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Football is in his blood: DSU receiver Keith sees field as home away from home

Football was always the calling for JT Keith. Since the beginning, the Dickinson State senior wide receiver has been practically inseparable from football and has found himself, as well as a home away from home, on the field. "It's been the first...

JT Keith
Press Photo by Royal McGregor

Football was always the calling for JT Keith.
Since the beginning, the Dickinson State senior wide receiver has been practically inseparable from football and has found himself, as well as a home away from home, on the field.
“It’s been the first thing my dad ever taught me really. He’s all about football,” Keith said. “I had two other brothers and he’d never miss a game with everything we did and that’s the biggest gratitude in the world - making him proud when we did something good at football or basketball.”
Keith, originally from Miles City, Mont., was introduced to football at a young age and knew exactly where he wanted his place on the field to be.
“The one thing I always knew when I started was that I wanted to play wide receiver,” he said. “Every (receiver) on TV, it looked like the (most fun) position to play. I wanted to be a quarterback, but I’m left-handed and can’t throw. My dad coaches and I went out for quarterback, and he made me switch to running back.”
But after high school, Keith never gave much thought into pursuing football collegiately. Instead, he joined the Montana National Guard and spent two years in the Army ROTC at Montana State University in Bozeman.
But it wasn’t the right fit. Keith realized military life wasn’t what he wanted and instead transferred to DSU in 2011 to reboot his football career after a two-year hiatus.

Coming into his own

Uprooting from familiarity is never easy. Coming to DSU, a much smaller university than Montana State, was a frightening transition for Keith, who had to start everything from scratch.
While making friends and finding an identity among 100 football players can come with time, Keith made a smooth transition back into the game. He never worried and felt the most at ease on the field.
“That was the whole thing about football,” Keith said. “On the field was the only time I felt like I could be myself. The whole cliche, ‘I can be myself here,’ and that’s kind of how I warmed up. But it was a few months before I started making friends and everything.
“On the field is when I felt most comfortable and slowly but gradually started to make friends and everything.”
In his first two years, Keith had to learn to be patient, rotating with other receivers for limited time on the field, while star veterans, like Tanner Leak, were given priority and started every game.
Every moment off the field, Keith was soaking up information in an attempt to become a more well-rounded receiver and saw the importance of being prepared for everything from blocking to tackling if there is an interception.
The patience was well worth the wait, and Keith was promoted to a starter.
Keith’s talent was able to shine and grew into one of freshman quarterback Kaler Ray’s go-to weapons. In the 2013 season, Keith finished with 37 receptions and 656 yards with five touchdowns and ranked No. 35 in the NAIA with 72.9 receiving yards per game.
He had three 100-yard games with his best against Montana Western, when he had six receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Last season, with just six seniors on the team and none at his position, Keith seamlessly slipped into a leadership role and found himself headlining the receiving core.
“He is one of the hardest-working guys out here, I’ll be honest with you,” senior receiver Dalyss Hansen said. “He’s one of those guys, he’s a senior now, and he’ll reach out to the freshmen and tell them what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong and how to be an all-conference first player like he is.”
Coach at heart

In the second-to-last game of the 2013 season against Rocky Mountain College, Keith suffered a separated shoulder. He played in the season finale against Carroll College but was sidelined in a sling during practice. Instead of standing and watching, Keith was given a unique opportunity to remain involved in football.
He helped coach the wide receivers and gave a distinct perspective. But while he was instructing and teaching, Keith learned some things players can’t always understand while on the field.
“There’s never been a more enjoyable moment on the practice field then getting to coach my own teammates, just how good everybody is at listening when you’re willing to help them out,” Keith said with a smile. “That’s what it taught me, to be open to criticism which builds a better team when you can coach each other.”
Dalton Reid, a sophomore receiver and Keith’s former Miles City High School teammate, added: “He’s really stepped into that leadership role and I respect him for that. Even when he was hurt, he was helping us out every play and trying to keep us positive, and make us better and has done a great job with it and I really liked working with him.”
Veteran status

Keith’s hard work and progression didn’t go unnoticed. He was named to the preseason all-North Star Athletic Conference team and first-year head coach Pete Stanton also recognized his work ethic on and off the field, and was sure to make him one of the primary leaders of the football team.
“I wanted to make sure I put him on the player council, which is our leadership team, and I told him when he went on that he was expected to be one of our leaders and he’s taken that role and taken off,” Stanton said. “He didn’t miss a thing this summer, did everything he was supposed to do and we really feel he’s one of the better players in the conference because he’s an extremely talented young man, and I’m just excited how much he’s grown up in the last couple of years.”
Keith has 253 yards receiving and two touchdowns in three games this season.
Through the tough decisions of leaving his comfort zone to exploring the coaching side of the sport, football has been there for Keith.
As he prepares to graduate in the winter and counts down the final games left in his career, the impact Keith made is a pivotal point in the new direction for the Blue Hawks.
“I was definitely taking a big chance leaving everyone I knew and kind of just going out on a limb,” Keith said. “Three and a half years down the road, I can’t imagine doing anything else and I wouldn’t trade the experience I had here for anything.”

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MacDonald is the sports reporter for The Press. Call her at 701-456-1213 and tweet her @MegtotheMac.

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