HOOVER, Ala. — Defensive end Jeremy Jarmon hasn't forgotten what Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer told him.
It was a few years ago at a high school all-star game. And it came after the Memphis native, who wasn't recruited by the home-state Volunteers, had already signed with Kentucky.
"He was like, ‘We looked at you a little bit and you're going to be a hell of a player when you grow into your feet,'" Jarmon said at Southeastern Conference Media Days. "So I think I've done a pretty good job of that since I've been at Kentucky."
Jarmon may have been a two-star prospect in high school, but the junior blossomed into one of the top defensive ends in the SEC in 2007. The 6-foot-3, 277-pounder will lead a defense expected to serve as the strength of a Kentucky team that had relied on its high-powered offense for years.
"We should be the best defensive team I've had," coach Rich Brooks said. "We have depth, competition and experience."
Plenty of the expectations fall on Jarmon, who is better known to Arkansas fans as the guy that gave Darren McFadden a concussion last season. His nine sacks last season was the fourth-best total in school history. He also led the team in tackles for losses (13 1/2) and was fourth in tackles (62).
Jarmon has proven to be solid off the field, too. He earned rave reviews for his performance in a student production of the play "Weak/Side/Help" on Kentucky's campus last April.
Jarmon played a backup quarterback who experiments with steroids in hopes of climbing the depth chart. It was a controversial assignment, but Jarmon relished the role.
Now he's looking forward to his next opportunity. Jarmon, who has done his best to "grow into his feet," said he intends to lead Kentucky to a third straight bowl in 2008.
"We're finally old enough and we're responsible enough to know what we're supposed to be doing," Jarmon said. "It's our turn to step up and carry some of the load. We have a lot of guys that will make sure that is going to happen this year."
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Cornerback Trevard Lindley has made big play after big play in his career. Arkansas fans will remember Lindley as the player that scooped up a fumble and sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown last season. He also set the tone in the win against Louisville, intercepting Brian Brohm's first pass.
RISING STAR: Running back Alfonso Smith only rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns in 2007, but is primed to break out. Kentucky may need it, too, with inexperience at quarterback. Smith sat atop Kentucky's depth chart after a solid spring. He'll share carries with three others, including senior Tony Dixon.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: Kentucky can play defense. Who knew? The Wildcats are counting on their experienced bunch to lead the team this season. The good news for the Wildcats is that the group is more than capable with eight starters returning. Jarmon and Lindley will lead the way, but Kentucky has plenty of talent and solid depth throughout the unit. It'll need it against foes like Florida and Georgia.
BIGGEST QUESTION: What is going to happen at quarterback? What was expected to be a two-player race has taken a bizarre turn lately. Curtis Pulley was booted from the team after a second offseason arrest in late July, paving the way for Mike Hartline. How well Hartline adjusts as Andre Woodson's replacement will determine the amount of success the Wildcats will have in 2008. It's a tall, tall task.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Kentucky opens the season with four non-conference games before getting its first taste of SEC play at Alabama on Oct. 4. The trip will let the Wildcats know where they stand before diving into the meat of their schedule.
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