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Call of duty: Goffstown QB Charlie Keith accepted challenge and ran with it

Special to the Union Leader

November 09. 2017 9:31PM
Goffstown quarterback Charlie Keith warms up during practice on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

GOFFSTOWN -- Like the opening narration in the “Mission Impossible” TV show and flick, Goffstown quarterback Charlie Keith recurrently faces extraordinary challenges, “Your mission, Charles, should you decide to accept it, is …”

Last spring, Grizzlies football coach Justin Hufft asked if Keith might want to become the quarterback, a position he’d played some on the freshman team, before accepting the mission of transitioning to tight end as a sophomore rather than back up the senior QB. Back then, Keith quickly became a two-way starter, winning two games on the final play: one via a touchdown reception, the other with an interception.

“When they asked about becoming a receiver, I hadn’t caught a pass in like six years but said, sure,” said Keith, bearing an opportunistic smile. “When asked to become quarterback I was excited but a little scared. Sometimes you have the duty to step up. And, so I did.”

The 6-foot-1-inch junior made the mission look anything but impossible, leading his 9-1 club to Saturday’s Division I semifinal showdown at undefeated Winnacunnet of Hampton by completing 66 of 120 passes for 1,201 yards and 15 touchdowns (four interceptions), while also rushing for 811 yards and another eight touchdowns.

“We were asking a lot and he’s exceeded all expectations, even the unreasonable,” said Hufft who was careful not to force Keith’s transition to quarterbacking this complex offense. “When we talked, I said I didn’t care about what was best for the team. It’s not worth it to us if he’s not ready or up for it. I told him to go home and think about it.”

Keith didn’t need a night, but placated his coach and waited a day before accepting the challenge. An altruistic honor roll student, opportunity seems to seek out Keith, who acknowledges feeling some self-doubt when tested, forbids allowing emotion to dictate life choices. He’s not afraid to take a chance and take on a formidable task.

Last winter, Keith took up wrestling and won a Division II state junior varsity title in the 170-pound division. A week later, when an injury sidelined the Grizzlies’ varsity grappler, Keith stepped up, and as a last-minute replacement, finished third in the NHIAA Division II state wrestling meet.

He took up dance — even got a few teammates to follow his lead — and recently earned the male lead role, the Nutcracker Prince, in the Goffstown Movement and Dance Company’s upcoming holiday production.

“(Dancing) helps me on and off the field,” said Keith. “It’s a stress relief, both mentally and physically. It helps me feel more comfortable with being myself. It reinforces creativity and that can be useful on the football field.”

“My attitude has become, ‘Hey, why not try something new. Since becoming quarterback, my confidence and self-esteem are much higher,” said Keith, his eyes glistening the charisma of a leader.

“We threw a lot at him. Our offense does some pretty advanced stuff,” said Hufft. The Grizzlies quarterback must read the opposing defense and make snap decisions on whether to run, hand off or pass. “We can only do what (Keith) can do. He’s done an impressive job.”

Goffstown quarterback Charlie Keith passes during practice on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Keith spent the summer trying to learn the offense. At first it appeared overwhelming. And then he began breaking down the task into smaller more manageable tasks. He likened the mission to an economics lesson. “When you learn the whole system, it gets easier and you learn there are always multiple ways to get something done.”

During early season games, whenever Keith came off the field, coaches hovered around him, providing feedback and question his decision making. He listened, learned and grew. During Goffstown’s first-round tournament win over Exeter, Keith sometimes engaged the coaches during sideline conferences. They listened.

To succeed as QB, Keith knew he had to learn how to control his emotions and not berate himself for making mistakes. He worked to be mentally tougher, stay level-headed and concentrate on the next play, not the last one. Hufft’s coaching demeanor serves as his role model.

“He knows how young men think. He can relate and he says what we want to listen to,” said Keith about Hufft.

“(Keith) is so intuitive and cerebral. His biggest problem is his pursuit of perfection,” said Hufft, who uses Keith as the scout team quarterback because of his intelligence and athleticism. “He’s learned to give himself permission to make mistakes.”

There’s no questioning Keith’s toughness and athletic ability. Keith initially drew Hufft’s attention as a seventh grader, noticing how he didn’t back down when competing against older kids. In training camp, Hufft used film from last season to illustrate teaching points. At one point, players oohed and ahhed and asked who made the big hit or tackle. The answer usually was, that’s your quarterback.

“He’s just so darn talented we seem to be able to get so much game plan information into him. The coaching staff laughs, saying they think (Keith’s) head will explode,” said Hufft with a warm smile. “He’s such an impressive kid.”

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