Borden ready for breakout year

It’s no coincidence when Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles put in the extra work during the offseason that ultimately helped him win the starting job that Steven Borden was there alongside him every step of the way.

The Wildcats’ senior tight end says it was a no-brainer.

“Patrick’s a great guy, a guy I always enjoyed being around from the first time I got here,” Borden said. “He’s very likeable. I think every guy on this team would tell you that. So I really bonded with him right away, and we got even closer when we worked out with (quarterback consultant) Donny Walker this summer.

“I caught a ton of balls from Patrick, and I think it’s something that’s going to help both of us a lot this season. I want to be that guy he can rely on when he needs to make a play. I want to be the guy on third-and-seven, whatever it is, he knows he can go to.”

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Having a go-to man at the tight end position is something the UK offense has lacked since Jacob Tamme starred for the Cats from 2004-07 before taking his game to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

Kentucky had just 27 receptions and two touchdowns from the position in 2013, but those numbers could be surpassed by a wide margin this season if reports from the Nutter Training Center have been accurate this summer.

“Steven’s really putting it all together in his second year,” UK tight ends coach Vince Marrow said. “I’m really excited to see him in the game Saturday because he’s put a lot of work in, and he’s got a strong desire to be a great player.”

Marrow can hardly contain his excitement when he talks about the way his junior college transfer has worked to improve since arriving in Lexington from Kilgore College in Texas.

“I don’t think anyone on our team outworks Steven Borden,” he said. “I mean, that kid’s a hard worker.”

Marrow has a theory about why that is the case.

“He comes from a really successful family, and probably wouldn’t have to do anything if he didn’t want to, but he’s the complete opposite,” Marrow said. “He’s always busting his tail. He’s got a great, blue-collar mentality and work ethic that I just love.”

Borden’s father, Steve, is one of the most successful entertainers in the history of professional wrestling. His wrestling alias, “Sting,” was on par with some of the greats in the sport like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Ric Flair.

But body slams and high-flying theatrics off the top rope were never really in the younger Borden's dreams.

“I was blown away when I first found out who his dad was and they came on their official visit,” Marrow said. “But you can tell that some kids just don’t want to live in their father’s shadow. He wants to write that own chapter of his life. And, I’m telling you, the kid is really putting in the work. He wants to be a great football player.”

The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Borden showed glimpses of his potential late last season, including three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. But he was largely getting by on natural ability, his coaches say.

UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown even suggested his unique talent had the staff stumped at times about how to best use him in the system. Was he a tight end? Was he a receiver? Was he a fullback? An H-back, perhaps?

“He was a big, athletic guy who could really run,” Marrow said, “but he just hadn’t played that much football.”

“I got thrown for some loops,” Borden admitted. “I came in expecting to play a lot right away, but I had no idea how much I didn’t know about playing football at this level.

“This is really the first place I’ve been coached like this. Coach Marrow and coach Brown have been great for me. Before coming here, I really bounced around a lot. I played 8-man football. I played juco football. But it’s so different here, and it starts with the coaching you get. You learn there’s a lot more to being a football player than just catching the ball and running with it.”

Borden admitted he’s a bit envious of some of the Cats’ recent high school signees.

“I look at some of these freshmen who are just coming into the program, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, what could I have done with five years in this program?’”

But there’s no time to look back now. Borden’s excited about the precious present and running onto the field with the UK offense on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium against UT-Martin.

“My excitement level is probably higher than it’s ever been in my life,” he said. “Especially this year, coming in with more confidence than I’ve ever had in football, my abilities. I just can’t wait to get out there and see what I can do.”

Brown and Marrow have been anxious to find out, too. Borden could wind up being as important a factor in the “Air Raid’s” improvement this season as Towles at the quarterback position.

“Now a defense can’t balance,” Marrow said. “We can put him in the backfield. We can motion him. We can flex him out. You never know where he’s going to be and exactly how to match up with him because he’s a big guy who can run. That’s what every offense is looking for. Almost all the good ones have a guy like that.”

Marrow compares Borden, style-wise, to former NFL standouts Frank Wycheck, who had a long career with the Tennessee Titans, or recently-retired Washington Redskins star Chris Cooley. And maybe even has that type of long-term potential.

“More of that H-type of tight end,” he said. “He’s a physical, blue-collar guy with smaller guy speed.

“All the scouts who come through here say, ‘If he puts everything together…’ Hey, he’s a unique guy. He’s got a shot to play at (the NFL) level.”

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