Keyon Prior represents the third generation of his family to leave a mark in Bayfield High School athletics, especially on the football field. The Prior name isn't new to Wolverines fans, but Keyon has made his own history and is leaving a legacy all his own.
A Prior has been part of every football state championship in Bayfield history. Keyon's grandfather, Forrest Jerald "Butch" Prior, was the Wolverines' head coach from 1972-88, and he amassed 71 wins, the most of any BHS football coach in school history. Butch, a Durango High School and Fort Lewis College alum, also coached basketball and eventually was an athletic director at Bayfield. He was an assistant coach on the 1996 football team that won the school's first state title.
Kevin Prior, Keyon's father, holds the Bayfield single-season rushing record with 1,852 yards during the 1996 championship season. He also ran for 21 touchdowns that year.
"It's very special for him to see me because he had such a great legacy here bringing the first state championship to Bayfield," Keyon said of his father. "It's so amazing to win and share these moments with my dad."
Keyon, also the son of Keeta Ngwayah, was a freshman in 2015 when Bayfield won another, and he was a junior who played a key role during the 2017 title run. Now, Keyon and his fellow seniors, who are already the most decorated class in Wolverines history, are trying to deliver one more title before they graduate.
If No. 1 Bayfield (8-1) is to get past No. 9 Faith Christian (8-2) on the road in this week's Class 2A state quarterfinals, it will take more big plays from Keyon, who has played a big role in saving the team's season each of the last three weeks.
"Us all playing together since a young age, we have this bond," Keyon said after last week's 19-14 win against Montezuma-Cortez in the first round of the playoffs. "We don't want this season to end. We just gotta keep going, even if it takes these close wins like this."
'Big-time player'Keyon and the Wolverines aren't used to simply winning games; they're used to winning big. That hasn't been the case a lot of the time this year, especially the last three weeks. The team finished the regular season with a pair of miraculous wins fueled by big plays from Prior.
In a 14-13 overtime win Oct. 19 at Pagosa Springs, Keyon orchestrated "The Pagosa Pitch" in overtime. The team went for a 2-point conversion trailing the Pirates 13-12, and a successful conversion gave the Wolverines a victory. But it didn't come easy. Keyon was handed the ball, and he was stacked up on the line of scrimmage by the Pagosa Springs defense. Without hesitation, Keyon pitched the ball to senior quarterback Hayden Farmer, who was able to walk untouched into the end zone for the game-winning score.
"All I got to say is big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Farmer said after the win. "Keyon, I don't even know. He made a big-time play."
A week later, the Wolverines went into Salida for the 2A Intermountain League championship game. Keyon and his fellow seniors have never experienced a league loss, but that was put to the test when the team went down 14-0 at halftime to the previously undefeated Spartans. It was Keyon who came up with the game-clinching touchdown pass on a halfback pass, as he rolled out and lofted a pass to senior running back David Hawkins, who went above two defenders to haul in the pass. Earlier in the game, Keyon caught a 2-point conversion for the go-ahead score that gave the Wolverines a 16-14 lead late in the third quarter. It was his second 2-point conversion catch of the game.
"I got all the faith in the world in him," Bayfield senior lineman Rhett Hoover said. "I trust him with my life in any situation. He's incredible, a brother."
Bayfield's 22-14 win at Salida extended the team's league-winning streak to 21 games dating back to October 2014. This year's group of seniors delivered 19 of those and four consecutive league championships. The 42 wins from this 2019 senior class are also the most in Bayfield history, surpassing the 39 wins from the classes of 2013 and 2018.
"We have a pretty tough league," Keyon said. "The state might not see it, but we had four of five teams in our league make the playoffs this year. It's special to come out here and keep winning."
Bayfield had to play a league foe one more time in last week's playoff opener against the Panthers. The Wolverines again went down 14-0, but a couple big plays from Keyon changed the outcome of the game. He scored the team's first touchdown on a 57-yard pass from Farmer. Moments later, he made a game-changing play when he streaked down the field to scoop up a botched Montezuma-Cortez lateral pass. In the last possible second before the ball rolled out of bounds, Keyon snatched the fumble up, all while keeping his balance to stay inbounds. A few plays later, he scored on a 17-yard run to cut the Panthers' lead to 14-13. Then, with the Wolverines facing a key fourth-and-4 in the fourth quarter, Keyon ran a fake punt. With no running room available, he danced around and then darted up the middle of the field. He fought through three tackles to gain five yards and extend the eventual game-winning drive.
"With his athletic ability and drive, he can make anything happen," said BHS head coach Gary Heide, who has 63 career wins at Bayfield in seven seasons. "With the fourth-down conversion, you just know when you give him the ball that good things are going to happen. He's a fantastic young man."
Mr. EverythingKeyon has truly done a bit of everything this season. He's second on the team with 528 rushing yards to go with three rushing touchdowns. He is also the team's leading receiver with 458 yards and four touchdowns on 27 receptions, and he's thrown for two touchdowns and 30 yards. Defensively, he has 31 tackles and a team-high three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. He also blocked one punt and one field goal, while he also handles Bayfield's punt duties and is the team's leading return man.
He's done it all through injuries, just as he did his junior year with a lingering toe injury. This year, it's been an ankle that has had Keyon soaking in ice all season.
"It's fun to watch him and the heart he has out there," Kevin Prior said of his son. "We've bought a lot of ice this year. He's in four (Advanced Placement) classes, too. He gets home after practice, has some dinner and then has homework until midnight with his ankle in an ice bucket while he's doing it. He's been in a lot of pain, and it's been a roller-coaster."
'They've raised a good one'While Kevin grew up in Bayfield, Keyon spent his elementary school days in Colorado Springs. It wasn't until a funeral for Farmer's sister during Keyon's fifth-grade year that Kevin returned to Bayfield and immersed himself in the Bayfield community once more. He knew he needed to move back.
"I came back and saw the community and everyone looking out for one another," Kevin said. "When I went back to Colorado Springs, I looked around the neighborhood and figured I only knew one neighbor in a two-mile radius. I saw what Bayfield had, and I wanted my kids to have that. Everyone in Bayfield can look after them.
"Keyon is a great young man. Sometimes I don't know where he gets it, but that's who he is. In the heat of the moment, he never gets carried away or caught up in a back-and-forth. He's there helping kids up and keeping a positive attitude. This community around him, he has so many parents who look out for him. It takes a village, and they've raised a good one in him for sure."
Keyon said it was the move to Bayfield that helped fuel his love for sports to a deeper level. Now, he embraces that community after each win at Wolverine Country Stadium, where the Wolverines have won a school record 24 consecutive games.
"I love this Bayfield community," Keyon said. "They're always here, always have our back, win or lose. I just appreciate them being here for me and the team so much. Receiving their love after a hard-fought win is so gratifying."
Keyon and the Wolverines haven't only won on the football field. Last year, he was part of the team's Class 3A state championship in basketball, the first in school history. He also runs track and field, and Bayfield's boys also won that 3A state title last year.
While Keyon still beats himself up for fouling out of the final moments of the basketball state championship, he is proud of the legacy he's been able to leave.
"Once I found football and basketball, sports brought so much joy to my life," he said. "I wanted to work to be the best I can be. Once I moved here to Bayfield, I just wanted to show this town the winning it deserves. It feels very special to do this for this town."