Coach: UK offensive lineman Warford has NFL talent

Coach says guard has rare talent

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2011 


During the requested time, Dr. Steven Hochman, assistant to for

Junior Larry Warford took on some of the best pass rushers in the SEC last season, and "there's no doubt that he is one of the elite linemen in the country," assistant Mike Summers said.

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  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Soft-spoken. Quick to smile and chuckle. Almost gentle.

Attributes not usually associated with football, never mind highly regarded star college players, come immediately to mind when talking with University of Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford.

"He's a consummate offensive lineman," O-line coach Mike Summers said on Saturday. "He has a selfless demeanor."

Football hardly gets more selfless than right guard, where Warford played well enough last season to be named second-team all-Southeastern Conference. Glamour on the offensive line can be found three positions away at left tackle: ground zero in the business of protecting the quarterback.

"As glamour positions go, right guard would be more on the other end of the spectrum," Summers said before adding diplomatically, "In my mind, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all five of those guys are glamorous in my eye."

Warford's football life began 3,000 miles from Lexington on a middle school's defensive line. As an over-sized seventh-grade football novice in Oceanside, Calif., he got back-to-basics instruction.

"Go kill somebody," he recalled the coach saying.

Warford credited his family heritage (his mother is Samoan) for giving him an inclination to play football.

"It's just the physical mentality that Samoans have," Warford said. "They love being physical. They love hitting people."

To say Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is his favorite Samoan player was too easy. "I don't want to jump on the bandwagon," Warford said with a smile.

But he acknowledged having tried to grow his hair to Polamalu's lion-ized length.

"My hair just grows up," Warford said as he raised a hand over his head. "It doesn't fall."

So Polamalu hair was out.

"Most of my friends were Samoan," Warford said of his gravitation to football. "They all loved football. So, 'I guess I'll get into this.' My friends got me into it. I honestly never thought of football as a career till my junior year of high school."

By then, Warford had switched to the offensive line full-time.

"It was the right fit for me," he said. "I understood how to do things, how it's supposed to work."

Sam Brenner, an offensive lineman a year older than Warford, became his role model at Oceanside High. Brenner, who is 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, now plays for Utah.

"He really motivated me to be a good offensive lineman," Warford said. "I'm a big copycat. I try my best to copy people. How they do it. How they do it right."

Warford's parents divorced when he was nine. He said he went "back and forth," living with his father and then his mother until his junior year of high school. That's when his father retired from the Navy and moved to Richmond, where his family lived. Warford became a star lineman for Madison Central.

His mother moved to Samoa.

"You know, I miss her a lot," he said of the mother he hasn't seen since 2007. "We talk as much as we can, but I think I keep playing for her. She really motivates me a lot, and, hopefully, if I do make it in the NFL, I can support her."

Warford credits Summers for being able to talk plausibly about the NFL. Summers, who became UK's offensive line coach last season, taught him how to anticipate what the defense will do and adjust to the chaotic nature of interior line play. As his knowledge grew, so did his confidence.

"You can't beat me," he said. "I know what's going to happen."

Summers credited Warford for becoming serious about conditioning, strength and learning to master offensive line play. More than once, UK's offensive line coach noted the "instinct" that Warford possesses.

"After you've been in that confined amount of space for a number of reps, things start to happen in a certain pattern," Summers said in defining this quality of instinct. "When the pattern gets disrupted, guys that don't understand what's going on slow down and stop. Guys that understand what's going to happen can accelerate and anticipate the next move. That anticipation is called instinct."

Adding strength and technique to instinct produces something to savor.

"Larry Warford is an amazing athlete, one of the most explosive big men I've been around," said Summers, who has been coaching offensive linemen for 30 years. " ... He has the ability to generate power in a short amount of space."

Warford's play now generates talk of being one of the best, if not the best, offensive linemen in UK history.

It wasn't a designation he embraced.

"When I got here, I didn't know how good I was,' he said. "Then I just kept working. I never really think of the NFL. I think of my team and what I can do for them."

Others think of the NFL and how Kentucky has not had an offensive lineman drafted since Todd Perry and Chuck Bradley in 1993.

"He is on a path to be an elite offensive lineman," Summers said. "The path is a long one, and there are lots of ways to get detoured.

"Certainly, at this point in time, you can see the talent and you can see the direction that shows you he's going to separate himself from just being the average college football player."

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