Keoni Denny is one of the best players from the Tampa, FL area in the Class of 2021.
The 5-foot-5, 135-pound Denny, who attends Southshore Charter Academy, is a versatile athlete that plays fullback and middle linebacker for the Progress Village Panthers, which is a part of TBYFL.
Denny played with the East Bay Bucs from 2009-2016 prior to joining the Panthers this season.
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Denny has earned plenty of recognition so far during his youth football career.
In 2009 Denny was selected to the East Bay Mighty Mights All-Star Game and in 2016 he was the East Bay Bucs JV MVP.
Denny is grateful he’s been giving the opportunity to showcase his talents.
‘It means a lot that my hard work is recognized and that hard work does pay off,” Denny said. “It was fun and exciting. I felt special being picked to play on the All Star team since it was my first year playing football. I mean I was only five. I think that's when my passion and love for the game began.”
Denny recalls a moment he pushed through some pain and was rewarded for his perseverance.
“My favorite memory of playing football was when I got the pitch to the left, ran down the sideline and made the winning touchdown,” Denny said. “This is after sitting out two quarters for hurting my elbow. I couldn't wait to get back in even with the pain, all I could think of was that my team needed me.”
Denny has learned many valuable life lessons from his time on the gridiron that he applies in other areas.
“Playing football has taught me that everyone is replaceable,” Denny said. “You have to stay hungry and work hard in everything that you do.”
Raul Lezcano is in his first season coaching Denny with the Progress Village Panthers. Lezcano explains the best parts of Denny’s game on both sides of the ball.
“At linebacker it’s how fast he comes downhill and lays a monster hit. At running back and full back he is just as aggressive when running the ball. His size confuses people because they think he is slow. But Keoni has multiple gears he can use,” Lezcano said. “Keoni has great tackling form as a linebacker. He is able to wrap up and bring down some of the biggest and fastest running backs in the league with ease. At running back Keoni is a downhill player that can also be elusive when he needs to be. At full back Keoni clears out defenders and opens up lanes for his teammates to run through.”
Denny takes great pride in being one of the emotional leaders of the team.
“I demonstrate being a good teammate by always motivating my other teammates and congratulating them on their achievements during the game,” Denny said. “The best advice I've given my teammates is don't give up and hit the hole as hard as you can. Just do it. Don't think about it.”
Lezcano knows that he has a special, high character athlete in Denny.
“From day one, Keoni has displayed that he is a field general,” Lezcano said. “The team nominated him as one of our team captains because he sets the example for the other players.”
Denny gives a major shout out to Lezcano for instilling the no-excuses mindset in him.
“I learned from Coach Raul to just shut up and play the game,” Denny said. “That taught me to just do my job no matter what and that applies to everything not just football.”
Lezcano recalls that same game that Denny mentioned and reflects on it quite fondly.
“I remember in one game Keoni went in to make a tackle and came up holding his elbow. At the time we thought he got hit on it and needed a play or two off. Well Keoni went back in the game and play after play he was favoriting his elbow. We asked if was okay and he told us yes. It was a tied game for three quarters and we were able to make a stop on defense to get the ball back with a minute in the game. Our OC called an off tackle play that spring Keoni loose and sprinting 75 yards for the winning touchdown,” Lezcano said. “What amazed me was that after the game Keoni got X-rays on his elbow and the doctor told him there was a fracture on his elbow. The toughness he displayed to play an entire game with a bad elbow showed his team and coaches that Keoni Denny is one of the toughest kid we ever met.”
Denny’s high football IQ gives him a major advantage between the lines.
“Keoni is always asking questions about game scenarios, game planning, and strategy. Not because he doesn’t know but because he wants to be prepared for anything on Saturdays,” Lezcano said. “Being prepared and knowing your opponent makes it hard to get by Keoni.”
Denny’s two favorite players both share the same thing in common.
“I look up to Jay Ajayi and Ezekiel Elliott because they are humble. They don't just have talent they put in effort,” Denny said. “That's important to me. Effort is everything.”
Lezcano raves about the diligence of Denny.
“Keoni’s work ethic is insane for a young man of his age. Keoni is always looking to get another rep in. If he doesn’t have something down he will not move on until he has perfected it. If something is hard he will make sure to train until it’s not anymore,” Lezcano said. “When not at practice Keoni spends time watching film. If he sees that he is not doing something correctly he will find a drill himself to make sure it never happens again.”
Lezcano has some interesting comparisons when discussing Denny.
“A linebacker that Keoni resembles is Bobby Wagner. Keoni plays like him in that he can make any tackle you need and is able to drop into coverage,” Lezcano said. “As a fullback/running back Keoni is a Mike Alstott. He’s a big, physical back that can run you over or make you miss if need be.”
Lezcano outlines the next step in Denny’s development.
“An area we work on with Keoni is how to read the guards and how to take on a block them shed it to make the tackle,” Lezcano said. “We spend a lot of time doing one on one drills to help him improve on these areas.”
Denny lists his favorite subject in school as math.
Denny’s dream is to either play at Alabama or Ohio State.
Lezcano can envision Denny playing after college as well because of his tireless work ethic and tremendous talent.
“With how hard Keoni works on and off the field and his passion for the game Keoni will easily be in your Mount Rushmore of all-time favorite players that played in the NFL,” Lezcano said.
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