UK's freshman wide receivers catching on quickly

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 8, 2012 

The play of freshman wide receiver DeMarcus Sweat, right, has impressed Joker Phillips and the rest of the UK coaching staff.

MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader

All summer long, DeMarcus Sweat has pestered Maxwell Smith like a little brother.

"Every time I walk by him, he's like, 'Give me a signal; give me a play," the Kentucky quarterback said recently.

But the freshman receiver's constant queries seem to have endeared him to the Cat quarterback, who specifically asked to room with Sweat during the fall camp.

That request was a first for Coach Joker Phillips.

"I've never seen a quarterback say, 'I want to room with this guy. This guy's special, Coach,'" Phillips said.

When asked why he told his coaches that, Smith smiled.

"I just feel like the way he is approaching it, the way he came at me, he really wants to learn this offense, he wants to play, he wants to start, he wants to score touchdowns," Smith said.

Sweat's not the only freshman receiver Smith is a fan of, either.

"I was impressed with A.J. (Legree) as well," he said. "Both of those freshman guys will have to contribute, and I think they will."

UK is going to need some help at wide receiver, a position where it struggled last season when the Cats gained just 135.6 yards a game through the air.

UK's 4.8 yards per pass and 9.5 yards per catch were the lowest of this decade. The only bright spot was La'Rod King and his 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns.

Only two other returnees (E.J. Fields and Gene McCaskill) caught a pass for a score last season.

UK can't have success relying on one go-to receiver like King, Phillips said.

"You better have three guys out there that can make plays for you," he said. "We have to have complementary receivers."

Receivers like redshirt freshman Darryl Collins and sophomore DeMarco Robinson show promise, the coaches said.

There are other names that could make a serious push in fall camp for playing time.

And then there are the freshmen, Sweat and Legree, who show potential to come in and play right away this season.

"I'm really impressed right now with those two so far," wide receivers coach Pat Washington said Sunday.

"Sweat's a little bit faster player, whereas A.J.'s more of a possession-type player, but they both have really good motors and work extremely hard," he said.

Neither freshman is shy about his desire to contribute right away.

"I feel like I can do that," Legree said. "I feel like I go through this camp, prove myself to this coaching staff, do my best and let God do the rest."

The 6-foot-1 freshman from Fort White, Fla., caught 47 passes for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.

Legree was a state champion high jumper, and his high school coaches used that skill to their advantage.

"They always threw me a post or a fade, and I always went up and got the ball," Legree said. "That would be kind of my strong points, being able to attack the ball, go up and get the ball."

Sweat, a 6-1 freshman from Lithonia, Ga., averaged more than 24 yards a catch as a receiver. He was listed as one of the nation's top 100 receivers by ESPN.

He described himself as a workhorse wide receiver.

His quarterback-current camp roomie sees lots of upside in Sweat.

"I see a guy who can stretch the field," Smith said. "He's got speed. He's pretty big. Good route runner. He's real lengthy. I threw him, like, a 14-yard in (route), and it was a little bit high. I thought he was going to have to jump, but he just kind of put his hand up. He was so long and he seemed so fluid, and he just kept going. I was like, 'OK, that's impressive.'"

That's why Smith wanted to room with the pesky freshman in the first place.

"I feel like every night before we go to sleep, he'll be asking me lots of questions, I'll be helping him out and I feel like the faster he picks it up the better," Smith said.

Staff writer Mark Story contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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