‘Just a blessing to be here.’ Hometown hero takes his talents from Key West to the NFL

·3 min read

Even in the relentless Key West summer heat, this local couldn’t stop moving on the football field.

Mekhi Sargent raced up and down the artificial turf surrounded by more than 70 children between 5 and 14 from the Boys and Girls Club of the Keys.

They spent half the day running football drills and playing games focused on teamwork and competition.

Others on the same afternoon searched for what little shade exists around George Mira Field, off 14th Street in the New Town area of the island. Water was never more appreciated. Sweat poured.

But no one was complaining, especially not the man everyone was there to see.

“I love to come back home,” Sargent said during the June 24 event, while weeks away from reporting to his second NFL training camp as a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “Get around the ocean, get around family, especially the kids. It’s just a blessing to be here.”

Sargent, 24, was an All-American as a senior at Key West High School. As a Fighting Conch, he set records for rushing yards in a season — 2,094 — and career, racking up 4,821 yards. He also set records for most touchdowns in a season, 27, and career, with 49, along with total offenses and scoring.

Mekhi Sargent, 24, a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars, hands out an autograph in Key West on June 24, 2022.
Mekhi Sargent, 24, a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars, hands out an autograph in Key West on June 24, 2022.

Sargent left Key West for Iowa Western Community College and then the University of Iowa, earning more honors at both schools. He became the 11th player in Hawkeye history to score as many as 20 career rushing touchdowns.

After college, Sargent was signed by the Tennessee Titans. He spent the 2021 NFL season with the Titans, Los Angeles Rams and then Jacksonville, playing in a total of seven regular season games.

As a visitor to the Boys and Girls Club kids, Sargent sported a red Key West High School baseball cap as he handed out high-fives, autographs and training tips on the field.

“He sounded cool,” said 8-year-old Iris Cartegna after meeting Sargent. She held a football. “We didn’t really play football but we played games.”

But when he returns to Key West for a visit, he appears as just another young man tossing the football with the neighborhood kids.

Sargent, though, is far from just another guy. He’s a Key West success story, coming out of the tiny island to land a spot in the pros. Here, baseball is king and the island can claim Baltimore Orioles legend Boog Powell, who wasn’t born in Key West but came out of Key West High School.

Leggett is a Key West native, so she knows how community members make things like Sargent’s appearance happen.

“It all happened really quickly,” Leggett said, ticking off a list of local businesses that provided bottled water and pizza for everyone. “It all came together.”

Sargent’s presence in Key West didn’t end with the one-day event. He says it’s just the start of his community outreach — and that he has big plans for the future.

“The kids are still talking about it,” Leggett said Wednesday. “Mekhi has some cousins who go to the club. They were asking them what it’s like having a famous cousin. Today the kids are saying, ‘Where is he?’”

The Boys and Girls Club showed the kids video of Sargent on the football field before the pro arrived and they were curious to confirm he was a local, asking, “He went to Key West High School?” Leggett said.

“Yes, he went to Key West High School,” the adults replied.

Sargent met their energy on and off the field.

“He was as excited as the kids, who are looking forward to the next time,” Leggett said.

At one point during the event at Mira Field, about a dozen kids piled on Sargent as he sat on the ground.

“Good job guys,” he said after freeing himself. “You all are so fast. I’m proud of you all.”