Above: Cody Keith going through drills at Steve Clarkson’s Quarterbacks Camp. Keith will start at quarterback this fall for Maranatha.(Photo courtesy of Steve Clarkson)
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
The word around campus was quickly spreading.
Cody Keith, a transfer from North Carolina, was going to be on the Maranatha High School football field taking part in drills with quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson.
On this unassuming winter afternoon, the football players were making their way to their sixth-period class, the last of the day.
The buzz surrounding Keith’s first scheduled workout was building, and many on the football team wanted to take a look at their new teammate. Some got permission from their teachers to leave class a bit early to witness for themselves what the buzz was all about.
Danny Beckwith was one of those players who watched firsthand. He wanted to see what he was going up against come spring ball. After all, Beckwith was supposed to be next in line to be the starting quarterback.
Beckwith kept an open mind but still was mindful about the sudden quarterback competition, something he clearly had not anticipated.
Thoughts started running through Beckwith’s mind as he watched from a distance. He had a lot of fun playing wide receiver last season but was adamant about his strong desire to be the quarterback his senior year.
“When I went out there I thought, `I could take this guy out,’ ” Beckwith said. “But then he started practicing with us. He was a lot better, and I realized it was a better fit for him to throw to me. He was as good as Matt (Schilz), if not better.”
There was Keith, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound pro-style quarterback, practically auditioning in front of his new teammates at his third school in four years.
Keith’s checkered past was not widely known until a lengthy report appeared last year in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, painting Cody’s father, Greg, as an over-the-top father who pushed for Cody to become a starting quarterback.
While Greg Keith went to great lengths to abide by the state’s high school sports governing body’s rules, he also said his family was targeted and ridiculed for its decision.
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A painful experience
According to the newspaper report, Mecklenburg County’s high school football season was marred by numerous cases involving parents, players and coaches cheating on eligibility rules.
Greg Keith didn’t want to be one of those parents, so after Cody finished his sophomore year as backup quarterback at Myers Park High, he went about the proper channels so Cody could start elsewhere. They settled on South Mecklenburg High.
“We went to the superintendent of schools and he said …. we needed to go buy another house,” Greg Keith said. “So that’s what we did.”
The Keith family rented out their $2.8 million home and bought a $738,000 home within the district lines of South Mecklenburg High. The move was necessary because it was apparent Cody’s future success was dependant on valuable playing time.
“We followed the rules and did exactly what they told us to do, and we got attacked because we went and bought a house,” Greg Keith said. “We were the poster child for the right way to do it, but instead we got criticized.”
Nonetheless, things didn’t pan out at South Mecklenburg. The school ran a double-wing offense, meaning Cody’s arm strength was minimized.
The damage was done.
“We’re a Christian family that’s very close-knit,” Greg Keith said. “We’re a family trying to raise our kids the best we can. I hate to say it, but I guess we were overly naive to think we could sit down with a reporter and think he’ll do what he said he was going to do.
“When we saw the story, we just went, `Golly, Moses.’ We just felt like we got burned and treated unfairly. But that’s a chapter of our lives we’ve closed. Bringing this up is obviously very painful to our family.”
Making the move
The perception is the Keiths moved to California so Cody could start at quarterback.
“I would agree that’s the perception,” Greg Keith said. “That perception is not true.”
In fact, Greg, a real estate developer, saw an opportunity to expand business here.
Throw in the fact that his daughters work and attend college here, and you’ve got what Greg calls “a perfect fit.”
“The natural thing for people to think is we moved to Pasadena so Cody can play football and work with Clarkson,” Greg Keith said.
“But had the girls been in San Francisco and at Stanford and working there, we would have been in San Francisco. The move that spurred us was the girls and some business opportunity.”
Before settling on Pasadena, Greg said they looked at which school would fit Cody best.
They looked at several public and private schools. In the end, Maranatha’s Christian values won them over.
“We spent a lot of time in prayer over this decision to move to California,” Greg Keith said in a thick Southern accent. “We spent a lot of time over the right school (Cody) should attend, and this is where we felt the Lord led us.”
Cody had taken several trips to California to participate in Clarkson’s camp, which was held at Maranatha High.
Despite his talent not being maximized at South Mecklenburg, Clarkson felt that Cody Keith was special.
“He’s very capable mentally of handling all the little nuances of the position,” said Clarkson, whose notable list of clients includes sons of Hall of Famer Joe Montana, NHL great Wayne Gretzky and rapper Snoop Dogg. “He can get his teams out of bad plays, but his leadership qualities is something you look for.
“Coming from a new place, and to have to win over your teammates in a short period of time and getting everybody to pull at the same point, goes to show what kind of kid he is.”
Cody’s plan is to start in high school, land a scholarship at a Division I school and then turn pro. He’s currently being looked at by some Pac-10, ACC and SEC schools.
“It was unbelievable how well Maranatha just accepts people and how well the team clicks,” said Cody Keith, a newly-turned Dodgers and Lakers fan who’s coping with coaches and teammates trying to get him to ditch the Southern country-boy look for a more relaxed, California-style hairdo.
“He’s one of those guys that no one hates him,” Beckwith said. “Right away he fit in very well and got along with everybody. You can’t not like him, because he’s fun to be around, and he’s become a very good friend.”
Beckwith was one of a few friends who lent a hand in organizing a surprise birthday party for Cody. Sixty people showed up.
“Danny’s pretty much said he’ll play the backup role because he likes what Cody’s all about,” said Jon Beckwith, Danny’s father.
“He (Danny) accepted me even though he was supposed to be the quarterback,” Cody Keith said. “He was very good about not making it a difficult situation, pushing or saying things. He handled it all with class.”
The family also was welcomed with open arms.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to that’s met them have enjoyed them and welcomed them,” Jon Beckwith said. “And we’re no exception; we really like them.”
So much so that Cody agreed to take a trip with Danny Beckwith and a few other teammates to Lake Arrowhead.
“He’s been nothing but an absolute gem,” Maranatha football coach Joel Murphy said. “You look at the kid and can’t see how he can’t improve your team, on and off the field. He’s just a great kid.”
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There was a lot of mystery surrounding Cody Keith’s arrival to Maranatha High earlier this year. A lengthy report published last year in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer put the Keith family in bad light, alleging Cody’s father, Greg, went to great lengths to make Cody the school’s starting quarterback. At a passing game last week, Cody looked relaxed and had great rapport with teammates. More impressively, Cody’s passes were crisp and on target. His fundamentals and mechanics were solid and his field vision was impressive. Granted this was only a passing game, Cody’s talent was every bit as advertised and it’s no wonder why renowned quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson feels he’s a Division I prospect. I had the opportunity to meet Greg at the end of the game. He was courteous, a gentleman and receptive to my story idea of introducing Cody to our readership. And after conducting interviews with Maranatha coach Joel Murphy, athletic director Brian DeHaan and Steve Clarkson, I sat down today for an hour-long interview with Cody and Greg to discuss what happened in North Carolina, their purpose here, goals for the upcoming season and what led to Cody attending Maranatha and the family settling on Pasadena.
The story will publish Tuesday in the Star-News.
My two cents: I was overwhelmed by Greg and Cody’s openness during our interview. Greg was forthcoming about how their family felt after the Observer story published; they felt burned and Greg said the painful experience was a valuable lesson. He admitted being naive to think his forthcoming wouldn’t be misconstrued or taken out of context. He felt that’s exactly what happened. I got a strong sense that Greg had the best intention for Cody and his family. Their decision to move to California was not solely based on Cody playing football. In fact, Greg’s real estate business centered here, and throw in the fact his daughters worked and attended college here and you’ve got what Greg calls “a perfect fit.” Before settling on Pasadena, Greg said they looked at which school would better fit Cody. They looked at several public and private schools. In the end, Maranatha’s Christian values won them over. It’s clear his new teammates took Cody in with open arms. After Matt Schilz graduated, Danny Beckwith was in line to be the next starting quarterback. Enter Cody Keith and suddenly there’s a battle for the starting spot. But since Cody’s arrival they’ve become really good friends. They hang out a lot and Danny was part of a group of friends who lent a hand in throwing Cody a surprise birthday party, just a few months after Cody had transferred to Maranatha. That right there is the strongest evidence that Cody will not only help the Minutemen this season, but he’ll do it with class, dignity, respect, and, perhaps most important, have a lot of fun.