LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Walk-ons have been good to Kentucky in recent years, and the Wildcats are hoping Win Gaffron is the next success story on the horizon.
It's a vision of opportunity the junior from Nashville, Tenn., could only dream about three years ago when he found himself playing on the junior varsity squad with the likes of James Whalen, Derek Smith, Bobby Blizzard and Chase Harp on the Cats' main roster.
"They said they wanted to bring me up, but they were stacked at tight end at the time and really didn't have any room for me," Gaffron said of his early experiences at UK. "Now we hardly have any tight ends, so things just opened up for me this spring. I'm real excited about getting this chance to play. I have a lot of high expectations for myself."
Playing for the Cats has been a longtime goal for Gaffron, whose father, Winston, was recruited to play for UK in the late 60s. Due to a coaching change, the elder Gaffron never got to experience the thrill of taking the field, so Win is trying to make it for both of them.
"I always had a dream to play here," Gaffron said. "My dad was here, so I've always had blue in my blood. I didn't know if it would happen or not, but I've got a big opportunity now, and I'm going to make the best of it.
"I think my parents are more excited about it than me. They drove all over the country to watch me on special teams, so you can imagine how they are now."
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Gaffron played on special teams last year, including a stint as long-snapper after Coleman Barnes suffered a knee injury late in the season.
Now he finds himself on the three-deep depth chart, neck-and-neck with Jeremiah Drobney for the backup tight end job behind Harp. Each practice session at the Nutter Training Center finds Gaffron taking more reps than he's ever experienced.
"I think I've improved 10-fold since I started," he said. "I did a lot of scout team last year, and learned quite a bit from it. I knew I still had a long way to go, but this spring has been really good for me. I keep progressing a little more every week."
So far, the UK staff likes what it has seen.
"We don't have a lot of depth there, so we really need Win to keep pushing hard and help us," tight ends coach John Schlarman said. "He's getting a real long look this spring, and so far, he's done a good job. He's going to be able to help us."
"He's a tough guy," head coach Guy Morriss said. "There's not a lot of flash in him, but he gets the job done. He's the type of kid who's willing to get in there and bloody his nose and block."
According to Gaffron, he's slightly ahead in the passing game at this point. He caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Shane Boyd in the Cats' second scrimmage this spring.
"I'd say my hands are probably my best asset," Gaffron said. "My speed is about what the other guys are, but I'm still learning how to block. I'm getting a little better at that every day."
The toughest adjustment has been the jump from playing at a small high school in Tennessee to JV football at UK, and now often working with the Cats' first-team offensive unit.
"I went to a really small school, so it took me a while to get used to the speed of the game here and how to interpret the plays so fast," Gaffron said. "That's been the biggest adjustment.
"And my quarterback in high school didn't throw the ball half as hard as this one (Lorenzen)."
Schlarman believes Gaffron has a chance to be a complete player.
"He's a bigger target. You love to have a 6-5 guy out there," Schlarman said. "As far as his route running, he's got a long way to go, and he's working on it, but he's developing into a pretty good run blocker. With his size, that's something we're going to ask him to do a lot.
"He's deceptively big and strong. You don't realize it until you're up close to him. He really worked hard in the weight room and increased his numbers. We're hoping he continues that into the summer and puts on a few more pounds while maintaining his speed."