glad I was able to become part of the process of us getting better and returning to more notability.”
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