In 2011, Daryl Collins said no to one of Nick Saban's grayshirt offers. He came to Kentucky thinking he could fill the shoes of Randall Cobb.
Yet even with UK's air attack pretty much grounded for most of last season, all Collins could do was watch and stew.
After having been "talked up" throughout last pre-season by UK coaches, the freshman wide receiver from Gadsden, Ala., missed the entire 2011 season due to a season-ending knee injury suffered in practice.
Sitting in the stands in Commonwealth Stadium and watching Kentucky play was not the reason Collins said no to that grayshirt offer from Alabama, the same school where his cousins Dre Kirkpatrick and Jerrell Harris both starred.
"It was very frustrating, having to sit out and miss the whole season and watch my team struggle," Collins said, "because I know I could have helped."
This pre-season, "the next Randall Cobb" talk has died down for Collins. In fact, a guy who was one of the UK football "buzz players" before last year now seems to be flying below the radar.
At Gadsden City High School, a Class 6A power in Alabama, Collins was a multi-use star. He played wide receiver, quarterback, running back and returned kicks. After his career, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Collins was so well thought of that he was selected to the Birmingham News "Super Seniors," honoring the top 12 senior football players in Alabama.
Collins committed to play for the home-state Crimson Tide, but after Saban asked him to consider grayshirting — not enrolling in college until the second semester of one's freshman year — he moved on.
"They wanted me to grayshirt, and more likely they may have switched me to cornerback," Collins said of Alabama. "I just felt like I didn't need to go there because I didn't want to sit out as a freshman."
Joining a Kentucky team that had lost standout receivers Cobb and Chris Matthews from the season before, Collins expected to be on the field right away in Lexington in 2011.
Before the season even started, that goal ended painfully.
"I had caught a pass and tried to stop and cut back and my leg just gave out," Collins said. "I heard three snaps, and I just fell. When I looked, my kneecap was sitting on the side of my leg and my leg was bent. I just screamed."
Collins had dislocated a kneecap and torn cartilage in the knee. He had to have an operation to repair the tear.
So instead of fighting to replace the multi-talented Cobb for Kentucky, Collins spent his Saturdays last fall watching UK games either on TV or in Commonwealth. Of the two, being at the games in person was the most trying.
"Coming here to the games with the fans, and not being able to see myself on the field with my team, that was really hard," Collins said. "I've been playing football since I was 6, in Pee Wee (League), all the way through high school, and I had never had an injury that knocked me out. It was tough."
Things were rough for UK and its receiving corps, too. In 2010, Kentucky wide receivers — led by Matthews and Cobb — combined to catch 21 touchdown passes. Last year, UK wideouts caught only 10 TDs, seven of them by La'Rod King.
It won't matter who ultimately wins the Kentucky starting quarterback job in 2012 if the Cats cannot put a more productive group of receivers on the field than they did a season ago.
Simply relying on returning senior King as a go-to-guy will not work, UK Coach Joker Phillips said.
"You better have three guys out there who can make plays for you; we have to have complementary receivers," Phillips said. "On third down, if you've (only) got a 'go-to' receiver, (a defense is) going to roll coverage to him. (It's) going to put somebody underneath him (in coverage). (It's) going to put somebody over the top. Then, somebody else has to make a play."
Collins plans to be one of those "somebody elses" making plays for Kentucky this year.
"Daryl Collins is starting to come," Phillips said. "He's starting to be one of those guys that we can depend on, that can make plays for us."
So while every one else may have pretty much moved on from "the next Randall Cobb" talk as it relates to Collins, the Alabama product himself has not.
"We have a lot of the same playing style, I'm probably just a little bit faster than Randall," Collins said. "I have the opportunity to do very well here, just like he did."
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com