The football fan has been waiting the month of August since the beginning of February.
During the long, hot summer there is Arena Football, or World League football, but nothing compares to the beautiful green grass (whether real or artificial) in the good ole United States come fall.
Kentucky football has finally started fall ball, two-a-days, preparation. I think with just a few more weeks of painful anticipation I would have been making football shaped meatloaf and dreaming constantly of nacho filled platters without any control.
This is a time of endless optimism, undefeated records, and delusions of grandeur, especially for the Kentucky football fan like me.
Its time to find out if Kentucky has the players who are finally going to take that next step in becoming successful at the D1 level.
With every starter that graduates, there is an opportunity.
Some players step up to the challenge, and some crumble.
But, basing my experience on who has shown glimpses both in practice and in the games, as well as information from word of mouth, this is my list of who to expect to send their game to another level come the "de-feathering" of September the fifth.
#34 ILB Dennis Johnson: Double take much? Looking at the roster a few times last season, I kept thinking to myself there must be some form of an error here. Dennis Johnson? Doesn't he play for the professional Cardinals? After moments of confusion, I finally turned to the information director at UK and asked "who is this guy?" Well, that confusion is long gone, as the Junior College transfer is making his name in the mind of Coach Archer.
At first glance, the physical stature of Johnson isn't something that grabs you, but once that ball is snapped, you can't keep your eyes off of him. The kid has instincts like none other on the team and trusts them. He does not second guess his decisions, and has quickly become one of the pleasant surprises of the defense. The Vicksburg, MS native who has come out of nowhere, and I do mean nowhere (trust me, if someone in the media had known there was going to be a potentially good player with the same name of the now infamous former Dennis Johnson, there would have been just as much over hype as the last).
Johnson won't crack first string, but don't be surprised if he is first off the bench against Louisville. He has great intuition on the field, a nose for the ball, understands the defensive schemes, has football speed and sheds a block better than anyone on the squad.
#10 CB Karl Booker: Sometimes I feel sorry for a kid that gets switched positions once he reaches the college level. In many cases, the kid played that position his entire career, only wanted to play that position, and envisioned himself winning football games in the NFL at that position. And then there is the case of Karl Booker.
The walk-on from Chesapeake, WV had played wide receiver through his freshman year, learning new schemes week in and week out to train the lettermen for the opponent ahead. Shoved down a depth chart that was becoming increasingly crowded (what wide receiver for UK didn't look impressive in spring?), the decision was made the help depth at the cornerback where a player was lost, Andre Jones. Instead of griping, moaning, complaining and deserting, Booker took the challenge and went from prepping lettermen, to being one.
The entire spring became a learning experience mixed with tiny breaking out parties where Booker seemed to display a savvy that seasoned veterans at the position sometimes lack. Remember the note above when I mentioned that graduation creates opportunities? Well so do injuries, and with the loss of Bo Smith, Booker has the chance to not only get a letter on his jacket, but get some gameday playing time.
I'll finish with this: if I applied the normal learning curve in learning a new position to assess Bookers development, I would've expected him to be at the level he was playing in the spring game, sometime around October.
#87 TE Eric Scott: I'll go ahead and credit this tip to Coach Brooks, who so quietly pointed out to me in an interview this summer that Scott was competing for a starting spot with Jeremiah Drobney. There were two conditions of course; a) keeping his weight down and b) continuing to learn the passing routes.
Well Scott kept his weight down over the summer, and learning the passing routes will come with time and practice. Scott was not used extensively in the passing game in high school (only seven receptions in his senior year?). He is big, and understands run blocking as if the instructions were read to him from infancy to high school graduation by Jay Riemersma.
In high school Scott ran the 400 meters in high school. Seriously, how many 6'5" 265 lb 17 year olds do you see running the 400 meters? He was the team MVP in football AND basketball, and Georgia Elite named him player of the week in both sports as well.
So lets see, athletic, big, can block, only played tight end for one season in high school and is only a redshirt freshman who is already competing for a starting spot with a Junior in an offense that is going to run…not bad.
#30 CB Jarrell Williams: In recruiting, there are many rules to the game. One of which happens to be, recruit and offer as many athletic quarterbacks as humanly possible. Why? Many times in high school, the most athletic, intelligent, and productive player on the team, no matter where he starts, eventually will land at the QB position. High school coaches aren't stupid; get the guy who has the potential to win a game every time he touches the ball as much time with that ball as conceivably possible.
That is exactly where Williams stood, as one of the most athletic players in the talent rich city of Cincinnati. For some unknown reason, he was left relatively untouched.
Where is the recruiting vision anymore?
Sure, Williams was not one of the best quarterbacks in the city, but for gods sake he threw for 1,950 yards for 15 touchdowns, ran 1,068 yards for 18 touchdowns, and did so in nine games. That's 217 yards passing, 119 yards rushing, and 3.7 touchdowns per game. He was named the Tri-State Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, and his only other serious consideration was West Virginia?
I should not forget that as a junior he played cornerback, intercepted 4 passes and ran back 7 kicks for touchdowns.
Now, I certainly do not claim to be the most intelligent man in the world, but even I can see that those numbers are pretty good. Maybe we should just change Coach Phillips name from Joker, to Burglar, because Williams is a steal.