From roasted to toasted

Roasted by Robert Meachem as a freshman, he's being toasted by college football experts as a senior.

That's the path traveled by Kentucky's Trevard Lindley. Three years after Tennessee's Meachem burned him for six catches, 116 yards and a touchdown in a 17-12 Vol win at Knoxville, Lindley is regarded by some analysts as the premier cornerback in college football.

"I don't think there's a better corner in the nation coming back," Wildcat head coach Rich Brooks said during the recent SEC Media Days at Hoover, Ala.

That's probably true. Lindley was tabbed a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2008 and got a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee last January, even though he finished the '08 season weighing just 170 pounds and playing with an injured shoulder strapped into place.

Although Brooks advised him to turn pro, Lindley elected to return for his senior season with the Big Blue.

"I went back and forth each day, honestly," he recalled. "It was a hard decision because I was projected to go high. I decided to stay because I hurt my shoulder at the end of the season, and I couldn't work out until late February. They (pro scouts) said I was too small and not that physical, so I decided to come back to try and get bigger and more physical my senior season."

Mission accomplished. Lindley has gained 20 pounds since January and now packs 190 pounds on his 6-foot frame. That should make him an even more effective defender.

"Trevard Lindley, simply put, can line up against any receiver in the country one on one, and we would have a very optimistic feeling that he's going to cover 'em pretty darn good the whole game," Brooks said. "He not only can cover, he can make plays.... He's made as many big plays on the defensive side probably as any defensive player at Kentucky in the last 15 or 20 years."

Perhaps Lindley's biggest play came as a freshman in 2006, when he intercepted Matthew Stafford in the final minute to seal a 24-20 upset of the Georgia Bulldogs. Lindley added an end-zone interception and a crucial fumble recovery vs. Clemson in the 2006 Music City Bowl as the Cats notched their first bowl win in 22 years. He also registered a 66-yard fumble-return touchdown in 2007 against Arkansas.

"The guy has just done unbelievable things," Brooks said. "He's a true talent."

Lindley has started all 39 Kentucky games the past three years, helping the Cats to three winning seasons and three bowl victories.

"It's pretty good so far - going to three straight bowl games," Lindley noted. "If we play good this year we'll get to go to a fourth one. We'd be the first team in team history to do that (four consecutive bowl appearances)."

Acknowledging that "I think I'm one of the top corners in the nation," Lindley said the key is to "just go out and play your best. Believe in yourself and believe you can guard anybody in the country."

Sometimes that belief is put to the test. Asked to recall the toughest outing he's had as a collegian, Lindley smiled softly.

"My freshman year they put me on Robert Meachem for the whole game," he said. "That was pretty tough. I knew he was big but I didn't think he was that fast."

After winning Music City Bowls in 2006 and 2007 and the Liberty Bowl in 2008, Lindley and his teammates are hoping to move up a notch in 2009 ... maybe play in a Florida bowl, instead of a Tennessee bowl.

"Our goal," he said, "is to work hard and make it to a better bowl."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories