Phillips excited about Kentucky's football freshmen

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 12, 2012 

Many Kentucky fans think this could be a make-or-break season for Coach Joker Phillips. At the very least, it stands to be highly entertaining.

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader

  • Important dates

    Wednesday: Kentucky's Joker Phillips, Collins Ukwu, Matt Smith and Larry Warford take part in SEC Media Days at Hoover, Ala.

    Aug. 3: Practice begins

    Aug. 4: Fan Day at Commonwealth Stadium

    Sept. 2: Season opener at Louisville

    Sept. 8: Home opener vs. Kent State

If this season's class of freshmen can help Kentucky football get back to a bowl game, it will have a whale of a tale to tell about how it got things going.

It all started with a carp.

A really big carp.

Coach Joker Phillips didn't say how big the carp was when he met with the media briefly Thursday, but the fish was big enough to require more than a few freshmen to reel it in Sunday.

"It took teamwork to do it," Phillips said outside the meeting hall at Fasig-Tipton, where he had his annual chat with the Rotary Club of Lexington.

On Sunday, Phillips had the freshmen over to his house for dinner. They went fishing in the pond behind the coach's house.

Picture safety Zack Blaylock trying to reel in the carp while his twin brother, Daron Blaylock, held on to him so Zack wouldn't be pulled into the pond.

"Obviously, the quarterback (Patrick Towles) gets in the dang boat and starts trying to reel him in," Phillips continued with the story. "You saw another freshman in the boat paddling to get (another's) hands free.

"That right there showed me these guys really like each other, like working together."

While the head coach can't work with the team yet, he said it's nice to see them on campus.

"They look good walking through the halls, and that's what we're excited about," he said.

This crop of talented freshmen, many of whom will be called on early to help Kentucky rebound from a 5-7 season, is not the only reason Phillips said he is optimistic about the future of UK football.

He liked seeing UK finish strong last season, and that it returns 15 players who saw significant playing time at the end, when the relatively young team started to show signs of improvement.

Quarterback query

Kentucky was so short on quarterbacks by the end of last season, there was a wide receiver under center when the Cats knocked off Tennessee.

But Phillips said Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton have fully recovered from their injuries and will compete for the starting spot in the fall with a couple of talented freshmen.

Smith, who sat out last season's final game with a sprained shoulder, was the starter in the spring game and will be the starter when players report to practice Aug. 3.

"Someone's got to get the first-team reps, and Max is going to be the guy who gets the first-team reps when we run out on the field the first day," Phillips said. "We'll gradually try to see who can get in the mix to take some. ... If we see fit, we might want to see somebody else with the first group."

Newton, who tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder midway through last season, is healthy now, the coach said.

"He's ready to go from the reports we've been hearing," Phillips said. "He's been out there throwing."

Running back wealth

When starter Josh Clemons went down with a knee injury early last season, UK learned that it was deeper at running back than initially anticipated. Depth probably will be a strength this season, Phillips said.

CoShik Williams, a former walk-on turned starter, will take the repetitions with the first team, but there are several other players who show promise.

The Cats return five of their top six running backs this season and are bringing in two highly touted freshmen in Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor.

In testing this week, Mobley dead-lifted 700 pounds, his coach said.

"That's a huge number," Phillips said. "We haven't had that kind of back here in a long time. We feel really good about that position with him and (Taylor) coming into the mix also."

Walk-on QB leaves program

Jacob Russell, a former three-sport star from Anderson County who transferred to UK from Eastern Kentucky, has left the football program to try to play baseball for the Cats.

Warford makes watch list

Kentucky senior guard Larry Warford was named Thursday to the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which annually honors the nation's top interior lineman.

Also Thursday, Warford was named to the coaches' All-Southeastern Conference first team.

The 6-foot-3, 343-pound Warford has led Kentucky in knockdown blocks each of the past two seasons, including 34 last season. The Richmond native has played in 35 career games for Kentucky, including 25 consecutive starts.

The list of 71 players on the Outland watch list includes tackles, guards and centers on both sides of the ball. The SEC led all leagues with 19 selections.

The winner will be announced Dec. 6.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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