Former Football: Ex-Lafayette High, Ragin' Cajuns star Derik Keyes fulfills NFL dream as coach, not
Eric Narcisse, The Advertiser, June 24, 2019
Former Lafayette High and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns defensive back Derik Keyes is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Vikings. (Photo: Submitted Photo)
It doesn't require much effort in order for Derik Keyes to reflect back on his childhood dreams.
Because he remembers it like it was yesterday.
As a young boy living in Laurel, Mississippi, approximately 20 minutes north of Hattiesburg, Keyes played every sport.
But none of them he loved as much as football.
Competing with anywhere from 20 to 30 family members and friends in a large empty field located on Toy Jones Rd., Keyes could be heard shouting out names of players he was playing as from the Pittsburgh Steelers when they made the Super Bowl in the 1995-96 season.
Whether he was envisioning himself making game-winning catches in the back of the end zone or coming away with a game-saving tackle or interception, Keyes knew he was NFL bound.
"I remember going out in that field and yelling 'I'm such and such. I'm this person. I'm that person,'" said Keyes, who moved to Lafayette when he was 12 years old. "I just knew I was going to be in the NFL one day."
And he is.
Albeit not in the way he always hoped he would be.
Instead of delivering jarring hits or game-changing interceptions, Keyes, who played defensive back for the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and Lafayette High, is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
"To be doing what I'm doing, is still unreal to me," said Keyes, whose father Brian was a body builder. "To have the opportunity to help people become better as athletes and as men, is amazing."
So is the way Keyes broke into the NFL coaching ranks.
"I went to Rice University one day to visit my best friend Lanier Coleman," Keyes said. "I was talking to Lanier's boss and after talking to him he asked me if I would be interested in an internship with the Houston Texans. He said they would be willing to give me an interview."
Needless to say, Keyes accepted the offer, nailed the interview and ended up getting the internship.
"For me, that moment when I got the phone call from the Texans saying I got it, it was like draft day for me," Keyes said. "Once I got off the phone, I'm just screaming and crying. Going through that process was a big emotional moment for me."
For one year, Keyes worked under the 2012 NFL Strength Coach of the Year in Cedric Smith before accepting a job with the Cleveland Browns where he served as the assistant strength and conditioning coach from 2013-16 before leaving for the Vikings where he has been since 2017.
"Everything that has been happening is something that I've prayed for and asked for," Keyes said. "I still remind myself of how it happened and what all I was going through at the time. I've never forgotten all of the people who have helped me or influenced me along the way."
Among those who have been instrumental in Keyes' career is his former strength and conditioning coach with the Ragin' Cajuns Rob Phillips, who hounded Keyes to pursue a career as a coach for more than a year after he graduated from UL.
"In college, in my mind I wasn't going to be a coach," said Keyes, who also played arena football for the Acadiana Mudbugs who then became the Lafayette Wildcatters. "I was still pursuing the dream of the NFL. This is going to sound bad, but I went to school to play football."
Former Lafayette High and Ragin' Cajuns defensive back Derik Keyes (left) poses for a photo with Hall of Famer Jim Brown (center) and Joe Kim (right). (Photo: Submitted Photo)
However, on a road trip with the Wildcatters, Keyes had a aha moment.
"The more and more Rob kept planting that seed in my head, the more and more I began to think about it," Keyes said. "I remember being on the bus for an arena league football game and the bus broke down in Austin, Texas. I was reading Tony Dungy's book 'Uncommon' and something hit me. That's when I told myself, if I'm not going to play in the NFL, then I'll coach in it."
Phillips provided Keyes with guidance of what he needed to do, which included going back to school to get his masters degree.
"Rob told me about this opportunity at South Alabama where I could go and get my masters degree," said Keyes, who is a certified USAW Sports Performance coach and NSCA professional member. "I'll be honest, I barely graduated from UL, so to think about going and get my masters was mind blowing for me."
Former Lafayette High and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns defensive back Derik Keyes was an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Cleveland Browns before leaving for Minnesota. (Photo: Submitted Photo)
But he did it and as they say — the rest is history.
"This is something that is meant for me to do," Keyes said. "To be in the weight room is something that is really natural for me. This is something I've been around and have been doing my whole life."
With the accomplishments coming in fast and steady, Keyes already has his eyes on the next step in his career.
"Oh, I want to be a head strength and conditioning coach for an NFL team," Keyes said. "I'm a top assistant now, so that is something that I want. That became the dream when I got the job with the Texans and I saw Cedric Smith in his office. When I saw him, I saw myself. Ever since then, I've been hungry like I'm still an intern."
Eric Narcisse covers high school sports for The Daily Advertiser. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @eric_narcisse.
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