FLORENCE, S.C. – The decision to go to Wake Forest was as much about life after football as it was the game itself, Zion Keith said.
“It wasn’t just about going to the NFL,” the former Wilson High standout said. “It was more about getting my education and setting a standard for my life.”
Keith accomplished that goal after graduating with a degree in communications this past year. But before he hangs up his cleats, Keith intends to pursue playing football professionally.
There were a couple of options available to the 6-foot-1, 180-pound defensive back. He could follow Wake Forest defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill to Duke, or go to Appalachian State – a school he was committed to at one point.
That’s when South Carolina State reentered the picture, and turned out to be the perfect landing spot for Keith to concentrate on his NFL dream, he said.
People are also reading…
“I’ve always been close with coach (Chad) Eaddy,” Keith said of the former Tigers coach. “Recently had a talk with him and he told me it’s not about where you play, it’s about where you see yourself fitting best. He was a great running back at S.C. State, and I’d say he was a real key in this whole process.”
Being familiar with and hearing from a lot of the players on the roster who came from the Pee Dee area was also helpful in making his final choice, he added.
“For me it was just playing with guys that I’m most comfortable with,” Keith said. “Jeblonski Green (Lamar), Jalen Barr (Lake City), Decobie Durant (Lamar) – all those guys have had tremendous success. Coach Sax (Jonathan Saxon) is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football … HBC, FBS, it doesn’t matter.
“S.C. State is historically known for producing, and it’s time for me to lock in and have no regrets when it comes to football.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a highly successful 2021 campaign that saw them go 7-5, win the MEAC title and beat Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl.
Keith is looking to add to SCSU’s secondary after compiling a solid season with the Demon Deacons in 2021. In 12 games he had 37 tackles including two for a loss to go along with one interception.
For his career at Wake, he had more than 60 tackles and two picks.
“Soon as I get there, I want to get into the playbook and learn as much as possible,” Keith said. “I think that and building chemistry with the guys are the two biggest things, then obviously working on my technique to hopefully become the best defensive back in the MEAC.”
Keith is open to playing multiple positions – much like he did at Wake Forest and when he was at Wilson.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’ll play corner, nickel, safety … even wide receiver.”
For his senior season in Florence, Keith had 59 catches for 950 yards and five touchdowns as a wideout while also registering 20 tackles and an interception on defense.
“I think having the ability to really focus on football now will help me in so many ways,” he said. “I’m really working on how to mentally approach each game and stay locked in from the first quarter to the fourth.”
The NFL is the goal, but should that not pan out, Keith believes he could have a future in coaching – or sports broadcasting.
“I took a broadcasting class last year and really liked it,” he said. “It felt pretty natural.”