When Keith Reed became Central’s starting quarterback, he knew the legacy of his predecessors.
Reed wasn’t asked to rewrite the county record books like Jeff Godfrey or Rakeem Cato.
Setting new marks would be up to the two running backs that would be lining up in the backfield with him.
But Reed, now a senior and two-year starter for the Rockets, hasn’t just been good for handoffs.
Despite playing in a mostly run-oriented scheme, Reed has been the reliable presence who has balanced Central’s offense and helped the Rockets move to within one victory of its fifth consecutive state semifinals appearance.
“[Reed] made a drastic change in the summer during 7-on-7’s,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “If we asked him to throw the ball as much as we did those guys before or guys like Jacory Harris or Eldrin Jones when I was at Northwestern, I’d feel confident letting him do it.”
Central (10-1), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, takes on undefeated Palm Bay Heritage (12-0) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Traz Powell Stadium in the Region 4-6A final.
The Panthers will likely try to stack the line of scrimmage (as many teams have over the past two seasons) hoping to contain explosive seniors Joe Yearby and Dalvin Cook, who have combined for 3,060 yards and 46 rushing touchdowns, and force Central to rely on its passing game.
Only one team has succeeded in beating Reed and the Rockets this season — Booker T. Washington, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
Reed (5-10, 180 pounds) has made several teams over the past two seasons regret that strategy, however, with his mobility and deceptively strong arm.
After being used only as a backup quarterback at Mater Academy his freshman season and at Northwestern his sophomore year, Reed transferred to Central earning the starting job before the start of last season under then-coach Telly Lockette.
Reed’s performances have attracted the attention of a few FCS and Division II schools, but he’s yet to garner at FBS-school offer.
“Whenever we have one-on-one matchups outside, [Reed] does a great job finding our receivers and making a play,” Smith said. “He’s developed tremendously and did a great job this season in several hostile environments. They’re daring him to beat us and he’s getting the ball out to our receivers and not letting them.”
Reed isn’t putting up the flashy passing statistics of Cato (a three-year starter at Marshall) and Godfrey (a senior at UCF), the top two all-time passing yardage leaders in Miami-Dade County history.
What he has been is efficient. In two seasons as Central’s starter, Reed has completed 139 of 270 passes for 2,632 yards, 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
“We have a great offensive line, but when pressure comes, [Reed] makes the right call to throw the ball or scramble,” Central junior receiver Da’Vante Phillips said. “We know he’s one of the most important guys on the field. He makes everything work.”
Central coaches don’t just praise Reed’s smarts as a passer. Even when his task is simply to hand the ball to one of his All-American teammates, Reed still is counted upon to make sure it’s the correct play to exploit opposing defenses’ weaknesses.
“We call run plays, but I sometimes let him make the calls on where to run based on how he reads the defense,” Central offensive coordinator A.J. Snipes said. “You look at his efficiency, it’s better than most quarterbacks anywhere and we’re throwing deep most of the time. Those aren’t high-percentage passes.”
Reed grew up in a football family with several of his relatives, including his father, Keith, Sr., teaching him the game. When he’s not playing football, Reed often helps his dad with his seafood catering business.
“I do pretty much everything to help him,” Reed said. “I cook. I prepare for the events with him. He makes all kinds of crazy seafood creations. I stick to making the basic stuff.”
Reed hopes to have something special prepared following Thanksgiving this weekend that can take Central one step closer to a third state title in four years.
“I think about how when I first got here all my teammates and coaches helped me and supported me,” Reed said. “I take credit for my teammates. It’s not about me. I just keep working and grinding and doing everything I have to do to help my team win.”