Senior walk-ons contribute behind the scenes

Senior Walk-ons play big role

ccosby@herald-leader.commNovember 12, 2010 

Fourth-string quarterback Tyler Sargent (15) saw some limited action in the fourth quarter against Akron this season. Coach Joker Phillips brings Sargent along on road trips because he "understands our offense and calms Mike (Hartline) down on the sideline."

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

  • UK's seniors

    No. Name Position Hometown

    30 Moncell Allen RB New Orleans

    77 Marcus Davis C Union

    57 Jacob Dufrene LB Cut Off, La.

    75 Brad Durham OT Mt. Vernon

    55 DeQuin Evans DE Long Beach, Calif.

    31 Michael Harper WRStone Mountain, Ga.

    5 Mike Hartline QB Canton, Ohio

    65 J.J. Helton LS Franklin, Tenn.

    13 E.J. Jones WR Miami, Fla.

    20 Derrick Locke RB Hugo, Okla.

    53 Ricky Lumpkin DT Clarksville, Tenn.

    8 Chris Matthews WR Los Angeles

    41 Brian Murphy FB Big Stone Gap, Va.

    92 Shane McCord DT Hartwell, Ga.

    15 Tyler Sargent QB Waynesville, Ohio

When you evaluate the Kentucky senior class, you see the big-number guys like Mike Hartline and Chris Matthews who rank near the top of the Southeastern Conference in several statistical categories.

You also see the big personalities, guys like Derrick Locke and Ricky Lumpkin who have kept teammates and the media entertained with their non-stop banter.

But there are also those players, mainly walk-ons, who did the dirty work that was often just as important to the program's run of four straight bowls.

J.J. Helton arrived from Franklin (Tenn.) in 2006 and was so efficient as a long-snapper that he earned a scholarship this season. Brian Murphy has only played in a handful of games, but the Big Stone Gap, Va., native has been vital in getting the starters ready every week on the scout team.

"Very seldom does he even dress," UK Coach Joker Phillips said of Murphy. "He's paying his own way, and I'm really proud what he's accomplished being on this football team for four years."

And all you have to do is look down on the UK sideline to notice Tyler Sargent, who sends in signals and serves as an extra set of eyes and ears for Hartline. Even though Sargent has only seen mop-up duty, Phillips still brings his fourth-string QB along on road trips.

"He's come here and had a huge role," Phillips said of Sargent.

"Usually you don't want to travel four QBs, but we feel like we have to with Tyler. He understands our offense and calms Mike down on the sideline."

"Mike and I became good friends on and off the field," Sargent said. "With the pressures of being a Division I quarterback, especially here at Kentucky, I just feel like sometimes I can say things that calm him down and remind of things we talked about during the week and offer insight that might help him out."

And you can't forget Matt Lentz, a scholarship player who looked like a sure-fire starter before his career was ended by a series of concussions. Lentz has since served as a volunteer coach and been instrumental in the development of rookie junior-college transfer Mychal Bailey.

The behind-the-scenes grunt work that the non-scholarship players have put in hasn't gone unnoticed by the mainstream guys.

"Walk-ons usually get no love whatsoever," Lumpkin said. "They're the guys that come in and do the exact same thing we do, and they don't get nothing. They can't even eat with us afterwards because it's a violation.

"You have more problems with scholarship athletes than you do walk-on athletes. It's always the scholarship guys getting in trouble. I think they're more important than the scholarship guys because you have to have people to go up against to give you a good look.

"There are times when they deserve a scholarship and some scholarship athletes don't. But they come in here and don't complain. They just do their work, smile and congratulate us when we do good."

There have been some walk-on success stories. John Conner arrived as a walk-on fullback in 2006 and left as a fourth-round NFL Draft pick. Matt McCutchan went from a walk-on to a three-year starting offensive lineman. And Marcus Davis, another member of this year's senior class, was a starting center last fall before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the season opener and has been a key backup this season.

But for the most part, walk-ons put in the work knowing they will likely never get the benefit of extensive playing time. And it's not always easy.

"I'm not going to lie, there's been numerous times where I considered leaving and going somewhere smaller where I could play," Sargent said.

"But with the coaching staff and all the camaraderie among the guys, it was something I could never make myself really do."

"There's definitely some disappointments, but it just makes you a better person for sticking through them," Murphy said. "That's what I signed up for. You can't complain about what you signed up for." Murphy will finish up his degree in plant and oil science and head to graduate school.

"Football definitely looks good on résumés and stuff," Murphy said. Sargent, a management major, plans to go into coaching and hopes to get a graduate assistant job somewhere next season.

"I think by now I'm just a glorified coach as it is," Sargent said.

"I'm on the scout team and try and help Mike out as much as I can. I call in signals, helping out with film study and all that stuff. This has been great preparation."

Senior Day festivities

Fans attending the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game on Saturday are encouraged to be in their seats by 11:50 a.m. to watch the Senior Day festivities.

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