Turns out whatever decision Alema Key made last summer, he was destined to play in the 2009 4A state championship game.
The 6-foot-1 1/2, 191-pound senior running back transferred from Timpview to Springville before the start of the season and on Friday, he'll don the red, white and blue against his former T'Bird teammates in the title game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I have a lot of good friends there," Key said, "but really, the mindset is that we can be friends after the game. No matter what happens on the field, it stays on the field."
Key's football journey started in Independence, Mo. He and his family moved to the Utah Valley in 2008 for better school and future opportunities. Key ended up at powerhouse Timpview, where he scored a couple of touchdowns as a reserve in the T'Birds' unbeaten championship season.
He was slated to play linebacker in 2009, but his parents wanted him to play running back, figuring his future in college would be at that position. When the 2009 preseason started, Key was lining up in the backfield for the Red Devils and their second-year coach, former Ute and NFL standout Scott Mitchell.
"It was kind of a decision that my father made. He had a feeling we should do it," Key said. "I supported that and we moved. Springville is a good program and everyone is cool. They had a good coaching staff and they really knew what they were doing."
There's always a period of adjustment in moving to a new school and football program, but Mitchell said Key was welcomed immediately.
"Alema just fit in like he's been here forever," Mitchell said. "He's a great example for the players on how to work and how to lead. He's shown us a lot of good things with his winning attitude and winning preparation."
Key's senior season has not been without setbacks. Early injuries were slow to heal, but he's gotten healthy and back on the field just in time for the Red Devils' playoff run. Key has scored six touchdowns in three Springville playoff wins.
"He's really a good kid who's helped bring our team together in a lot of ways," Mitchell said. "He got hurt in our first game, cut his finger all the way to the tendon. Then he sprained his ankle pretty bad so it took him a little while to get going. He's really played great toward the end of season. He's upped his level of play in the playoffs. Alema has been a great addition to our program."
Key was quick to give credit to his fellow running backs -- junior Marcus Case and sophomore Mitch Paystrup -- and the Springville offensive line, which is made up of Bryce Ganther (6-2 230 Sr.), Seth Cranford (6-0 218 Jr.), Paul Garfield (6-0 218 Sr.), Jake Barker (6-1 245 Sr.) and Sam Sargent (6-1 278 Sr.)
"Those guys have really stepped it up big-time in the playoffs," Key said. "We couldn't do it without them."
Springville (11-1), which hasn't won a football state title since 1985, will need all the offense it can muster on Friday against Timpview, which is going for its fourth straight 4A championship.
"This really is a new experience for everyone here," Key said. "We didn't know what to expect at the beginning of the year. Then after a couple of games we started to think we had a good team and could make it pretty far. The community has played a big part in helping us out. They're really supporting us. I've had church leaders and people I don't even know talking to me and telling me they're impressed with our football team."
A major part of the success for Key and his teammates has been Mitchell, the quarterback for that lone state championship team in 1985. He's blended his NFL experience with a coaching staff that includes former Ricks College offensive coordinator Ed Larsen and former Springville head coach Doug Bills.
Mitchell said when he took over the job in 2008, the Springville players did an internet search to find out more about him.
"They 'Googled' me, and I showed up, so I guess they figured I was OK," Mitchell said. "Kids are pretty sharp. They know if you're conning them or if you're the real deal. If you're not, they're gonna smell you out in a hurry. Their attention span on things is very short, and if you don't get their attention quickly, you're gonna lose them. They really bought in to what we were telling them. They worked hard at it and believed it."
Key said the Red Devils know they are facing a very difficult opponent in Timpview, but that they believe they can win.
"We're just gonna have to go out there and have no fear," Key said. "Some teams get scared to play Timpview. We just can't be scared. We have to just play our game."