E.A. Sports Today

The next step

Decorated Bulldogs Langley, Hayes sign with Jax State, Keener signs with Olivet Nazarene

Piedmont players (front row left to right) Taylor Hayes, Krae Keener and Mason Langley signed college scholarships Wednesday. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

“We’re going to go to JSU and do great things together.”

–Piedmont lineman Mason Langley on signing with his quarterback Taylor Hayes

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – Mason Langley was introduced to Jacksonville State football at an early age. As a kid, he went to a JSU football camp, met the coaches and players, and played on Burgess-Snow Field.

Now, he’s going to play there in college.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound behemoth, the Class 3A Lineman of the Year, along with the Class 3A Back of the Year quarterback he blocked for, Taylor Hayes, signed with the Gamecocks Wednesday in the school gym lobby.

Langley’s senior offensive line mate Krae Keener inked with Olivet Nazarene in Chicago.

“It’s always been my dream since I was a little to be able to play for Jacksonville State; I remember the feeling (from camp) I want to be here one day,” Langley said. “Now that day has finally come. I’m really excited because I know I’m going to make an impact with JSU just like I have at Piedmont, and I know T-Hayes will just as well.”

Langley posted 112 pancake blocks with one sack allowed and graded at 90 percent for the undefeated back-to-back state champion Bulldogs last season. He said several other schools recruited him, but the Gamecocks won him over because of the relationships he had already built with their coaches and players.

That, and still being able to eat his mother’s cooking.

Having Hayes going with him is also a welcomed bonus.

“Me and T-Hayes have developed a special bond over the past two years,” Langley said. “That’s my quarterback, and I’m not going to let anybody touch him. Whatever it takes, nobody is going to touch him. I’ve got his back and he’s got my back. We’re going to go to JSU and do great things together.”

Hayes is also excited to begin the next chapter in his football career. This past season he rushed for 1,625 yards and 33 touchdowns and threw for 1,867 yards and 24 scores last season.

Hayes said college offers picked up for him over the past week, but JSU’s offer was the right fit for him.

“When they came through with their offer and told me I would get a fair shot at quarterback, that was kind of it for me,” he said. “JSU recruits winners, and that’s what we’ve done here. We’ve had team success, and with that comes individual success, to be able to have opportunities like this.

“I believe we can go and be able to win a fourth straight (Ohio Valley Conference) title this year, keep that thing rolling and hopefully get back to Frisco (Texas) and win one (national championship).”

It almost was going to be a trio. Tight end/linebacker Austin Brazier announced his intention to attend JSU over the weekend, but held off. It’s anticipated his opportunity will become available in a few days.

Hayes said Wednesday signing day was a bittersweet one for him, knowing his high school days are coming to an end, but he’s also excited about his future.

“It’s bittersweet because I love this place with all my heart. I’ll always love Piedmont, but I think I’m ready for this next chapter in my life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of success there as I did here at Piedmont.”

Seeing Hayes and Langley sign with the Gamecocks was also a special moment for Piedmont head coach Steve Smith. He is a former Gamecock quarterback and JSU graduate.

“As a former player and alumni there, it always does my heart good to see kids want to continue at JSU,” he said. “That place was very good to me and helped shape the rest of my life. I can vouch for the education and the opportunities that I got there and the people I met there, who are still my lifelong friends. My coaches pushed me and helped me along the way in my coaching career. That made an impact on the rest of my life.

“JSU is a great place, and I’m excited for them to go down there and wear the red and white. The kids want the chance to go there and hopefully play for OVC championships and national championships. I think that’s pretty attractive to anybody.”

While Langley and Hayes are staying close to home, Keener made the decision to make his impact a lot further away.

The 6-2, 295-pound Keener compiled 101 pancake blocks, allowed no sacks and graded at 92 percent last season. What helped attract him to the NAIA program was co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Granville LeCroix, a former assistant coach at Madison Academy.

“He was recruiting guys from the South, and contacted me,” Keener said. “He knew about Piedmont and everything. He saw we won a state championship last year and that we were in the running for it again this past year. He said it was a no-brainer.

“When he saw I was from Piedmont after watching my highlight film, he knew how much respect they had when they beat us here by one point in 2013. When we played at Madison Academy in 2014, we fought hard against them and played a really good game. He said he had tremendous respect for Coach Smith and our coaches here at Piedmont. He said I was the type of guy they would want up there.”

Keener took a game day visit with the school in October and went on an official visit Jan. 19-20. He also visited Lindsey Wilson, Millsaps and JSU, but “I just felt at home at Olivet.”

Smith is confident Keener can contribute with his new team even though it’s a long way from home.

“You don’t have a lot of kids you feel confident about going 12 or 13 hours from home, but I don’t have any doubt in my mind Krae Keener can do that,” Smith said. “He’s mature enough and got a good enough head on his shoulders. I feel like he can go there and stick and make a name for himself, get his degree and continue his football career. I definitely think Krae can do that.”

Keener said playing college football is a dream come true.

“In ninth grade, I didn’t really know if I was going to play college football,” he said. “I weighed 175 (pounds), but I just worked really hard. All of my coaches helped me get better as a player. I went to a bunch of camps, and now it’s just a dream come true. I had no idea four years ago I would be playing, much less having an offer like I have.”

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald.

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