Bryan Keys Doesn't Want Your Sympathy
David Joles, Star Tribune

Bryan Keys is an undrafted free agent from a DII school that has produced six NFL players. Still, he’s not giving up hope.

Bryan Keys doesn’t want your sympathy. If anything, he’s a better football player without it.

Ever since he was a kid, he has heard the same thing repeated over-and-over again: “only one percent make it pro. You’re delusional if you think you’re capable of accomplishing your dreams.”

Yes, that’s it. Keys is attempting to accomplish one of the toughest feats in the world by trying to make it at the game’s highest level. Unlike the 256 players drafted yearly, he’s trying to surmount one of the most arduous labels in sports, undrafted.

“People that don’t believe in me drive me the most,” Keys says. “I’ve been trying to tell people that this is going to happen for years but they are all stuck on that ‘1% makes it’ statistic.”

“My answer to that is why am I any less than any of the 1% that makes it? If that’s what I want to do then I can do it. There is nothing in this world that is 100% guaranteed, and even if there was, it wouldn’t be for everybody. I’d rather take my chances on being a part of that 1% then being safe with something that doesn’t fulfill me.”

Persistence. That’s the word coaches, teammates and friends repeatedly cite as the reason why Keys is still pursuing his dreams. As one ex-NFL player told me, “It’s a player’s ability to look at that label as motivation, not as an obstacle, that gives them a chance of making it in this league.”

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“You look at the character,” says Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, referring to the traits required to make it in the National Football League. “I mean that guy that gets up at six in the morning. Comes in and takes care of his body. Does things right. Studies film. Great teammate. Those traits.”

Great teammate. That’s another thing that Keys’ former teammates and coaches spoke to me about at length. Bryan mentioned it to me too, although anyone could tell just by peering at his Facebook page how much of a leader he truly is.

Keys brings with him a story of perseverance, resilience, dedication and commitment. If you’re looking for someone to root for, he’s your guy.

Although there are hundreds of dreamers throughout the sport, he stands out as one of the biggest dreamers, a long-shot free agent attempting to overcome the odds.

He was admittedly naïve about the recruiting process when he was in high school. In college, Keys attended Minnesota State University-Mankato, a DII school that has produced just six NFL players in its history.

He had a less-than-ideal Combine. He is considered ‘raw’ by many in the business, and like most, the business isn’t very accommodating.

Still, he’s learned over-the-years not to judge a guy by his draft status and he’s worked his bottom off, something so many others before him has done.

If he’s going to go down, it’s not going to be without a fight. That’s why his daily routine — early morning supplements, noon reflections, midday training and late-night workouts — is beyond rigorous.

Keys has recently been rewarded for his strong work ethic. Last season, he received an invitation to Minnesota Vikings’ Rookie Mini Camp and hoisted the United Bowl Trophy with the Sioux Falls Storm of the Indoor Football League this year.

Recently, Keys began training in Orlando, Florida at the Better Everyday Sports Performance gym. He’s using his experiences, work ethic and resilience to prepare for upcoming AFL and CFL tryouts that will hopefully culminate in an NFL offer.

“Don’t give up,” Keys says asked what his message to other undrafted players is. “We are all going through it. Your journey is your journey, stop looking around at everybody that is getting called before you or achieving this and that.

“You don’t know what they went through to finally get their shot. Usually, if you think that you have endured a lot and you ‘deserve’ your shot you haven’t seen anything yet. So two words to summarize it all is just endure and enjoy because not everyone gets to even have that title attached to their name.”

Endure and enjoy, indeed.

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Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.