Scouting the linebackers: UK's Maxwell not a known name yet

New starter Maxwell already has respect of teammates

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2009 

  • SCOUTING THE LINEBACKERS

    Coach: Chuck Smith enters his fifth season as the linebackers coach at his alma mater. Smith was one of the most successful coaches in Kentucky high school football history, winning five consecutive state championships at Boyle County from 1999-2003.

    The main man: Micah Johnson bypassed the NFL to return to UK for his senior season. One of the most celebrated Kentucky recruits of the last decade, Johnson began to live up to his prep reputation as a junior with 93 tackles and 13 tackles for loss in 2008. Few college linebackers measure up physically to Johnson, who goes 6-2, 258 with speed to boot. He'll try to improve as a pass-rusher and in pass coverage in his final go-round at UK.

    The supporting cast: Whispers began circulating in fall camp last year about Danny Trevathan, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Florida who is one of the fastest and most athletic linebackers Brooks has signed at UK. Trevathan was impressive in spring practice and will step in for Braxton Kelley on the weak side. Senior Sam Maxwell has been a dependable reserve for three years, and the coaches don't see a big drop-off with him replacing Johnny Williams on the strong side. Sophomore Ronnie Sneed, senior Mikhail Mabry and redshirt freshman William Johnson are among several fighting to see the field.

    Newcomer to watch: Qua Huzzie was making a push for early playing time as a true freshman before being shut down for the year to undergo shoulder surgery. Another freshman, Ridge Wilson, has a chance to see some action backing up Maxwell on the strong side. Wilson is smart, athletic and instinctive.

    Outlook: Normally the loss of two solid veteran starters like Kelley and Williams would be cause for concern. But the coaches are confident in Maxwell and Trevathan and say the linebackers will continue to be a team strength. The Cats do need to avoid injury here because there aren't many proven backups.

    CHIP COSBY

We've seen Sam Maxwell only in small doses so far in his University of Kentucky career.

He played in 12 games off the bench as a true freshman, but there weren't many reps to be had playing behind star linebacker Wesley Woodyard. He played in all 26 games the last two seasons but was stuck behind starters Micah Johnson, Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams.

But when Maxwell has worked his way onto the field, he's managed to make plays. He had six tackles and a tackle for loss in the landmark win over No. 1 Louisiana State two years ago and had a key interception in the second overtime against Tennessee that same year. Last season, Maxwell recorded a sack against Georgia, had five tackles against both Alabama and Florida and forced a fumble against the Gators.

Still, the senior from Hartwell, Ga. is not one of the six players featured on the UK media guide, and while he'll finally be a full-time starter in his final year in the program, he's not one of the more recognizable names or faces on the roster.

"The only people that probably know Sam Maxwell are the True Blue fans who know every little thing about the team," Maxwell said. "I'm not a household name or out there on posters or anything like that, but the people who really watch UK football know that I've played a big part and made some plays. But I do want to get my name out there to other folks so when you do think UK football, Sam Maxwell will be one of the names you think of."

Johnson, an All-America candidate, is back at middle linebacker for his senior season. But he will be flanked by two new faces in sophomore Danny Trevathan, who's drawn raves for his speed and playmaking ability, and Maxwell.

Maxwell has 58 career tackles and 81/2 tackles for loss, not bad numbers for a part-time player. Now he's ready to see what he can do on a full-time basis.

"I feel like this is the year that I have the breakout season that I've been waiting on," Maxwell said. "It's been tough waiting. There are times when you're thinking that you really want to play, and you get down, but you've got to know that everybody plays a part. Some just play bigger ones than others. But the coaches kept telling me to keep practicing and working hard and my time will come, and I feel like it's here now."

UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith said Maxwell had a great showing in UK's first fall scrimmage.

"He's waited his turn, and I know he's going to take advantage of it," Smith said. "He's eager. He's hungry."

Smith said he's hoping that, in time, Maxwell and Trevathan can find the same chemistry that Kelley and Williams had alongside Johnson.

"It takes practice to get used to working in a groove with each other," Smith said. "All three of them are sort of getting in the groove. You start getting to know each other's trigger terms and things to watch and (be) alert for. They're really starting to gel together. Braxton, Johnny and Micah, they had played together for a long time and knew the body language. They learned to work together and off each other."

Johnson is the star and Trevathan a potential star of the future. And while Maxwell is eager for a breakthrough, he also knows a place where everybody knows his name.

"In football you've always got guys who stand out behind the scenes," Maxwell said. "Everybody in the locker room knows the guys who can play."

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