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Lower Moreland graduate Keys remembered as fierce competitor, loyal teammate

Jenkintown's Chris Solis wrangles Lower Moreland's Forrest Keys to the ground during their game on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Bob Raines/MediaNews Group)

Forrest Keys’ athletic career was never about Forrest Keys.

Keys, a 2019 graduate of Lower Moreland, had his life tragically cut shot this weekend when he was the victim of a shooting Saturday night on the campus of the University of Arizona, where he was currently attending as a student. University of Arizona police identified Keys, 23, as the victim on Monday.

Former teammates and coaches remember Keys not for his exploits on the football field and basketball court, but for the type of person he was.

“He would go to battle for you,” Shane Cohen, the point guard of the 2018-19 Lions basketball team, said. “I remember, it was sixth or seventh grade, a kid pushed me down and Forrest was the first person by my side. He wasn’t even near the play but he got right over there and protected me like I was his little brother. That was something I knew I would always have with him.”

Keys’ first love was basketball and by the time he graduated from Lower Moreland, he had been a part of the two best teams in school history. As a freshman, he filled a valuable role as an undersized but tough as nails forward during the 2015-16 season.

That team, led by a senior class including Danny Duffey, Tyler Millan, Dicky Rhoads, Mike Gould and Jake Fazio, ended up reaching the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals. Listed at 6-foot, Keys was the team’s tallest player but played much larger and refused to yield an inch against bigger or stronger players the Lions ran up against.

Three years later, Keys and his 10 fellow seniors would push the Lions to even greater heights. As a starter and fiercely competitive leader, Keys helped Lower Moreland win the BAL tournament, the District 1-4A title and advance all the way the PIAA semifinals, the deepest run in program history.

That team, which included other seniors like Jordan Zoubroulis, Andrew Finnegan, Joey Cerruti, Jake Himmelstein, Dan Hutchinson, Max Cousins, Tabias Davis-Diaz, John Davies and Deemos Amanatidis, attained success through team basketball, sharing the ball and defending above their size.

Cohen, who was also part of that senior group, recalled how important Keys’ contributions were.

Lower Moreland’s Forrest Keys pulls up to shoot as Bethlehem Catholic’s Zamar Brake defends during their PIAA Class 4A second round game on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

“He brought it every single night and day in and day out, he was like that on the football field to but especially on the basketball court, he was my right-hand man,” Cohen said. “When I was playing well, it’s because he was playing well and when he was playing well, I tried to get him involved. I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate, friend, best friend and brother.”

Bryce Horn, who was one of Keys’ first teammates when he moved to Lower Moreland, noted that Keys had a very specific way of leadership. Never one to be boisterous or show much emotion, Keys got through to teammates in a way that got the point across very directly.

“He was like a Kawhi Leonard, he never really gave you those expressions or emotions but when he did, it was to push you,” Horn said. “It was a mental game with me a lot but he was always there for me, pushing me. He’d give put a hand on my shoulder and give a serious look that always got to me like ‘oh man, he means business.’”

Andrew Finnegan, a guard on the 2018-19 team and part of that large senior class, said Keys was in charge of getting the Lions in the right frame of mind before taking the floor.

“Every single home game, Forrest would play Bobby Shmurda in our locker room and he would get everybody pumped and ready to go,” Finnegan said. “His competitive spirit was unmatched.”

Horn was part of what he called a “core five” of himself, Keys, Cohen, Himmelstein and Zoubroulis that lived in the same development and went everywhere together. It started with them taking their bikes to the park to play hoops, their first organized teams in Southampton and Huntingdon Valley through middle school and finally Lower Moreland.

“The first thing I always think of with him was that he was tough,” Horn said. “It’s hard to explain, but he could get through to you no matter what the case was.”

Horn also recalled that Keys would give out extremely hard high-fives to any teammates who drew a foul but getting a smile from Keys on the floor was a much more difficult task.

“It was my junior year and I had hit an and-one 3-pointer, I was sick that game and he was the only who knew,” Horn said. “He walked over to me after the 3-pointer, and I’ll never forget, grabbed me by the hand and told me I should play sick more often then smiled. When he was on the court, he was all business so that’s something that always stuck out to me.”

One of Keys’ finest games in a Lions uniform was also one of his last representing the program. In the second round of the 2018-19 PIAA 4A tournament, Lower Moreland drew a meeting with a Bethlehem Catholic squad that had routed them the year before in the postseason.

Undeterred by a significant lack of size, the Lions pulled off the upset behind a 22-point game from Keys who came on strong in the second half.

“Forrest lit us up, he got us going and he brought it to the table that night,” Cohen said. “We came out with a win where most people would have bet against us that night. He was the one who got us that win, when I was tired and exhausted from guarding their players, Forrest got it going and delivered us that win.

“I can’t thank him enough for everything; he was just an amazing, amazing friend.”

Another former teammate called Keys “a great athlete, but a better person,” and noted that Keys was so humble he always wanted to put others before his own accomplishments.

Horn agreed with that sentiment.

“He wasn’t an attention guy, he didn’t care much about how good he was, the only thing he wanted to do was contribute,” Horn said. “He was a big winner, he didn’t like losing so any time he played, he played with his entire heart. He played with passion but he was also an all-around sick athlete.”

Overbook’s Khalif Washington and Khyleem Cornitcher force a turn over from Lower Moreland Forrest Keys at Bensalem High School during their PIAA Class 4A first round game on Friday, March 9, 2018. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

Keys came on late as a football player, but his athletic abilities made him a standout as a receiver and defensive back. As a program, the Lions have often struggled with numbers and despite their hard work, wins were hard to come by but that never deterred Keys from going all-out.

While Cohen was his point guard, Keys found a tag-team partner on the football field in quarterback Coleman Peppelman as they etched their names in the program record books. Keys finished his career No. 2 on the all-time list for touchdown receptions and he and Peppelman both made first-team All-BAL as seniors while sharing team MVP honors.

Lions football coach Justin Beck posted a tribute to Keys on the team’s Facebook page.

“You were the most talented and toughest kid I ever got the pleasure of coaching. But you were so much more than that to me,” Beck wrote. “When I got the head coaching job I said to my wife we needed you on the team because you’re the kind of guy who would walk through fire for your friends. That doesn’t do you justice. Whenever our team was in trouble and we had to go through that fire, you put us all on your back and carried us through it.”

Keys was a sophomore majoring in communications at Arizona and had recently joined the college’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.

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