By Jesse Sowa
SWEET HOME — It was everything that the University of Oregon offered that kept Dakotah Keys close to home when it came time to select a college.
Keys, a national high school decathlon champion who is finishing up his junior year at Sweet Home, has given the Ducks a verbal commitment after he was offered a four-year scholarship to compete in track and field.
A long list of reasons ended with Oregon as Keys’ choice, but it was an opportunity to stay close to home and close to his supporting cast of family, coaches and others that was at the forefront.
Keys chose Oregon over a number of other Division I schools.
He liked what he heard from Oregon associate head coach Dan Steele, who works primarily with the multi-event athletes and only three to five in any given season.
“That’s a lot of work with each individual athlete, and that's one of the things I was really looking for,” said Keys, who made his announcement Wednesday in front of a group of about 15 supporters at Sweet Home’s track.
Keys has established himself as one of the state’s top track and field athletes.
Last summer, after his sophomore school year, Keys won the national decathlon title in the 18-and-under division at the USA Junior Olympics Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He was also fifth in the junior national meet.
He’s won four state titles and has four runner-up finishes, helping Sweet Home to consecutive 4A state championships.
He ranks in the top 10 in six different events in the Oregon 4A classification all-time lists and holds six class records.
Keys will again compete in the decathlon at the junior national meet, held June 25-28 at Hayward Field in Eugene in connection with the USA national meet to decide world championship berths.
“He'll get better in all his events,” Sweet Home coach Billy Snow said. “I think the UO has seen the same thing we've seen the last three or four years ... there's a lot of potential there.”
Snow, one of several who coaches Keys in the 10-event decathlon, said Keys is a quick learner when it comes to new and different techniques.
“He’s a real coachable kid, Snow said. He does a real good job of picking up a piece of information,” Snow said. “He remembers things, in that sense, the things he's got to do here and there.”
Keys’ decision, which came over the weekend, coincides with the NCAA outdoor championships, which began Wednesday in Arkansas. The Oregon men are chasing a rare triple crown after winning the national cross country and indoor track and field titles earlier in the school year.
Keys said he didn't know much about Oregon’s strong tradition in track and field or the possibility of competing in the sport in college until his freshman year, when he qualified for the state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene.
“It puts you in awe,” he said of the renovations there in the past few years in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Trials and other big-time meets. “It’s the best track I've ever been on.”
Success has made Keys work harder. Last year’s national championship only made the spotlight on him a little brighter.
“You know you're on top, but you know you have to train harder because people are going to be coming for you,” he said.