Bwenge opens eyes during new Cats' first workout

Alexis Bwenge, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Quebec, has impressed the UK staff from Day One...

LEXINGTON, Ky.  --- One thing was certain after the first day of freshman practice at the Nutter Center:

It likely took the Kentucky coaching staff longer to learn the pronounciation of Alexis Bwenge's name than it did to be impressed by the Canadian newcomer's skills on the field.

Bwenge, a sculpted 6-foot-1, 205-pound product of St. Apollonaire, Quebec, drew a wealth of attention from both his Wildcat coaches and teammates as he shined in conditioning and basic offensive team drills. He also got a wish granted as coach Guy Morriss allowed him to begin his UK career at wide receiver.

Alexis Bwenge

"I have always wanted to play receiver," said Bwenge, whose full name is pronounced "ah-LEX-ee buh-GEENG-ee. "I like catching the ball. I asked coach Morriss for a chance to play there, and he gave that to me. I'm really happy about that.

"I worked extremely hard this summer, and I'm excited about playing for Kentucky."

Bwenge was kept busy wiping away the sweat from his brow and eyes Tuesday as temperatures topped the 90-degree mark with high humidity in Lexington.  That prompted the expected questions about how the Canadian was going to adjust to the Bluegrass climate.

"I was here this summer for the last month. That helped because it's a little bit more hot, a little more humid here," he said. "It took me awhile to get used to that, but I'm fine now."

Bwenge is listed in the UK media guide as a running back. As a senior at Champlain Prep, he rushed for 712 yards and nine touchdowns in eight games to lead his team to a conference championship.  He led the league in both rushing and scoring, and drew a wave of attention from American colleges after delivering an impressive performance at a local scouting combine.

One of the people in attendance for the combine was new UK assistant Mark Nelson, a former coach in the Canadian Football League who continues to serve as the Cats' main recruiter for that area. He remained in contact with Bwenge, who developed a strong relationship with Nelson and picked UK over a number of other top programs, including Tennessee.

"Alexis is a strong and powerful runner with great vision, quickness and speed," Champlain Prep coach Tony Addona is quoted in the UK media guide. "He also catches the ball well and is a fierce competitor."

The UK staff saw some glimpses of all those things Tuesday. Bwenge nearly "lapped" some of his teammates in conditioning drills, and approached each ball he caught in a passing drill like it was a crucial play in the fourth quarter of an SEC matchup.

"You look at Alexis, you can envision a great SEC receiver someday," Morriss said. "But you can also look at him and see a great running back or a great defensive player. With a kid like that, an athlete like that who's in phenomenal condition, there's a lot of possibilities.

"We're going to start him out at receiver. That's where he'd like to be, and we could use the help there, so we'll see how it goes."

While Bwenge requested to begin his career at receiver, he's taking a quickest-route-to-playing-time attitude. The "mature freshman" will turn 20 in October.

"I just want to be wherever I can play," he said. "If that's at running back, that is fine with me. I just like to play football."

But he may be too hard to pry away from receivers coach Harold Jackson now.

"He's got some talent, you can see that already. I'm glad to ahve him over here on my side," Jackson said. "From what little I saw on the first day, he's got nice hands and he runs great routes. Some guys, you have to tell three or four times how to run a route. He gets it right the first time. He's polished and crisp in his route-running. You can tell he's been around some good coaches up there.

"And he's probably one of the best conditioned kids I've seen. He's one of those who seems like he could just keep going all day. This morning, he was running circles around guys. They were all breathing hard, and he wasn't hardly breathing at all. I was wondering, 'Does this guy have a pulse?'"


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