SEC Media Days: UK football's silent giant forced to find his voice

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2012 

HOOVER, Ala. — Most days, Larry Warford would rather push you down than take your call.

More often than not the senior lineman's phone is on vibrate so he can pretend he missed calls.

"I'm not real big on talking to people," the Kentucky veteran told a group of reporters at the annual Southeastern Conference Media Day on Wednesday. "It's not that I don't like people, I just tend to keep to myself."

Warford might be the only guy on campus who doesn't have a Twitter handle or a Facebook account.

"I like to just keep to myself," said Warford, who has been rated among the SEC's best linemen the past two seasons.

It's not easy to push 333 pounds to leave his comfort zone and become a vocal leader, but it's something Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips has asked of the former Madison Central standout.

Phillips needs Warford and fellow senior Matt Smith, the only two regular returning starters on the offensive line, to become teachers and leaders for an unproven line.

Warford's teammates say the silent giant has found his voice.

"Since I've been here, Larry has been a quiet guy that just plays and does well," senior defensive lineman Collins Ukwu said. "Now he's being more of a vocal leader and just bringing the young guys along with him."

Warford is going to have to not only speak, but speak up if UK wants to have any success on the offensive side of the ball this season.

Warford and Smith know they have to be leaders for a team that's going to rely on untested underclassmen and as many as five true freshmen to anchor the offense.

There isn't much experience beyond the two seniors. There's Darrian Miller, who started two games as a freshman last season, and Kevin Mitchell, who played nine games last season but is switching from left guard to right tackle.

Redshirt freshman Zach West hasn't taken a collegiate snap but likely will make his first start against Louisville on Sept. 2.

The five true freshman lineman (T.J. Jones, Zach Myers, Jordan Swindle, Jon Toth and Jordan Watson) have received varying degrees of accolades from recruiting services around the country.

They've definitely impressed their upperclassman mentors.

"We have a lot of young guys on the offensive line that we've had to work with this summer so it's been tough, but at the same time those guys are quick to pick up on things," said Smith, a two-year starting center. "We're going to need those guys to contribute this year."

This summer, with offensive line coach Mike Summers limited in his interaction with the players, Warford and Smith have become surrogate position coaches.

"They understand all the drills," Phillips said of Warford and Smith. "They understand how (Summers) teaches. They're teaching all the young guys that we have coming in. We just had five new guys walk on campus. They've done an unbelievable job."

Maybe they've done too good a job? Many of the freshmen already are challenging the older players in the weight room.

"Zach Myers was five pounds less than I was in the bench press," Smith said. "So some of those guys are really strong as freshmen. I know I wasn't benching this much. ... They're all athletic and can move around out there, so we'll see how they do in pads."

Seeing weight-room numbers for Myers caught the attention of Warford.

"Zach is crazy strong," Warford said "He's stronger than me, to be honest. I'm not quite sure how that worked out. That's motivated me."

Warford said the newcomers' strengths aren't just in their weight-room digits.

"All the freshmen are picking it up so well," Warford said. "It gives me so much confidence in our offensive line and what we can do this season."

In morning interviews Wednesday at The Wynfrey Hotel, Phillips said some of the freshmen already are stronger than the veteran seniors who departed last season.

The head coach recently asked UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver if the new linemen would be strong enough to compete in the SEC.

"(Oliver) said, 'Strong as the guys that just left,'" Phillips relayed. "That gives you hope that they can help. (Strong as) people who were fourth- and fifth-year guys."

How many will be able to help immediately? That's not a question Phillips and company can answer just yet.

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

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