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ASU freshman CB and national champion inline speed skater Keith Abney impresses in fall camp

Arizona State freshman Keith Abney, who hails from Waxahachie HS in Texas, had a really strong fall camp and has been one of a few freshman standouts in the secondary.

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Abney made his presence felt the entire camp, which ended after yesterday’s scrimmage. He was very impressive up north during the team’s trip to Camp Tontozona. 

“Keith Abney’s coming along,” coach Kenny Dillingham said after Saturday’s scrimmage in Payson. “Man, is he coming along, that’s a guy who’s going to help us.”

Abney has continued to ascend in the team’s three practices since coming back to Tempe.

During Tuesday’s practice, Abney had two interceptions, one in a one-on-one drill in coverage of star WR Elijhah Badger and another one in 7-on-7s. He almost had an interception in Wednesday’s scrimmage, but another Sun Devil defender collided with him at the last moment and knocked the ball out of his hands.

“I feel like my confidence is really going up especially as I make plays and continue to make plays,” Abney said Tuesday.

Abney committed and signed with the Sun Devils in December after de-committing from Utah State.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Abney played both ways at Waxahachie, accumulating over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 20 tackles in his 25-game varsity career. According to his Twitter, he racked up 13 total touchdowns during his senior year: eight receiving, three pick-6s, one on a punt return and another on a fumble recovery.

He was a consensus three-star prospect and was named a 2021 Texas District 11-6A first-team selection as a junior.

Abney arrived on campus this summer, so this fall camp was his first time to show what he can bring to the table.

Now, he’s proven that he belongs with the Sun Devils and detailed what he wants to continue to work on.

“Just being more technically sound,” Abney said of what he wants to improve on, “even when I’m tired just stay with my technique.”

A World-Record Roller Skater

“I don’t know if you all saw his roller derby (highlights) on Twitter. (Abney) can roller (skate), he’s like a roller-skating champion,” Dillingham said after Tuesday’s practice. 

Yes, Dillingham said that correctly. Abney said he holds four world records in inline speed skating and is a multiple-time national champion (see

Abney started skating from a young age and by the time he was 11, he was both the outdoor and indoor national champion. He described the sport as “track on wheels” with different age groups and divisions.

As for what translates over to the football field from skating, Abney said: “the agility, just being able to move. You got to have balance and as a corner, you got to move a lot and have balance.”

With it being a solo sport as well, Abney said that it helps him out as a cornerback.

“You have to tap in with yourself and work on your technique and be able to trust yourself,” Abney said.

Dillingham has noticed his inline skating skills in Abney’s play.

“It’s kind of funny because it shows up (on the field),” Dillingham said. “For a freshman, he has great strength and balance that when you’re on an island at corner and you’re strong enough to hold out, you have great balance and body control when the ball’s in the air. He deflects a lot of passes, causes a lot chaos and he’s a super smart kid. So a freshman that’s smart, balanced and strong, that’s a kid who can get on field early.”

Veteran DBs Helping out Younger DBs

If Abney is able to carve out a role for himself on this year’s team, it will be very impressive with him being a true freshman and with all of the veteran cornerbacks the team has in perhaps its deepest position group.

The team’s top four cornerbacks right now are senior Jordan Clark, junior Ro Torrence, senior Dee Ford, and junior Ed Woods. As it stands now, Abney figures to be the second outside cornerback off the bench and could see some playing time.

He is not alone in terms of freshmen defensive backs that have stood out. Safeties Montana Warren, who now has a shoulder injury and is out for 6-8 weeks according to Dillingham, and Josiah Cox have been two other freshmen that performed well in camp.

“I think that when you look at guys like Keith,” Clark said, “you look at guys like Montana, although he’s injured, Josiah Cox, just all the new guys, the young guys that have came in, I think that you’ve seen them adopt a higher standard of play. And now we don’t accept them as freshmen, they’re football players.”

Clark continued: “If you get on the field, I expect you to play like a senior would. I think that they’ve adopted that mindset, and I think that they’ve played up to that standard to this point. And I’m really excited to see what they do when we play a real football game.”

Abney is very grateful for the veteran leadership around him.

“It helps a lot just knowing that they’ve been in the position I’ve been in as a freshman,” Abney said. “They know what it takes to get to the point (of being elite) because I want to get where they’re going, getting ready for the NFL and stuff like that. So, it helps a lot knowing that they got my back here.”

Defensive coordinator Brian Ward has been very impressed with the youth play in his secondary.

“We definitely feel like we’ve hit on these guys athletically speaking,” Ward said. “The key for young guys is understanding how important the process is, and how detailed and extensive and in-depth the process is. A lot of these guys are used to, I’m not talking about anybody specific, but they’re used to coming in, and it’s two hours a day, and maybe an hour or half-and-hour meeting. Whereas, Power Five football is a little bit different animal.”

Ward thinks the veterans have played a big part in molding the young defensive backs.

“Those guys really been able to see the example before them with the older guys,” Ward said, “and how they approach each day, the training room, the training, table, sleep, all those things, getting to bed, getting up, preparing for practice after practice. I mean, it really is a process and there’s a process to playing.”

Ward added: “I always tell our guys like, ‘Listen a starter acts like a starter before he’s a starter.’ Like you just know the guys that are going to eventually be starters. It has less to do with what they’re doing on the field, it has just as much to do with how they’re preparing, and how they approach things off the field.”

The #Texas2Tempe Connection and Heading to the Big 12

The new #Texas2Tempe movement started mostly by defensive backs’ coach Bryan Carrington and wide receivers’ coach Ra’Shaad Samples has become the talk of recruiting for the Sun Devils.

Including Abney, ASU has six freshmen from Texas this year. The Sun Devils have 17 total players that went to high school in Texas on their roster.

Six class of 2024 Texas high schoolers have verbally committed to ASU, three of which are defensive backs.

“It makes it feel like a second home,” Abney said of having so many players from Texas. “Just being in a different state and knowing people come from the same place you came from, I feel like that’s really cool.”

Moving to the Big 12 figures to open up even more recruiting in the state. This has already been evidenced by Carrington landing two verbal commitments from class of 2025 defensive backs, Joseph Smith and Joseph Albright, within the first two days of the announcement that ASU was joining the Big 12.

“I’ve had a plan if you’ve noticed how we’ve been recruiting that region of the country since I’ve been here, I knew that was an option,” Dillingham said the day after the Big 12 announcement. “And we made sure we diversified where we were recruiting in this class that way we were ready for whatever decision was made.”

Dillingham called Texas “football heaven.”

“We need the fans in the Valley to get behind (the move), fill up the stands (and) show support because we’re going into football heaven, Texas,” he said. “If we’re not ready and our fans aren’t ready and everybody is not ready, we’re gonna be in for a rude awakening.”

Abney is looking forward to the switch of conferences, which will officially happen on Aug. 2, 2024.

“I feel amazing,” Abney said. “Just being able to go home, my parents could come to the game and stuff like that, and it’s a lot of competition there, so I feel like that’d be great. From a recruitment standpoint, we’ll be getting a lot of Texas kids.”

Observations, takeaways and predictions after ASU’s final fall scrimmage

Going back to the present, Abney and the Sun Devils have exactly two more weeks to work on their game before the team’s season opener on Aug. 31 against Southern Utah.

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Brendan Mau is a college sports insider and general assignment reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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