UK's Wyndham wants his game to match his fame

ccosby@herald-leader.comOctober 16, 2009 

On a national scale, the most talked about player on the Kentucky football team is a guy, Taylor Wyndham, who is part of only a handful of plays a game.

Wyndham, as has been well-documented (and probably over-documented), delivered the hit that helped knock Florida's Tim Tebow out with a concussion.

Wyndham probably will always be associated with Tebow, perhaps the most ballyhooed college football player of the modern era. But it hasn't taken long for the UK lineman to give fans other reasons to mention his name.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt freshman had the defensive play of the game in UK's 28-26 loss at South Carolina last week. The Gamecocks took over on their own 17 after the Cats were stuffed on a third-quarter fake field-goal attempt. Wyndham stripped South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia from behind, and safety Calvin Harrison recovered the ball at the Gamecocks' 13. Lones Seiber kicked a 35-yard field goal a few plays later to bring the Cats to within 21-20.

"That was a big play at a big time," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "If (South Carolina) marches down and scores and goes up 28-17, maybe we're not in it with a chance to win in the fourth quarter."

Wyndham admitted he was burned out on all the Tebow stuff and is thankful to have something else to add to his résumé. Plus the Swansea, S.C., native got to make his big play in front of about 30 friends and family members.

"It was a little weird," Wyndham said. "(The hit on Tebow) was a big play, but I think it got overplayed. They played it over and over after it happened, and they're still playing it. I'm glad (Tebow) is OK now, though. It was good to hear. You want to make plays and do good, but I didn't want him to be hurt or anything."

Wyndham did hear from a few Gators fans after the Tebow hit, and the response was somewhat surprising.

"They told me thanks for being classy about it," Wyndham said. "I wasn't really expecting that. I was expecting some hate mail."

Wyndham is described by teammates as a quiet, low-key guy, so he was naturally uneasy with the Tebow overkill.

"I don't think he was comfortable with it at all," junior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "He thought it was annoying. It was two weeks old, and I don't think he wanted to be looked at as that guy. It was on 60 Minutes, and he was like, 'Why?" It's old, it's two weeks old. He just wants to move on from it. He doesn't want all that attention."

Wyndham has all the attributes of a pass-rusher: He's tall, long-armed and speedy off the edge. He was an outside linebacker in high school, which defensive line coach Rick Petri said helps Wyndham see things better from the end position. Having a coach for a father didn't hurt, either.

"He's just heady," Brown said. "To have the presence of mind to get in there and strip the ball, that's just a football player."

"I love Taylor," Lumpkin said. "He's not flamboyant. He just goes out and gets the job done. Even after the fumble recovery I went up to him and said, 'Taylor, how'd you do it?' He just said, 'I just went in there and tried to strip the ball out.' He wasn't all that excited about it. I think we're going to see a lot more big plays out of him during his career."

One thing Wyndham needs to add is weight. He bulked up to more than 235 pounds during his redshirt year but lost about 10 pounds after a summer tonsillectomy. He's slowly putting the weight back on, and Petri said Wyndham has the frame to carry more.

"Imagine him in about two years when he's 260," Petri said.

Wyndham started the year as UK's No. 4 defensive end, but he's made the most of limited snaps. His two sacks are just one shy of team leaders Corey Peters and DeQuin Evans. That has put Wyndham in position to get even more ink, and he will make his first career start Saturday at Auburn.

"I'm doing better than I thought I would," Wyndham said. "I'm stepping it up pretty well. I feel like I'm getting better every week, learning the plays, moving, getting quicker, and making the SEC transition."

No QB announcement

Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said Thursday that he would not reveal UK's starting quarterback for Saturday's game at Auburn until his team hits the field.

Brooks did say it was likely that both true freshman Morgan Newton and junior Will Fidler would play.

Warford, Jeffries could return

Two injured starters could return to action for Kentucky on Saturday.

Cornerback Paul Warford (quadriceps) and offensive lineman Justin Jeffries (Achilles') made it through practice Thursday and will make the trip to Auburn.

Brooks said Warford, who has missed the past two games, probably would be a game-time decision. Jeffries missed the South Carolina game after getting hurt against Alabama.

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