LEXINGTON, Ky. --- A year ago, Octavius Bond was entertaining thoughts of being the next Craig Yeast or James Whalen at the University of Kentucky.
Little did he know at the time he would eventually make his mark defending "go-to" guys, playing on the opposite side of the ball at a position he didn't realize existed.
"I always thought I was going to be a great receiver," said the 6-foot-1, 207-pound sophomore from Chicago. "That's still in the back of my head. I love catching the ball and making things happen. But my team needed me on defense, and I love this position. I'm trying to be the best outside safety I can be."
"He's a prototype for that position," UK defensive coordinator John Goodner said of the linebacker-safety hybrid in the Cats' '44' scheme. "He's fast enough to cover a wideout and strong enough, tough enough to come up and make tackles inside.
"It's perfect for O.B. He's one of those guys who can make all kinds of plays, a guy you walk out on the field, if there's 10 other players out there, you pick him out.... He really had a great camp. He's one of the most improved guys we had."
Bond, who will also get an opportunity to return kicks for the Cats this season, says he's still adjusting to switching over to the defensive side of the ball. Each passing day leaves him a little more comfortable with his new responsibilities.
"It's a good position," he said. "It shows your versatility. I may have to cover a 4.3 guy like Ernest Simms, or go up and put a big hit on a 250-pound running back like the "Rock" (Ron Johnson). I'm comfortable with either one of those. You gotta do what you gotta do."
Having added "outside safety" to their football vocabulary this spring, just what can UK fans expect at the position?
If Goodner's hunch is correct, quite a bit.
"That's probably as good a position as we've got, depth-wise," Goodner said. "We've got some good people there."
In addition to Bond, who has turned heads through fall practice with his blend of aggressiveness and athleticism, the Cats feature seniors Chris Gayton and Patrick Wiggins, juniors David Johnson, Jed Bassett and Adetayo Agboke, and sophomore Eric Ogletree.
Gayton, a 6-2, 205-pound former outside linebacker, started four games and played in nine last season. He finished with 23 tackles, three for losses, and one sack as a junior. The staff likes his versatility, as evidenced by his recent shift to inside linebacker to compensate for the two-game suspension of Jamal White.
That means Patrick Wiggins, who looked to have beaten out Gayton toward the end of camp, should be featured in a starting role. The 6-0, 198-pound former walk-on has developed a reputation for making big plays, including a series of highlights in a 1999 game at Vanderbilt which earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"Pat Wiggins probably makes more plays than anyone in fall camp," Goodner said. "Pat's just a good football player. He understands the game and is real smart. When you talk about a guy who understands the game and is real smart, your average guy thinks you're talking about an overachiever. But that ain't what I'm talking about. Pat's got ability to go along with it."
Johnson is another player in that mold, only with a reputation as a big-time hitter.
The 6-0, 187-pound former strong safety was a Freshman All-American in 1998 and was named one of America's top 10 true freshmen in a Sports Illustrated feature. He received a medical redshirt in 1999 after suffering an eye injury in the first quarter of the season opener against Louisville, and bounced back with a productive year in 2000 -- 44 tackles, three TFLs, and four pass break-ups.
Johnson was slowed by a nagging hamstring in camp, but the staff did not seem too concerned about his absence.
"He was a proven commodity," Goodner said. "We know what to expect from him. He's just a real good player, and having him back really helps the complexion of everything. He's got a track record of making plays.
"We feel like David, along with O.B., Gayton and Wiggins, give us a real nice rotation there. I've got a lot of confidence in those guys."