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Notre Dame Football

Keys III Hitting Right Notes in Irish Offense

November 28, 2019

Depending on the preferred route, it is nearly 1,000 miles from Lawrence Keys III’s native New Orleans to the University of Notre Dame campus here in South Bend, Indiana.

Not to mention the cultural and weather differences, factoring in rigorous academics among other demands of playing football for the Fighting Irish.

But LaTanya Manning, an educator in the Crescent City who’s currently pursuing a Master’s in social work at Southern University, didn’t want to see her son, Lawrence, content to linger in the bayou.

“I knew about the academics, and I knew they had a pretty good football team at the time, but that’s pretty much all that I knew about the University of Notre Dame,” Manning told “And I also knew it was a Catholic university as well.

“I kind of encouraged him to go out of state, because you don’t want to always be surrounded by the same people in the same area all the time, but to meet new people, have that diversity. Go explore and have fun. You don’t always want to just stay in the state and stay close to home, but go see other places.”

Keys III embraced a challenge he recalled that started in the parking lot upon his arrival to move into his residence hall at Notre Dame prior to his freshman year in 2018. He’s played in 10 of the Irish’s 11 games this season as No. 16 Notre Dame (9-2) wraps its regular-season campaign Saturday at rival Stanford (4-7).

“Honestly, I expected it to be very hard from when I first got here. We jumped straight to academics soon as I got out the car,” said the 5-foot-11, 173-pounder. “I was like, ‘OK, I see what kind of place it’s going to be.’ But I expected it. I love taking challenges. I got here, and it felt like home.

“Academics is one of the hardest things here at the University of Notre Dame besides football. But I accepted the challenge. I just felt like it was adjusting to everything.”

An ability to adjust wasn’t a newfound character trait for Keys III. Leaving home wasn’t a new experience for Keys III, either; it was, however, a new chosen path.

His family was entirely displaced when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico in September 2005. They spent almost a year in outposts around the South and Southwest before they returned to their hometown.

“We lost everything,” Manning said. “My house sat up three feet in the air, and the water still got in and was at the doorknob. We couldn’t go right in and it sat and sat in all that floodwater, and we had to throw all that away and just start over with nothing.

“But we got out alive. Some people weren’t that fortunate. That’s the main thing. The most important part.”

Initially, the family fled to Natchez, Miss., but the powerful storm wreaked havoc in that community. Next was Dallas, and finally the Houston suburb of Katy, Texas, before a return to New Orleans.

“We were out of our home about a year,” Manning said. “But everything is a lesson. Be prepared.”

Improved preparation is an undeniable component this year to Keys III’s game. He has stayed in Chris Finke’s pocket, gleaning as much of the nuances of the wide receiver position as possible from the Irish’s fifth-year senior and former walk-on.

“Finke is amazing,” he said. “I love Finke. Finke taught me almost everything. He taught me like the Ps and Qs of it. He broke it down from crumbs to the whole meal, and I appreciate it a lot.”

Keys III ranks fifth on the team this season with 12 receptions; he’s also gotten a half-dozen carries on jet-sweeps designed to showcase the speed component of his game that, like classmate Braden Lenzy, is among the tops on the Notre Dame roster.

“Lawrence Keys has been called on,” Irish coach Brian Kelly recently said. “We really like those guys a lot.”

Keys III is, by no means, content. Especially with those 18 combined touches yet to produce his first career touchdown.

“Just getting better and hopefully teach the younger guys that are coming in next year just the same way Finke taught me the playbook and just keep working and try to win a national championship,” Keys III said.

Manning knows her football. She talks about the jet-sweeps, the bubble screens and the plays that augment her son’s skills.

She also talks about the pride that comes with having Lawrence at Notre Dame.

“I’m like, ‘My kid is playing for the University of Notre Dame?’ I knew in school that he was going to be one of the elite because he likes the game. He loves the game of football,” Manning said. “He has a passion for it, and I just couldn’t believe that my son would be playing for the University of Notre Dame. He was like the only one in the city to get an offer from Notre Dame; I’m not even sure anybody else in the state got an offer because they don’t normally recruit this far down.

“I actually got in the car with my oldest, Jasmine, and we drove 14 hours up here last season to see him. We were excited and knew what we were coming to do, and I was just like, ‘Y’all gotta see this, you have to see how beautiful it is.’ I would go to sit in the Basilica whenever I got there, and as soon as I get on campus, I’m always in awe.”

It’s the journey at hand. And for Lawrence Keys III and Notre Dame together, it in many ways is just getting started.

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