LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Inside linebacker is starting to look like the Bermuda Triangle at Kentucky.
Adding to a timeline that includes the de-commitment of a prep All-American, the academic loss of a senior returning starter and the ineligibility of another high-profile incoming freshman, the Wildcats got more bad news Tuesday when they learned senior Jamal White would be suspended for the first four games of the 2001 season.
White was one of 10 UK players who were ruled ineligibile by the school pending an appeal to the NCAA. It was revealed he was one of two players --- the other sophomore wideout Brad Pyatt --- who received improper academic assistance. The other eight players had their eligibility restored, according to UK coach Guy Morriss.
Morriss labeled the NCAA's decision as a bad break, but a "fair" move.
The suspension is both a blow to the Cats' already depleted depth at inside linebacker, as well as another unfortunate setback for White. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Cincinnati native was seldom used by the previous defensive coordinator --- wasting opportunities for a redshirt season --- despite being labeled by the new staff as one of the team's best athletes.
"It's a tough break," said UK defensive coordinator John Goodner. "Jamal's one of our players we felt like had big-play capabilities. To lose him, we're going to feel it.
"In the coaching business, you can say what you want to, but get close to the kids you coach. In the last six months or eight months I've been here, Jamal White has done everything we've asked him to do. He worked hard in the spring, never missed a day this summer, never missed a day in the weightroom. We hate it for Jamal as much as we hate it for anyone else. But he's a strong guy with a strong family background. He'll overcome it."
But what about the UK defense?
"This is going to set it back a bit," Goodner said. "What we've got to do is pick up the slack with these other guys."
On Tuesday, the team worked outside safety Chris Gayton, a former linebacker, at White's spot. He's got the early edge on the starting assignment for Saturday's game against Louisville, but Goodner said that decision has yet to be made. Others who may see significant action are Mike Beirne (a converted receiver), Anthony Stevenson (a redshirt freshman and former running back), and true freshman Dustin Williams.
"About four or five days ago we tried to start working some guys in there in case the ax fell," Goodner said. "...One of the things it takes to be succeessful is to overcome adversity. We talk about that on a day-in-day-out basis. It's not the adversity, but how you face it and overcome it.
"It's a chance to practice what you preach," added Goodner, noting that it could have been an injury that knocked White out of action.
Asked if he could get a backup prepared in time for the arch-rival Cardinals, Goodner said he's got no choice.
"But we may have to cut back on some of the things we were going to do," he said. "That doesn't bother me, though. I think the simpler it is, the better you can play with great effort."
Goodner said he was somewhat surprised by the NCAA's ruling. Until recent days, the UK staff was overly confident all the players would have their eligibility restored. In White's case, it is believed that a term paper was prepared for him by a member of the former staff, but was not turned in.
"I don't know about everyone else around here, but it took me by surprise," Goodner said. "It's one of those things that happens. It could have been an injury. But one thing's for sure, it's here. We're not going to use it as an excuse. We've just got to go play."
White will continue to practice with the team. Neither Morriss nor Goodner would speculate on whether a redshirt year would be used for White in the event of a slow start by the team in its first four games.