Red Bank Catholic graduate Jaden Key, seen making a pass during a high school game, has received the prestigious Sam Mills Award. Photo courtesy of RBC

Red Bank Catholic graduate Jaden Key, seen making a pass during a high school game, has received the prestigious Sam Mills Award. Photo courtesy of RBC

By  Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor

For the first 10 years of his life, Jaden Key attended church mostly because he was told to. But when his dad, John, was struck and killed by a car while tending to another motorist on the side of the road on the Garden State Parkway, church-going took on a whole new meaning.

So did his life, which became greatly influenced by Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

“Going through my tough time, Psalm 23:4 is the main verse of my life to help me get through something,” the recent Red Bank Catholic graduate said. “Just knowing that God will be with me, and God has a plan for all of us, it helps me cope a lot better. As a little kid, I would go to church and would try to get through it. After the tragedy happened, I looked into the Bible more and looked more into my faith.”

John Key was a standout player for Ocean Township and also a popular coach at Ocean, Monmouth Regional and Asbury Park. Despite losing his father at a young age, Jaden Key has several memories of his dad.

“I remember a lot more than I feel like I should, considering the time that everything happened,” he said. “But certain things will pop up in my head. I would have little flashbacks, like things you see in the movies, of things that he said and things that he did that helped me kind of choose a path where I’m doing the right thing.”

According to his relatives, he is definitely following in his father’s footsteps.

“My grandmother tells me all the time, I talk the same way, I have the same kind of vocabulary as my dad when he was younger,” Key said. “It’s a little weird, but it’s good to know.”

Not that he needed any award to confirm what kind of person he has become, but Key got one anyway at the July 12 All-Shore Gridiron Classic. Key received the Sam Mills Award, named after the former Long Branch standout who went on to play in the NFL before dying of cancer in 2005. The winner of this reward reflects Mills’ perseverance, character and determination.

“It’s a great honor to compare with somebody who went on to play the NFL and came from the area that I came from. It’s like this feeling that you’re doing something right,” Key said.

Key was one of the Shore Conference’s top players at defensive back and wide receiver, and he is taking part in summer training with his new teammates as a University of Pennsylvania freshman. The Neptune native chose Penn due to its proximity to family members in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware. And with hopes of going into the business world, having a Wharton School degree is a boost.

Jaden faced another tough challenge last year when his cousin, Braedon Bradforth, passed away following a practice with his college football team.

“Having gone through something like that already, it kind of  helped me have a better response immediately,” Key said. “Obviously I was upset and I was down, but having that kind of background gives you a better way to cope a little faster.”

He is now learning to cope with college football. Penn has him slotted to play defensive back when training camp starts Aug. 22.

“I feel like I could compete (for a starting job),” Key said. “Football’s all about competition. That’s my favorite part about football, going out there and trying to prove something. I’m gonna take this summer one step at a time and try to get the starting position. If I don’t, I’ll sit back and learn and come back ready.”

And, Key said, he will reflect on Psalm 23:4 and understand it’s all part of God’s plan.