So, what is your best day?

With my daughter standing beside me at South Coast Plaza, I asked the man who has asked that question to many people, celebrities included.

Mark Keys didn't hesitate to answer while he sat at a table just outside the USC Collections store.

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"My best day is every day I'm with my family and my friends," said Keys, a Newport Harbor High alumnus who also attended Orange Coast College. "And doing good for somebody else, something nice. Anything I can do to help other people and make them smile. Make them happy. That's all I want to do for anyone. It makes me happy. I love giving more than I do receiving."

Shortly after that, he pounded a fist and made it explode with my daughter. That made her happy. And that made Keys happy. And that made me happy, even though I knew I would be writing about USC.

Keys' book, "My Best Day – USC Trojans Football," features Pat Haden and Ronnie Lott, among other Trojans.

Haden's best day was the Rose Bowl, 1975.

Lott wrote: "Be your best."

Keys figured that it must be his best day to live out that motto. Because he asked the Pro Football Hall of Famer more than once and got the same answer.

For Keys, it has been challenging, to put it mildly, to be his best. Staying positive and making others feel great can also prove difficult after 34 surgeries on his back and legs. There have been other ailments.

Emotional pain and tortuous anguish came with the death of his dear friend Bucko Shaw. Keys was also involved in a car accident and that later resulted in a staph infection.

Keys remembers asking a priest to leave his home because he didn't want to hear his last rites when a doctor scraped at his leg to clean it with no anesthesia.

There has been suffering since 1991, when he suffered back problems from his work as a boat rigger on Balboa Island, but Keys doesn't want to pay attention to that. Instead, he clings to his family. They were at the book signing on Saturday. His eldest daughter, Paige, who attends Arizona, and Megan, who plays volleyball at Newport Harbor, were there, as was his wife, Laurie, who also played volleyball at Newport Harbor.

The words in this column can't truly describe the love in the family. My daughter hugged Laurie and held her close, long enough to warm my heart. It's no wonder Keys remains alive, and happy.

His passion is his book idea that he came up with after he married Laurie 30 years ago. Keys, who lives in Costa Mesa, just near the Back Bay, wants to write a book about the Best Day for those who have played for Newport Harbor Football. I would definitely give that a read.

He says it's in the works and he plans to donate all the money to the program.

Keys will be at work, as he always is with his books. He writes each letter by hand and mails them to the subject along with a self-addressed return envelope.

Steve Foley, a former Newport Harbor star, will most likely be featured in the book. Foley and Keys were classmates.

Foley has recently written a book, "West Newport Blues," that I will write about next week.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen