Jaylen Key is in his fourth fall camp at UAB. At this point, he’s not only latched on to a spot in the rotation at a crowded safety position. but he could very well be one of the starters.

Key’s story is a testament that overnight sensations aren’t common in college football.

“It’s definitely a mental thing,” Key said. “You come in off the recruiting thing and you’re at the top of the hill, now you’ve got to trust the process. You got to wait your turn, man. It’s not like you come in and you’re the man. You got to enjoy the process, enjoy the grind. There are a lot of long nights, thinking about making the right decisions.”

Key, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt junior, who graduated from Godby High in Tallahassee, Florida, was a three-star recruit with reported offers from UCF, Southern Miss and South Alabama.

“I’m going to tell you about Jaylen, now, from an athletic standpoint Jaylen has been one of the most talented guys,” said UAB defensive coordinator David Reeves. “We knew when we signed him coming out, his talent level was high. He was on a really good secondary in high school at Godby. He, probably, out of the four they had, was the most talented but the least polished.”

He redshirted as a true freshman, played primarily special teams the next season and worked toward getting more time the following two seasons.

“I’d say I’ve matured a lot,” Key said. “When I first came to campus, it was overlooking a lot of the little things. On the football field, it’s a game made of inches. You’ve got to focus on the little things and that’s what I’m doing.  If you have the right people around you, the right coaches, they’ll tell you that you have to do this or do that. When you’re young, you kind of look past those things. When you’re older, you understand, ‘I’ve got to focus on my attitude today, I need to focus on my eyes in man coverage, things like that.’”

Reeves credits defensive back coach Blake Shrader with developing Key and getting him ready to fight for a starting job. Breaking into the starting lineup for the Blazers is difficult. Will Boler started in 33 of his 49 appearances for the Blazers and is one of three players on the roster who has been with the program since 2017. Grayson Cash is on the preseason Bronko Nagurski watch list and the Miller twins – Damon and Damien – are proven contributors. Keondre Swoopes returns for his second season as a starter at the Star position but also could play safety.

Key is not worried about the depth chart right now. He’s just proving he is one of the top players at the position.

“For me, it’s pretty much staying consistent, focusing on the little things every day,” Key said. “Everybody feels good on the first day of camp. It’s just, how are you going to feel on the fourth, fifth day, last day of camp? It feels a little different, I’m moving a little faster this camp. I understand the defenses more and more, like what everybody else is doing. It’s a good camp, man.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irwin@1819news.com.

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.