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Where are they now: Green Bay West’s Bud Keyes

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

GREEN BAY – Though he never played a regular-season snap in the National Football League, former Green Bay West High School, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Green Bay Packers quarterback Bud Keyes said he’s happy he got a chance to play for his hometown team.

“It was a tough situation when I got drafted by Green Bay,” Keyes, who was selected in the 10th round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Packers, said. “I was one of six quarterbacks on the roster under Lindy Infante. He was the Packers new head coach, and I don’t think I got much of a chance, but I was still ecstatic I got an opportunity to play for them.”

Keyes, who moved to DeForest north of Madison in 2001, had to compete with quarterbacks Don Majkowski, Randy Wright, Blair Kiel, Robbie Bosco and Marc Wilson for a roster spot.

“I got released after the preseason,” Keyes said. “There weren’t lots of reps for me, and I got lost in the shuffle. I was the rookie of the bunch, but that’s the NFL.”

He wound up in Tampa Bay briefly the next training camp, but that was it for his NFL career.

“Even though it was a thrill to get drafted by Green Bay, it wasn’t the best fit,” Keyes said. “I might have had a better opportunity elsewhere. After I got released by Tampa Bay, I got a job in sales.”

Up until the 2020 Draft, Keyes had been the last Green Bay-area quarterback to be drafted into the NFL.

Ashwaubenon’s James Morgan was selected by the New York Jets in the fourth round in 2020 to break the decades-long drought.

Morgan is now on the Pittsburgh’s practice squad.

Road to Camp Randall

Backing up a few years, Keyes attended Green Bay Premontre High School (Now Notre Dame Academy) his freshman year before transferring to West.

He played on the junior varsity squad his sophomore year before starting on the varsity team his junior and senior years.

“West was an absolute powerhouse when I was there,” Keyes said. “In my era, we won four conference championships in a row, and I don’t think we lost a conference game during that time. Earl ‘Mike’ Miller was our head coach and a teacher at West. When I started my junior year, they had won the previous two conference championships. We took lots of pride in doing what we did and beating the other city schools.”

The Wildcats have fallen on hard times in recent years, going 15-163 since 2002.

“The struggles West is having are sad to me,” Keyes said. “I’m prideful of where I came from and who I played for. You want to be from that place where people still talk about – in a good way. Because you lose some football games, it doesn’t mean anything different about the people there.”

Keyes said he sees a few reasons why West has struggled in recent years.

“When I was there, everybody I grew up with, their parents didn’t move,” he said. “There wasn’t that influx of young families. It’s understandable what’s happened – everybody has moved to the Bay Port or Ashwaubenon districts. You can see how successful those programs have become. The suburban schools are more dominant now. It’s the same in Appleton. East and West used to be strong, but now it’s Kimberly and Kaukauna.”

Even though West has fallen on hard times, Keyes said he still follows the team.

“I looked up the scores every week and saw what they did,” he said. “I know they had a long losing streak, but I also know they beat Green Bay East (14-13) to break that streak.”

The Wildcats won that Oct. 1 game when they blocked an East field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the game.

“One of my greatest memories was playing in Lambeau Field my senior year,” Keyes said. “It was the strike year for the Packers, and if I remember right, we played Waukesha South in the third round of the playoffs. If we had won that game, we would have gone to Camp Randall for state. We played a good game against a good team but ended up losing.”

Turmoil in Madison

A pocket passer at West, Keyes was recruited by then Wisconsin Head Coach Dave McClain to play in a pro-style offense.

“Coach McClain passed away after my sophomore year (in 1986),” Keyes said. “It was after spring ball, so there wasn’t time to bring in someone new and start all over, so they promoted our defensive coordinator, Jim Hilles. He made some changes in the staff, and that hurt the chemistry of the good things happening under McClain, so we took a step back. Instead of giving the job to Hilles moving forward, they brought in Don Morton, and that turned out to be a disaster.”

Keyes had three different head coaches at Madison in three years.

“Morton installed the veer offense, and that didn’t fit my style,” Keyes said. “I wasn’t recruited to run that offense, so after starting a few games (under Morton), the team moved on from me to more of a running quarterback.”

Coaching days

Keyes began a successful coaching career after the NFL.

“I coached in the Green Bay area under Mike Williquette at West as a volunteer assistant,” he said. “I then moved to Bay Port with (Williquette) for a few years before coaching the Green Bay Bombers (indoor football). Moving back to Madison, I coached at DeForest High School and also did some youth coaching.”

Keyes said he’s enjoyed coaching, but he’s not sure he’ll ever get back into it.

“It takes lots of time, and it doesn’t always work,” he said.

Watching his son

Junior Mason Keyes, Bud’s son, was the starting quarterback at DeForest High School this past season.

“It’s been fun to follow his journey,” Bud Keyes said. “DeForest played four-game during the alternate fall season last spring, so that gave him valuable experience as a sophomore. He started four games and had a good season. He carried that over to the fall season. It was great to see him having fun doing the same thing I had fun doing.”

Keyes said he thinks his son is college material.

“He’s had some coaches start following him on social media,” he said. “The recruiting is different now – social media is a huge tool for coaches. That’s the first step nowadays – coaches start following you on Twitter if they’re interested. I think he has a bright future.”

Keyes said the recruiting process in the mid-80s was much different than today.

“I don’t even know how I got recruited,” he laughed. “I started getting letters from universities. Back in my day, I think coaches stopped by the school and watched film. It wasn’t easy to send out material in those days.”

Keyes said when he watches his son play, it’s hard for him to watch as a fan.

“I have that player/coach mentality,” he said. “I watch the line to see how they’re blocking, whether it’s a pass or a run, see if it’s a run or a pass and how the defense is playing. I watch the game as a quarterback.”

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