Wyndham's hit on Tebow reverberates a year later

THE SACK HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 21, 2010 

The Swamp is a forbidding place under normal circumstances. When it comes to mean-spiritedness, Florida fans take a back seat to none in the Southeastern Conference.

Imagine what it would be like facing your first trip as a visitor to Florida Field as the man who knocked out Tim Tebow?

That scenario is what faces Kentucky sophomore Taylor Wyndham on Saturday.

"Everyone knows Florida has rowdy fans," said UK defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin. "It's going to be exciting to see what they are going to do."

UK center Matt Smith laughed when asked what greeting he thought Wyndham, his roommate, would get among the rowdy reptiles.

"Probably not a real friendly one," Smith said. "He may need a couple of police officers."

Noting that former Kentucky offensive lineman Eric Scott now is a policeman, Wildcats Coach Joker Phillips joked that he might bring Scott to Gainesville as Wyndham's personal protector.

It was last Sept. 26 when Wyndham made the hit that rocked college football. Florida led UK 31-7 late in the third quarter and was driving when Gators quarterback Tebow dropped back to pass.

Instead, Florida blew a pass protection. Rushing from the edge, Wyndham came shockingly free and found himself with a clean shot on a college football icon.

He plastered Tebow.

On his way to the turf, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner hit the back of his head on the knee of Florida offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert.

As a Commonwealth Stadium crowd showed how silent 71,011 people can be, the heretofore indestructible Tebow lay motionless on the turf. Several tension-packed minutes later, he finally sat up and walked off the field under his own power. The quarterback wound up spending the night in a Lexington hospital after being diagnosed with a concussion.

Before that play, even the most devout UK football follower would have been hard-pressed to know the name Taylor Wyndham. The Swansea, S.C., product was then a lightly used redshirt freshman.

After the Tebow hit, Wyndham found himself a constant presence on ESPN highlights. That owed both to Tebow's status in the sport and to the fact the play involved a head injury at a time when concussions were becoming the pressing football health issue.

Other than maybe quarterbacks Tim Couch and Andre Woodson, it is likely no Kentucky football player has ever been seen on the Worldwide Leader as often as soft-spoken Taylor Wyndham.

The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder never seemed to enjoy his celebrity. In part, that was because his play's fame owed to the fact that another player got hurt.

"It was a good, clean hit," Wyndham said, correctly, of his tackle on Tebow. "It's football, but you always hope nobody gets injured."

Turns out, Wyndham doesn't like attention, period. "He likes to make plays," said Smith. "He doesn't like recognition."

The UK defensive end has fretted that the Tebow sack overshadows everything else he does. At least among the Kingdom of the Blue, that shouldn't be so.

Last year against South Carolina, Wyndham stripped the ball from Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia, a play that set up a Kentucky field goal. In the 2009 regular-season finale against Tennessee, it was Wyndham who recovered UT tight end Luke Stocker's fumble and gave UK a last-gasp chance to win. Against Louisville in this season's opener, Wyndham forced yet another fumble.

The converted high school linebacker clearly has a knack for finding the ball. "I just work my butt off trying to get to the football," he says.

Wyndham will head into Gainesville riding high. Against overmatched Akron, he had four tackles and a sack.

"He's playing really, really well for us," Phillips said. "A lot of pressure on the quarterback, getting off blocks, making plays."

Though Tebow and Wyndham are forever linked in SEC football lore, the UK defender says he has never spoken to the famous quarterback.

"I'd like to talk to him," Wyndham said. "And not anything about football. He always seemed like a great guy."

As for what type of reception he was expecting going into what used to be Tim Tebow's House, Wyndham laughed.

"The fans will probably be on me," he said.

Suffice to say, a guy who doesn't like attention is apt to get some Saturday.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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