UK's linebackers: Trevathan is the leader

Ethiopia trip opened Trevathan's eyes

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 25, 2011 

  • This is the seventh in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position.Coming Friday: Defensive line

  • Linebackers

    The main man: While there is a wealth of talent at this position, it's impossible to overlook All-American Danny Trevathan, who led the Southeastern Conference in tackles last season with 144.

    The supporting cast: The most vocal leader in this group seems to be senior Ronnie Sneed, the player referred to as "the old man" by his teammates. Other veterans expected to contribute include Winston Guy and Ridge Wilson from the defensive hybrid position. There are plenty of young newcomers that coaches believe will see playing time early and often.

    Newcomer to watch: Coaches are calling Malcolm McDuffen, a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman from Hopkinsville, the future Trevathan, but with the added bonus of an extra season to improve his speed and strength.

    Outlook: The point of this defense is to confuse and disrupt offenses with varying schemes and formations. A lot of the success of that will revolve around the linebackers, who are a fast, athletic group. With established stars like Trevathan, Guy, Wilson and Sneed helping to bring the less experienced players along, this could be an impressive unit this season. The concern has been and will continue to be building some quality depth at these spots.

    Jennifer Smith

It took traveling halfway around the world for Danny Trevathan to realize that being safe in your comfort zone is no place to be.

It took a summer service trip to Ethiopia for the senior linebacker to realize he could be more to Kentucky's football team than just its top tackler.

"Taking me out of my atmosphere and putting me over there really made me stick my chest out a little more, be more of a man," Trevathan said recently while clutching a colorful, beaded pendant in the shape of Africa attached to a necklace he bought there.

The trip "made me feel like there are people who needed help and they were looking for me to help, just like this football team," he explained.

Coach Joker Phillips has made it clear he's looking for Trevathan, the school's first All-America linebacker, to be more vocal this season.

It's a challenge he's issued to his senior leader, who led the Southeastern Conference in tackles last season with 144.

"We need Danny to be a leader for us," Phillips said. "He has the capability. I saw it in a different country. He has the tools to be a leader."

In the past, Trevathan would have been uncomfortable with even the idea of that, said Chuck Smith, Cats linebackers coach.

Smith describes the senior as "kind of a quiet kid" who gets along with his teammates, but spends a lot of time by himself.

The trip to Africa with Trevathan showed Phillips there's more to his senior than just an introverted guy who "plays fast and plays violent" for the Cats on Saturdays in the fall.

"He can definitely be a vocal leader for us," Phillips said. "I saw it in the seven days with people who had no clue who he was and he didn't know who they were.

"That's the definition of leadership: being able to lead anywhere in the world."

Phillips also expects the two-year starter at linebacker to bring even more to the field this season.

It's going to be tough to top the numbers Trevathan put up last season, when he averaged 11.5 tackles in SEC play. The 6-foot-1, 232-pounder from Leesburg, Fla., carries a string of nine straight games with double-digit tackles.

But Phillips expects bigger things from Trevathan.

"He can be even better than he was last year," Phillips said. "He's bigger, he's faster, he's quicker. He's reading better and understands this defense better. We're blitzing (with) him, so he's creating some plays in the backfield."

Smith admitted that just when you think Trevathan can't get any better as a player, he'll surprise you.

"When he gets to the football field, there's not many people who practice harder than he does," Smith said. "When you practice like that, you're going to get nothing but better. He's just all out, all the time."

When your defense's best player is also one of its hardest workers, it tends to rub off on the other players.

"When he's doing it and he's gotten all the press and all the media attention, and you see him out there doing that, it carries a lot of weight," Smith said.

For Trevathan, it all goes back to the pendant around his neck. He feels like he's playing for something beyond himself, beyond UK even.

If he seems to be playing harder or better it's because he's now also playing for people half a world away.

The trip "made me want to play harder. It made me want to play for something more than myself," Trevathan said. "It made me want to play for my brothers and for the people over there."

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