GIDEL: Cat Fans Crossing Fingers

Just three days before Christmas, University of Kentucky fans opened up a surprise present in Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson wide receiver Darrell Stevens. But, pardon the UK coaching staff if they are still keeping there fingers crossed, even through the holiday season and into 2006.

(Darrell Stevens Profile)

That's because of January 13th - a date that could go down as doomsday for a Wildcat staff desperately trying to secure the verbal of arguably their best receiver to date - 6-foot, 180 pound highlight delight in Darrell Stevens.

The visit to Duke University, scheduled for that weekend, looks to be all that stands in the way of a firm commitment to the program. The University of Kentucky coaching staff knows though, that beating out the Blue Devils might be easier said than done, particularly in this case.

A scholastic standout, Stevens is far removed from the glamour of the big-time, SEC football program and is more interested in the complete package. An opportunity that provides him athletics and academics.

"You've got to give a kid credit who works hard in the class and Darrell is one of them," Robinson coach Mike DePue told the St. Petersburg Times. "He's a quality type of kid that will have numerous doors of opportunity open for him. He's smart and he plays tough. And when you add the grades and the character, that's a rare combination. He's a great kid to be around."

But Kentucky fans shouldn't concede to the ACC braintrust, just yet. According to Stevens, academics will play a major part in his decision, but that alone won't get his signature.

"If this was only about education I'd have committed to Duke a long time ago," Stevens added. "Education is also really important to me, but it's got to be more than that. I'm going to have a scholarship to play football and that is special – I need to be somewhere that can provide me with a chance to succeed on the football field and off it."

After a junior campaign that made him one of the fastest rising prospects in Florida, Stevens was again the featured receiver in Robinson's aerial attack. The senior recorded a team best 45 catches for 870 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading all of Hillsborough County in receiving scores for the second straight year. His efforts earned him second team All-Area honors from the Tampa Tribune.

"Physically, I've gotten stronger," Stevens said. "I had problems sometimes getting off the line of scrimmage, where I wasn't strong enough ... I'm quicker, stronger and smarter. I've got a lot going for me."

Stevens chose the Wildcats over offers from Wake Forest, Duke, Stanford, Iowa State, Duke, UAB, and South Florida, but has already publically stated he will take his visit to Duke on Jan. 13th. Stevens has already taken a visit to Iowa State on December 16th.

"(Kentucky) has had a love affair with Darrell since the first time they laid eyes on him," Robinson coach Mike DePue said. "Coach (Kurt) Roper believes he can come in and start in the SEC. They have been very insistent that he'll play his freshmen year, whereas other schools have expressed a desire to redshirt him. They really believe in Darrell to be their guy."

If Stevens takes his visits as scheduled, Kentucky will still have the last shot to convince the sunshine state native. He's set to visit Lexington again after taking an unofficial visit in November, on December 20th.

"I think it's going to be a combination of things," Stevens stated. "I want to go somewhere that has confidence in the program and confidence in me. I want to be somewhere that I feel comfortable for the next four or five years."

Because of his size, analysts have generally overlooked Stevens. Despite his never-ending motor, unique competitiveness, drive and overall intelligence, critics are blinded by his size and his above average speed. Nobody is looking forward to proving those people wrong more than the Tampa native.

"Right now I think my strengths as a player will translate to the next level," Stevens said. "I have really good hands and I run precise routes. I pride myself on being able to block and make plays. If you can do the fundamental things well, the rest will take care of itself. That's what I do."

If the star receiver ultimately does sign with the Wildcats, he'll be one of the early favorites to take over the 'space' left by the graduating seniors. A space his 6-foot frame would gladly accept.

January 13th. Keep your fingers crossed.


Quotes from previous interviews and articles on were used in this article.

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