The NFL Draft takes place this weekend, and the University of Kentucky has three juniors who considered turning pro before deciding to return to school: linebacker Micah Johnson, defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, and cornerback Trevard Lindley.
Each player was asked this week whether he planned on watching the draft. Jarmon said he's heading to Knoxville on Saturday for a friend's birthday and would probably miss it. Lindley said he'd probably tune in to a few rounds after the Blue-White Spring Game.
But Johnson makes no bones about it: As soon as he dresses and showers after UK's game, he's going to find somewhere to chill and watch the draft. He'll not only watch what he can of the first two rounds on Saturday, but also the final five rounds on Sunday.
"I usually always do that," Johnson said. "It's just real motivating for me. That's how my off-season started, thinking about how I want my name to be called early at this time next year."
Johnson, Lindley and Jarmon all would have heard their names called at some point had they declared for the draft, but all three players say they have not second-guessed their decisions to return to UK. Lindley was projected as a second-round pick. Jarmon and Johnson were both seen as middle-round selections.
"Honestly, I really hadn't thought about it too much," Jarmon said. "Every now and then it pops up in my mind, but I'm focused on this team and getting better. I'll have my chance in a year."
"I knew I needed to get bigger and stronger," Lindley said.
"I came close," Johnson said. "But the more I thought about it, I really didn't want to be on the outside looking in. I could have been a fourth- or fifth-round selection, but I knew, if I came back, worked hard and stayed healthy, I could have a special, special year."
Johnson's 2008 season would probably have been special had he not been slowed by a nagging high-ankle sprain suffered in the third game against Middle Tennessee State. Johnson missed 2½ games with the injury but still racked up 93 tackles and earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league's coaches.
Lindley continued to be a big-time playmaker and a model of consistency in the UK secondary. He had 12 pass breakups as a freshman and 11 as a sophomore and junior, and his interceptions have gone up each year, from two as a freshman to three in 2007 to four last fall.
"I'd like to get better stats," Lindley said. "Maybe five picks and as many pass breakups as I can get."
Jarmon faced double-teams from opposing offenses that caused his tackle and sack totals to dip from his sophomore season, but he said he's not overly concerned about numbers.
"I was definitely disappointed that my numbers went down, and that sticks out with the media, but when scouts watch film, they see that there's a lot of schemes that colleges can do to prevent a guy from being successful," Jarmon said. "In the NFL, those guys are going to be expected to block a guy by himself."
Some coaches fret that having too many guys with an eye on the next level can have a negative effect, but UK Coach Rich Brooks said he doesn't have a problem with it.
"If we don't have a lot of guys going into the NFL, we're not going to be winning a lot of games," he said. "That was proven my first several years here when we had very few players being evaluated or given a chance as free agents. That changed in the last couple of years, and I think you'll continue to see that moving forward. It depends on individuals but, most of the time, I don't think it's a distraction at all. Some players can get a little carried away with it, but I don't think that it's a major concern."
Former UK defensive tackle Myron Pryor is expected to be a mid- to late-round selection in this weekend's draft, and several other Wildcats could slip into the later rounds or get free-agent deals. And, in addition to Jarmon, Lindley and Johnson, the Wildcats have other players who could rise on next year's draft boards with solid seasons, namely senior defensive tackle Corey Peters and senior running backs Alfonso Smith and John Conner.
Head coach for offense Joker Phillips added that the return of Jarmon, Johnson and Lindley is also a strong statement for the overall health of the program.
"It says a lot for us as coaches when those kids come back," Phillips said. "There are some programs where kids are fed up with what's going on and they aren't comfortable being around, so they go as soon as they can go."