There’s been a long line of successful quarterbacks that have come out of Chandler High School’s football program in recent years.
From Brett Hundley in 2010, to Darrell Garretson and Bryce Perkins in 2012 and 2014. Mason Moran took over in 2015 and received a full scholarship to Oregon State to return to his natural position as a defensive back.
Most recently, Jacob Conover manned the offense for three seasons, leading the Wolves to three straight 6A championships. Conover’s graduation last year meant it was time for someone new to step in and lead the top-ranked team in the state.
Enter Mikey Keene.
“You come to Chandler because you accept pressure,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “I don’t care if you’re a player or a coach, that’s the way it is here. You always look to challenge yourself.
“He’s done everything I thought he would do.”
Keene, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound junior has excelled under center for Chandler in his first season as the varsity starter.
He’s led the Wolves to a 8-0 record so far this season, and has helped his team remain at the top of the new Open Division rankings, which takes the top eight teams from the 6A, 5A and 4A conferences and puts them into one tournament at the end of the regular season.
Heading into the Wolves’ Week 10 matchup against Tucson, Keene has thrown for 1,872 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“He’s dynamic as a thrower both in the drop-back game and on the move,” Garretson said. “He’s a dynamic leader. Everything we do isn’t just a check down. So that’s incredible.”
Garretson often compares Keene’s play style to Johnny Manziel during his time at Texas A&M, where he won the Heisman in 2012. Manziel was well-known for his ability to extend plays despite facing pressure in the pocket.
He was one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the 2012-13 college football seasons.
“I would agree with that,” Keene said about Garretson comparing him to Manziel. “Johnny Manziel back in college was a playmaker. You never knew if a play would be dead with him.
“His ability to escape pressure from inside the pocket and get outside, I would really compare myself to.”
Keene admits that while he sees talent in himself, he can’t do it without those around him.
Senior running back Daveon Hunter, who transferred to Chandler from Colorado, as well as junior running back Eli Sanders, a transfer from Mountain Pointe, are one of the most talented duos in the state.
Add juniors Nicolas Nesbitt and Rodney Clemente, as well as senior Jaheim Brown-Taylor, who has battled injuries, into the mix and Chandler has the ability to torch opposing defenses on any given play.
Keene has also benefitted from a talented group of wideouts, led by junior Jalen Richmond, sophomore Kyion Grayes and senior Jay McEuen. But ultimately, Keene admits he wouldn’t have the success he has if it weren’t for his offensive line, led by senior tackle Nehemiah Magalei.
“They make my job a lot easier and I appreciate that from them,” Keene said. “We have a trust for one another and that started building in the weight room right after the state championship last year.
“Everyone trusts each other, and everyone knows each other’s skills to go out there and make plays.”
It’s not common at any level for the first-team offense to go against the starting defense in practice, let alone during the regular season. But it’s expected at Chandler.
During situational periods, Keene lines up against a defense filled with future Division I athletes. It may not always be easy, but it prepares Keene and the rest of the offense for anything on Friday nights.
“They’re animals,” Keene said of the defense. “There is speed at every position and it’s unlike anyone else in the state. It slows the game down for us on the offensive side of things and it gets us better prepared for what we will see.”
Keene’s love for the game began when he was younger playing shortstop and pitcher in baseball. As he began to watch more sports, football intrigued him.
He immediately fell in love when he began playing, and now wants it to be a part of his life for the long run. Already with a scholarship offer from Northern Arizona University, he aims to continue playing football at the next level.
He aspires to coach one day, but if that doesn’t work out, he can see himself having a career in broadcasting. Ultimately, he wants to stay involved in the game one way or another.
“I love talking to people about football,” Keene said. “It’s been a huge part of my life since I was 6 or 7 years old. I just want to stay within the game, however I do it.”
He hopes to continue leading Chandler to success on a weekly basis. Each player aspires to capture a fourth straight title this season, especially with it having more of an impact with the Open Division.
They recognize the importance of competing at a high level every time they step out onto the field.
“Every week I’m looking forward to getting myself better and my teammates better to perform on Friday night,” Keene said. “We just aim to do our jobs and get a win every week.
“That’s our goal. To just take it one game at a time and win each one.”