A 'Little' underrated

If Rafael Little played for Florida, Georgia, Auburn or LSU, he might be the most celebrated football player in the Southeastern Conference. Because he plays for Kentucky, he might be the league's best-kept secret.

What Little accomplished as a sophomore tailback for the Wildcats last fall was so amazing it should've made the 5-10, 198-pounder a household name throughout The South. Here's a recap:

- Led the SEC and ranked fifth nationally in all-purpose yards with 1,982. Darren McFadden of Arkansas finished a distant second with 1,513.

- Ranked fifth among SEC players in rushing yards (1,045), third in rushing touchdowns (9) and fourth in yards per carry (5.3).

- Ranked eighth among conference players in receiving (4.18 catches per game). - Led the SEC in punt return average (16.9 yards), easily outdistancing runner-up Thomas Flowers of Georgia (13.7).

- Returned just two kickoffs all year but ran back one of them 99 yards vs. Idaho State.

Considering that Rafael Little essentially was Kentucky's only weapon, his 2005 achievements are downright mind-boggling. Even his head coach has difficulty putting his value into words.

"If I'd said how big his role was going to be last year, would anybody have believed it? I don't think so," UK head man Rich Brooks asked at the recent SEC Media Days. "Rafael is a special player."

Little will play a big role again in 2006 but perhaps not quite as big as a year ago.

"Rafael obviously is going to have a huge role for our team," Brooks said. "But hopefully he won't BE our team, which is kind of what he was last year on offense. He WAS our team. He had 46 catches and over a thousand yards rushing, although there was a game and a half at the end of the season when he was hurt and couldn't do much. He led the league in punt returns and would've led the league in kickoff returns but I chose to give him a little rest on kickoff returns."

In spite of all this, Little toils in relative obscurity. He got just two votes for the SEC Media Days preseason all-conference team, settling for third-team honors behind first-teamers Kenny Irons of Auburn (84 votes) and McFadden (59), second-teamers Kenneth Darby of Alabama (52) and Arian Foster of Tennessee (7).

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