One Wildcat an Inspiration

What Kentucky's football team is going through this year hasn't been tough. Antoine Huffman has seen tough.

Three years ago, the Wildcats' senior cornerback met Josh Adkins. The 9-year-old had it tough.

The first time they met, Antoine Huffman didn't even think Adkins knew he was in the room because the boy was so sedated following cancer treatment. Huffman, a graduate of Lovejoy High in Jonesboro, was making one of his regular hospital visits but wasn't wearing his Wildcats jersey because he had come straight from church.

The next morning he got a call from Adkins' mother.

"She said her son wanted to see the guy in the blue-and-white pinstriped suit," Huffman said.

So he went back.

"Ever since then, we've been like brothers," Huffman said. "He's been an inspiration to me."

Part of Adkins' cancer had spread to his jaw, forcing it to be wired almost shut.

"A normal person takes, what, five minutes to eat a sandwich. It would take him two hours," Huffman said. "To see him go through something like that and still be positive has been fulfilling to my heart. He's been a better role model to me than I've probably been to him."

With Huffman by his side, Adkins, now 12, recovered and now plays youth football.

"Now he's healthy and playing football, got a head full of hair, living a normal kid's life," Huffman said.

Seeing that kind of thing makes swallowing seasons like this year's 3-6 campaign in the Commonwealth a little easier. Kentucky (2-4 in SEC) plays No. 14 Georgia (7-2, 5-2) in Sanford Stadium on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Huffman is busy this week trying to bum tickets off his teammates since he figures he'll need at least 16 to get all the family members who want to see the game in the stadium. It's a virtually meaningless game for the Wildcats, who won't be going to a bowl game for the sixth straight year, but it's huge for the Bulldogs.

Kentucky could knock Georgia out of the SEC Championship game if it can find a way to win in Athens for the first time since 1977.

"I don't think that's something we're focused on," Huffman said of the upset. "We're more focused as seniors and as a team on leaving a greatfoundation for the team next year."

Huffman will be starting his 22nd game for the Wildcats. Last week, during a 48-43 win over Vanderbilt, he broke up the 25th and 26th passes of his career to set the school record. His twin brother Antonio is astarting defensive back at Texas Tech.

The Huffmans were recruited by Georgia, but their senior season coincided with Jim Donnan's firing, and that situation kept their interest at a minimum, Antoine said. The twins originally planned to attend Auburn together, but as a fully qualified Antoine waited for his brother to make the necessary SAT score, schools started pulling their scholarship offers.

With three days to go until National Signing Day, only Kentucky, Louisville, Texas Tech and Notre Dame were still interested.

"At that point, I felt I had to go to school by myself," said Antoine, who chose Kentucky because it was the closest to home and the school that he felt recruited him the hardest.

Antonio Huffman eventually ended up at a Kansas junior college before finding his way to the Red Raiders' campus in Lubbock.

Antoine Huffman has 41 tackles this season, but, as he has since arriving in Lexington, probably has made a bigger impact off the field. The visit to an area hospital that ended up in his friendship with Adkins wasn't his first.

In fact, he's the most community-minded player at Kentucky and perhaps in the country. The 6-foot, , who was crowned Homecoming King during halftime of the Mississippi State game on Oct. 29, is a semifinalist for the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy. The award, which former Bulldog David Pollack won last year, is given to the player with the best combination of performance and community service.

He already has graduated with honors from the school's telecommunications program, and he's working on his master's degree. An occasional lay preacher at local churches, he's also a semifinalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, another award that combines playing success with academics and off-the-field involvement.

Giving back to the community "is something that's been instilled in me from a very young age. It carried over to the collegiate level and became amplified," he said.

The Wildcats have won only 18 games since Huffman signed in 2001, but he's never regretted his decision, he said.

"It's been a great time for me," he said. "I've met a lot of great people."


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