The offensive line wasn't an area of need for the University of Kentucky when fall camp started. The Wildcats returned three starters from last year, and a fourth, Christian Johnson, started 13 games in 2007. Three of the reserves also have starting experience.
Which just underscores how impressive Larry Warford has been.
Despite all that depth and experience on the o-line, Warford not only has emerged as a candidate to play as a true freshman, he's also pushing Johnson and sophomore Stuart Hines at the guard positions.
UK Coach Rich Brooks said he's always thought that if a freshman was good enough to play, go ahead and play him.
"It's not a matter of need," Brooks said. "It's a matter of performance. I'm going to play the best players. I don't care what year they are. Physically, he's as good as we have. He's enormous with great feet, and he's pass-blocking better than some of the veterans right now."
The first thing you notice about Warford is that he's a behemoth. A legit 6-foot-3, he's now about 20 pounds lighter than his listed weight of 349, but that's still loads bigger than the typical freshman offensive lineman that has walked through the Nutter Training Facility over the years.
In stature, Warford reminds offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins of some of the standout linemen he had at Florida State.
"That's what you look for, big guys who can really move," Heggins said. "He can bend his knees, he's got good balance. You don't want to jinx him, but he's got a chance to be an outstanding player."
Warford, a cousin of UK cornerback Paul Warford, moved to Kentucky from California before his junior year of high school. He weighed 357 when he signed with UK in February, and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips counted on Warford redshirting. But Warford slowly begin dropping weight, getting down to 340 by the time he reported to Lexington for summer school. He shaved off another 10-12 pounds during off-season workouts.
"He's a guy we've got to get ready to play," Phillips said. "When you sign him you might think he's two years away, but he comes in here and surprises you with the way he practices and works. When we signed him, we thought he was a little heavy. Not only did he get his weight down, but he got it down to below where we told him to. He may not be quite ready just yet, but he'll be competing for a starting job sooner than later."
The soft-spoken Warford admitted that he's been somewhat taken aback at how well he's done so far.
"I really wasn't even expecting to be able to compete," Warford said. "It's just turned out I've been good enough to get in there with the veterans. I'm hoping to earn a spot, but I'm still sort of surprised."
Warford wouldn't be the first true freshman offensive lineman to see significant action under Brooks. Aaron Miller started 10 games at tackle in 2004, and Johnson and Justin Jeffries were also key backups as rookies. Brooks said what separates Warford is his knowledge and understanding of the game at such a young age.
"He's doing a good job with the mental aspect, and I think that's very difficult to pick up," Brooks said. "All the checks at the line of scrimmage, and then you break out of the huddle and the play you call isn't going to be the play you're going to run at the line. He's handling that pretty well. He doesn't seem to be making any more mistakes than some of the guys that have been around two or three years."
Senior defensive tackle Corey Peters vouched for Warford's fast start.
"He's definitely the best freshman offensive lineman I've seen since I've been here," Peters said. "He's big, but he carries it well. Usually when you carry that much weight, it's not a pretty sight, but I really think the sky's the limit for him."