LONG BRANCH – Throughout Jaden Key’s life, he has been faced with crossroads that could have taken him down an unfavorable path in life. But that never happened. Instead, Key stayed true to himself, true to what he knew was the right way to go about accomplishing his goals.

On Friday night at Long Branch High School during the 42nd All-Shore Gridiron Classic, Key once again stood out for all the right reasons. The recent Red Bank Catholic graduate is one of the very best players in the Shore Conference and was a Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore selection this past season after helping the Caseys win a state championship and finish undefeated. His work in the classroom equaled his work on the field, and he was rewarded by being accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. On top of that, Key is a person of tremendous character respected by teammates and opponents alike.

When it came time for the Monmouth County coaching staff to select its winner of the prestigious Sam Mills Award, it was an easy choice.

Photo by Paula Lopez/palimages.com
Photo by Paula Lopez/palimages.com

“There’s a lot of people here deserving of this award and me being picked by my peers is a great honor,” Key said. “It’s something my dad told me. He said, ‘football is going to end, life is going to end, but the relationships you make will last forever’. That’s just something I’ve wanted to instill in myself and hopefully instill in my children, that the people you meet will become important to you one way or another. To win this award means I’m going on the right path.”

“He is one of those once-in-a-career young men,” said RBC head coach Frank Edgerly. “When you look at the whole gauntlet of what he is as a person, what he is on the field, what he is academically and then you add to it what he’s been through in his life, facing real adversity, that’s a combination that’s hard to find in a person.”

The Sam Mills Award is named after the late Long Branch great, who went on to star as an All-Pro linebacker with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in the late 1980s and early 1990s after a standout career at Montclair State. Mills died of cancer in 2005. The award is selected by the coaches for a player who shows the perseverance, character and determination that defined Mills' life and career.

A Neptune resident, Key experienced tragedy when he was just 10-years old. His father John, a star running back at Ocean Township High School who then coached at Ocean, Monmouth Regional and Asbury Park, was killed when he was hit by a car while checking on a fellow motorist following an accident on the Garden State Parkway in 2011. John Key was a popular and well-liked coach whose impact is still felt today. His passing dealt a huge blow to the Shore Conference football community.

Then last year, Key’s cousin, Braedon Bradforth, passed away following a practice at Garden City Community College in Kansas. Bradfofth was a standout lineman at Neptune who helped Monmouth County win the 2018 All-Shore Gridiron Classic.

When people who competed with or against John Key meet Jaden, they see a young man who has grown to be exactly the person his father envisioned.

“With my dad being a coach, all the people he impacted in his life are coming up to me and telling me, ‘your dad would have wanted this, this is exactly how he raised you’,” Key said. “It makes you feel good because I’m living the way my dad wanted me to when I could have gone off on a tangent. To have people coming here and giving me the praise I’ve worked so hard to get, it’s amazing, there’s no words to describe it.”

Jaden Key was a standout wide receiver and defensive back for the Caseys throughout his career, and this past season was selected as a Freedom Division Co-Defensive Player of the Year for making a team-high 14 passes defensed and recording two interceptions as a lockdown cornerback. At wide receiver, he was a big-play machine in averaging 25.8 yards per catch with 18 receptions for 466 yards and five touchdowns. He also made one of the biggest plays of the season when he blocked an extra point in a 14-13 win over Rumson in the regular season.

The next stop for Key is the Ivy League. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound soon-to-be freshman will suit up at defensive back for the Quakers. In the classroom, Key was accepted into the prestigious Wharton School where he will major in finance.

Key’s mother, Lakeshia Grey-Ingram, must be beaming with pride seeing the young man her little boy has become. And although John Key is no longer with us, his legacy lives on thanks to a son who didn’t let adversity prevent him from succeeding. Not just in football, but in life.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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