Byrd’s Jenna Key, an LSU signee, is enjoying the last of her ‘crazy journey’

By Jimmy Watson //

About this time last year, running wasn’t at the forefront of Jenna Key’s mind. Instead of preparing to run, and win, the 3200-meter in the District 1-5A meet, she was standing with her family at the gravesite of her grandfather, Ira Joe Key.

He had passed away a few days earlier and the service was the same day as the meet where Key, an LSU track and field signee, has been a perennial champion.

“I could not be present with my team because it was a sad day,” Key said. “But I know that he is proud of every accomplishment I have earned. He was always a big Tigers fan, so I’m proud to represent his favorite team.”

A Shreveport native, Key has matured emotionally, physically and socially since she burst on the scene as a freshman four years ago when not much was known about her athletic talents. Young and naïve, Key didn’t take the sport of running, or herself, too seriously. She just had fun winning.

“I wasn’t afraid of anyone, and I wasn’t afraid to take risks,” Key said. “Now, I have to constantly remind myself that there is no need to be ‘too serious’ or ‘too hard on myself,’ because at the end of the day, I chose this lifestyle because I love it.” 

Running is a time-consuming sport, especially if you attempt to do it at Key’s level both in cross country and track. Her workouts take her around the calendar with few days off. She’s also involved in YoungLife, works at Sportspectrum and is involved in several student-led organizations at Byrd. 

Key credits her swim coaches, Angie Carter and Maureen Farrell with teaching her to have tough exterior from the time she turned 7 years old.

“I was already competing, conditioning and training to be competitive swimmer. It wasn’t easy. In fact, I still think swimming is a much harder sport than running,” Key said. “They truly shaped me into who I am today, and I am so grateful for all the lessons I learned from them.”

With regionals and the 2024 LHSAA state meet on the horizon, Key has a best of 5:16.93 in the 1600 and 11:06.06 in the 3200. Her favorite race, however, was the 2023 cross country regionals when she came close to a PR (personal record).

“It was so fun to see my team cross the finish line with their fastest times ever and winning regionals together as a team,” she said.

The numbers she posted, however, attracted the attention of the LSU coaches, along with others, who like Key’s competitive fire. She was all over the place on her college decision initially preferring to attend one out of state or a smaller school where she might stand out more.

“But it’s funny how LSU is neither of those. The LSU coaching staff, resources and care for their athletes is what really stood out to me when I went for my visit,” she said. “I felt like I was wanted there, instead of feeling like I was begging for a spot on the team. The school spirit is unbeatable so that makes me even more excited for the fall.”

“The fall” will come soon enough, but right now Key is already knowing she’ll miss the family atmosphere of high school athletics, especially for runners, who are together in the fall in cross country through indoor track in the winter to outdoor track and field in the spring.

“The boys on the team are like my brothers and the girls are like my sisters, and of course, (coach) Juan Plaza is like my second dad,” Key said. “We are always there for each other and push each other to accomplish our goals. It’s been super cool to be on this crazy journey with these people.”

Jimmy Watson covers Louisiana sports for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @JimmyWatson6.

Jenna Key file 

Her greatest fear: “Getting in a bad accident and losing ability in my limbs.”

Future profession: “Financial advisor or something with the combination of business and law.”

Country she’d like to visit: Switzerland

Favorite subject in school: AP government 

Favorite movie: Secretariat 

Top teacher: Mrs. Strong. “My anatomy teacher – for reasons including beyond school. 

Favorite restaurant: El Cabo Verde in Shreveport 

Person in history she’d dine with: Queen Elizabeth 

Toughest opponent: Ruston’s Lily Garret, her future LSU teammate

Favorite clothing brand: Vuori 

Habit she’d like to break: “My inability to concentrate when someone is talking.”

Her go-to app: “My music app.”