LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Though it is drenched and stained with sweat at the end of another round of two-a-days, the gray T-shirt Quentus Cumby sports under his practice gear carries a clear reminder that has helped him remain promising component of the 2001 Kentucky Wildcats.
"It's just a piece of scripture that means a lot to me," Cumby said of the black scrawled 'Psalm 23' across his chest. "It's the one about 'though I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.' It kind of relates to me on the field and off. On the field, it gives me courage, and off the field it keeps me focused on the most important things.
"I try to read the Bible every day. It's what keeps me going."
On several occasions in the not-so-distant past, the junior safety from Cleburne, Texas, had wondered if "on the field" was part of his future. The UK defense was among the worst in the nation, and although he was one of the most physically gifted players on the team, his role with the Cats was seemingly decreasing by the day.
Cumby found himself thrust into the spotlight as a true freshman when David Johnson was injured in the early moments of the season opener against Louisville. His inexperience was quickly taken advantage of by Chris Redman and the Cards, who went on to post a 56-28 victory. From that point on, his playing time was extremely limited.
"Actually, the last two years, I didn't even know if I wanted to play anymore," said Cumby, who noted he was close to transferring on at least two occasions. "Football wasn't any fun."
"This is as excited as I've ever been," he said. "I love this coaching staff. We've got a great coaching staff that really knows what they're talking about with the game of football, and the team is together. It's a different feeling around here.
"The way I look at it now, you can't really change anything about the past. You have to take what you've got and go forward. That's what I'm doing."
Count Rick Smith among those thrilled Cumby decided to remain at UK. The Cats' new secondary coach says Cumby is having one of the most impressive training camps of any player on the team.
"He's had a great camp," Smith said. "I think both safeties have been real good so far, Cumby and (Anthony) Wajda. They're neck-and-neck right now. I'd have to flip a coin to pick a starter. But both of them are going to play a lot."
Smith said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cumby brings more to the table than just his obvious physical attributes.
"Quentus is probably the most mentally tough guy in the secondary," he said. "He's a tough kid and a smart kid, and he's easy to coach."
Those sound like characteristics which belie Cumby's playing time the last two years.
"I have no idea why he didn't play more," Smith said bluntly. "Why wasn't (Chris) Demaree on the field? Why wasn't Jamal White on the field? Why didn't Jermaine White play more? I don't know because I wasn't here, but some of our best players just haven't played enough."
In Kentucky's new defensive scheme, coordinated by John Goodner, the free safetey's responsibilities vary from what they've learned in the past. His first role is to be the "quarterback" on the defensive side of the ball, making the checks and calling out what he sees from the back of the defense. He must then quickly make the judgment whether to commit to run or pass, but must always be aware he's a pass defender first. When the time comes to make a play, he's often matched up in a one-on-one situation.
"Open-field tackling," Cumby described as the aspect of his game for which he's concentrated most. "Coach Smith wants me to be less aggressive and more patient. He doesn't want me up attacking the line of scrimmage so much. He wants me to be more patient and let the front eight do their job. And if someone pops through there, then I have to do my job.
"It's a lot different than what we were told to do last year. They wanted us to get up in the line of scrimmage every time and try to make the play in the backfield. They told us to 'Go get it. You're going to make most of the tackles.' Now it's more a case of the coaches not wanting the safeties to make so many tackles, so I've got to train myself to be more patient and not get caught up around the line where somebody can get behind me."
The new system has been a big part of his revival as a player.
"Once you get used to coach Goodner's system and the way he calls the defense, it's pretty simple," Cumby said. "There's a lot of help now. No one gets hung out to dry. It's a more sound defense, more of a team defense. I can't wait until Sept. 1 (the season opener against Louisville) to get out there and play. It's going to go down."