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  • Legacy junior Dakota Key is four yards short of equalling...

    Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Legacy junior Dakota Key is four yards short of equalling the school's single-season rushing record of 1,459 yards.

  • Legacy junior Dakota Key is averaging ...

    Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer

    Legacy junior Dakota Key is averaging 161.6 rushing yards per game this season.



Dakota Key’s 2018 stats

Legacy junior Dakota Key is five yards away from setting the school’s single-season rushing record. Here’s a look at his numbers this season:

• 1,454 rushing yards on 239 carries

• 6.1 yards per carry average

• 161.6 rushing yards per game average

BROOMFIELD — Dakota Key didn’t become the starting running back for Legacy until an injury to then-senior Brandon Wills forced him to the forefront full time midway through his sophomore season in 2017.

The Lightning tailback has certainly made the most of the opportunity.

Now a junior, Key is the clear feature back in a surprisingly run-heavy offense for a Lightning club that has relied on a high-volume passing attack in recent years. Not only is Key thriving in his new role at the center of the Lightning offense, he is quickly becoming a fixture throughout the program’s statistical record book.

When pondering how far he has progressed in a short time, seeing his name listed among Legacy greats such as Joey Applehans, Matt Lynch, Alec Lewis and Chase Carlson isn’t something Key could have imagined when he was watching from the sidelines as a freshman two years ago.

“It’s honestly an honor,” Key said. “I’ve continued to push myself every day just to be where I am today and to be as good as I can be. Just to know that those guys had such a big effect on not just Legacy football but on high school football in Colorado in general, it’s really amazing to be able to see my name on that list with them.”

Key had not considered that he might have an opportunity to claim any school records this fall. After all, Legacy had not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Phydell Paris ran for 1,151 yards in 2012.

Through nine weeks of the 2018 season, Key has rushed for 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns. His rushing total with one game left has him sitting four yards shy of the all-time Lightning record for single-season rushing yards, which was set at 1,459 by Joey Applehans in 2006. A versatile threat that has also caught and thrown a touchdown this season, Key’s 1,956 total yards are fourth best all-time in a single season at Legacy.

In terms of career rushing yards, Key is already fourth all-time at Legacy with 2,273 on the ground. Still with one regular-season game left in his junior year and hopefully a postseason opportunity yet to come this fall, Key’s 2,775 total yards rank 10th in his program’s history.

Key, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder that he sustained during last wrestling season, wouldn’t have the numbers he has without several outstanding single-game performances. He holds Legacy’s fifth-, sixth- and ninth-best rushing totals for a single game – 233 yards against Fairview on Sept. 27, 231 yards against Poudre on Oct. 5 and 219 yards against Fossil Ridge on Oct. 18.

“Coming in with a new coaching staff and knowing that they were trying to change the offense and the direction of the program, I knew I would just have to do my job like all the rest of the guys and it would all work out,” Key said. “I knew I’d have to play a big part in the offense but I definitely did not think I’d be where I am right now. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to make the offense work the best that it can.”

A new Lightning coaching staff led by head coach Corey Heinz brought with it a greater emphasis on running the ball this season. Unfortunately for the Lightning, they currently have a 3-6 record despite Key’s rushing success. A difficult schedule and some growing pains contributed to the Lightning opening the season on a six-game losing streak, but the team has since rebounded to win its past three games.

“I told the guys that we’d be the most improved team by week five and they’ve bought in,” Heinz said. “Dakota has been one of the kids that has completely bought in to what we want to do. We wanted to be a little more hard-nosed and he’s one of the guys that has provided some of the toughness we’re looking for. We’ve been right there battling in every game and Dakota’s toughness, and also his leadership, are a big reason for that. I’m really proud of him and I’m really proud of the team.”

On the other hand, the strength of its challenging schedule has the Lightning sitting 27th in the Class 5A RPI standings with one game left on the schedule. If Legacy can win against Horizon (2-7) on Friday night, and with the 5A football playoff field expanding to 24 teams for this two-year cycle, the Lightning would have a good shot at qualifying for the postseason.

Win or lose on Friday night, it’s a safe bet that Key will gain the five yards he needs to claim Legacy’s single-season rushing record. Key may not have been originally expecting this season to be a record-setting one but he sure is now.

Brad Cochi: or

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