UK has high hopes for juco teammates

Cats expect Harbor College alums to fill holes

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 10, 2009 


    Miami (Ohio) vs. Kentucky

    When: Noon, Saturday, Sept. 5 TV: ESPNU

    Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

Chris Matthews and DeQuin Evans both know what everybody is expecting of them. Teammates at Los Angeles Harbor College, the duo were brought in to help fill glaring holes on both sides of the ball for the 2009 Kentucky football team.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Matthews is being looked upon to provide a much-needed play-maker to a wide receiver corps that was probably too inexperienced to do a whole lot of damage last season.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Evans is being counted on to help fill the huge void that was created with the unexpected departure of Jeremy Jarmon to the NFL Supplemental Draft, where he was a third-round pick of the Washington Redskins.

The theory is that it usually takes junior-college prospects a full year to get acclimated to SEC-caliber football. But the Cats really don't have a year to wait on Matthews and Evans. They need them to be ready now. Both players say they're up to the task.

"First game I'm going to be ready to go," Matthews said. "It probably does take awhile (to get acclimated), but after camp I believe you should have it down pat. They go over things so many times, it's just about repetition."

Evans echoed the sentiment.

"I feel like I'm ready right now," Evans said. "I can't speak for all juco guys, but for me it's just a matter of getting the plays down. Mentally and physically, I'm there. I'm pretty 'football-literate.' You just have to tell me something one time, and then I'll get it and won't forget it."

UK Coach Rich Brooks doesn't know if it'll happen quite that fast for Evans and Matthews, but he won't complain if it does. The Wildcats at least have some bodies who have game action at receiver. At defensive end, sophomore Chandler Burden is the only player who's seen game action, and that was limited.

When asked about Matthews, Brooks said he hopes to have Matthews going full steam sometime in the first month of the season.

"Well, we've got a month before we open, then we have a week before we play our second game, so I don't know that he'll hit the ground running the first game," Brooks said. "I would hope by somewhere in the second, third or fourth game of the season that he'll have a total grasp and feel totally comfortable in the offense. Maybe that will happen sooner, I don't know. There is not any question about his ability and size. He brings something that we don't have at the receiver position: size. He's (6-5) and can run and catch. Now we have to get him comfortable in the offense to play full speed without thinking about it."

Even Steve Johnson, who's now with the Buffalo Bills, didn't show much until the end of his first year at UK. But head coach of the offense Joker Phillips, who also coaches receivers, pointed out that Johnson didn't have to be rushed because the Cats already had a pair of established receivers in Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons Jr.

"Now we've got all sophomores who haven't been around here a long time and we've got to make sure he's ready," Phillips said.

Matthews said that while he knows that he'll be depended upon, he doesn't look at himself as a savior and was impressed with UK's returning wideouts during summer workouts.

"As a receiving corps, I think we'll be a lot better, I really do," Matthews said. "I know I was brought to do big things, but if I do well everybody else is going to do well around me."

Matthews said his game is similar to former New York Giants' receiver Plaxico Burress, without the off-field baggage.

"He uses his hands and body well and knows what he's doing on the field," Matthews said. "That's how I like to play. If the ball is anywhere in my vicinity, I'm going to take it."

Evans didn't take the traditional route to SEC football. He didn't play high school football until his senior season at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach, Calif., and went largely unrecruited.

"I wasn't that good in high school, I'm going to tell you the truth," Evans said.

Evans took a year off following high school and got a job to help his mother make ends meet — and got plenty of questions from casual observers as to why he wasn't doing more.

"Everybody was asking me, 'Why aren't you playing ball? You're so big," Evans said. "I got tired of hearing it, so I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to go out here and get after it again."

Evans began working out with his cousin, former Southern Cal running back Herschel Dennis, running hills and sand dunes. He ultimately landed at Harbor College, where one of his high school teammates was playing.

"I was ready to go, I was in shape and I had the heart and passion to play football again," Evans said.

And while Evans was ranked as a four-star recruit coming out of Harbor College, he doesn't carry himself in that manner.

"I came up the hard way," Evans said. "I worked my way from the ground up. My mom has huge hills in her back yard and I was out there running until I was almost throwing up. Because of that, I don't want to be an average Joe. I want to be great. Excellent."

Evans' UK career got off to a good start, as he made a 4.0 during summer school.

"Everything is going as planned so far," he said.

While Matthews and Evans were junior-college teammates, they weren't necessarily a package deal. Matthews weighed offers from Washington and New Mexico before deciding on Kentucky, and Evans went back and forth between Kentucky and Louisville before inking with the Wildcats on national signing day.

"The first year we were there, we never talked or really hung around each other," Matthews said. "The second year we were veterans, so we hung a little more and got closer. We just both kind of weighed our options and ended up at Kentucky."

Evans was a pass-rush specialist at Harbor, and that would be a welcome addition to a Wildcat defense that will miss Jarmon's presence off the edge. But Evans said he won't let himself be overwhelmed by the high expectations.

"I try not to let the pressure get to me," Evans said. "I'm just working hard so I can live up to my own expectations. If I get after it in the weight room and come out here and kill all of the drills, then I will live up to all the hype."

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