UK seniors' legacy not written yet

ccosby@herald-leader.comNovember 14, 2008 

  • Senior Night

    Players who will be honored during UK's Senior Night activities on Saturday:

    Player Pos. Hometown

    James Alexander-xOL Atlanta

    Jess Beets OLDove Canyon, Calif.

    Tony Dixon RB Parrish, Ala.

    DeMoreo Ford-x WR LaGrange, Ga.

    A.J. Grigsby DBLong Beach, Calif.

    Brad Hart LS Marion, Ky.

    J.J. Housley K Hazard

    Ventrell Jenkins DLColumbia, S.C.

    David Jones CB Huddy, Ky.

    Braxton Kelley LB LaGrange, Ga.

    Dicky Lyons Jr. WR New Orleans

    Tim Masthay P Murray

    Robbie McAtee DB Louisville

    Marcus McClintonFS Fort Campbell

    Shomari Moore DB Camden, N.J.

    Nii Adjei Oninku DE Dayton, Ohio

    Myron Pryor DT Louisville

    Tyler Sexton-x TE Somerset

    Garry Williams OT Louisville

    Johnny Williams LB Neptune, Fla.

    x-juniors who have decided to forego their final season of eligibility

This season's Kentucky seniors are following up perhaps the most talked-about group of their peers in UK football history, a class that featured stalwarts such as Wesley Woodyard, Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme, Keenan Burton and Rafael Little.

That class, which many consider to be the football equivalent to basketball's "Unforgettables," left a legacy hard for any senior class to match. They led Kentucky out of NCAA probation and into eight-victory seasons and back-to-back bowls.

But at least on paper, this year's seniors have a chance to one-up their beloved predecessors.

The first order of business is to take care of Vanderbilt on Senior Night. Then in two weeks, the UK seniors will try to knock off Tennessee, something the past 23 senior classes have failed to do.

If the Cats can pull off the Vandy-UT "double-dip," they would end up with eight regular-season victories, the most since the 1984 squad knocked off Tennessee in its finale to finish 8-3.

"You always want to do better than the last group of seniors," cornerback David Jones said. "We've been living in their shadows way too long now. I think we need to make a statement for our senior class. We need to go out with a bang and get these two wins."

Senior linebacker Braxton Kelley said the departed seniors left the current class with a sense of responsibility to live up to and surpass their accomplishments.

"I think last year's seniors look at us like parents do their children," Kelley said. "A parent always wants his kids to do better than what they did, and I think last year's seniors feel the same way about us.

"They helped turn this program around, and when they left, they all told us it was up to us to keep things headed in the right direction."

Like most senior classes that come through Kentucky, the 2008 group has overcome its share of adversity. The class was hit particularly hard by injuries. Dicky Lyons Jr. and Jess Beets are out for the season. Kelley, Marcus McClinton and Nii Adjei Oninku have missed either all or a significant part of a season at some point in their careers.

Kelley broke on the scene as a true freshman before blowing out a knee in his seventh game, an injury that slowed him as a sophomore as well.

"With that happening to me so early, a lot of the other guys who went through injuries after that kind of came to me to help guide them through it," Kelley said. "We learned how to lean on each other."

Perhaps no player epitomizes standing tall through adversity more than wide receiver DeMoreo Ford.

Ford will bypass his final year of eligibility and participate in Senior Night festivities after doctors advised him to give up the sport following a series of concussions. He also had to cope with the death of his older brother earlier this season.

Several seniors said they will dedicate Saturday's game to Ford, whose personality and work ethic made him a team favorite.

"DeMoreo's like a brother to me," said Kelley, who grew up with Ford in LaGrange, Ga. "We were roommates my freshman and sophomore year when I was hurt, and he was always there for me, and we're going to be there for him."

Jones said, "It gets kind of emotional when you start talking about all he's been through. He's a great guy with great character. It's hard to see him go down like this, but he's still out there smiling and doing what he's got to do helping the young receivers."

Coach Rich Brooks would love to see this year's senior class go out with a pair of victories.

"A lot of these guys were here when things weren't real good," Brooks said. "They've been a part of bringing credibility back to the program.

"They can extend the legacy by going to a third straight bowl and start to move themselves out of the shadows by winning this week."

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