Kentucky's trio of freshman cornerbacks making noise already

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 25, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

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

    TV: ESPNU

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

Cody Quinn has been counted out his entire career.

At maybe 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds, he was told he shouldn't expect to make it at the college level.

"I was told that I couldn't play," he said.

Did he hear that a lot?

"All the time," he said with a smile. "All. The. Time."

But Kentucky's freshman cornerback has always liked a challenge. When the coaches issued one last week, telling their trio of young corners that the starting spot was up for grabs at Florida (with senior Cartier Rice injured), Quinn went for it.

Never mind that he'd only played a few snaps in garbage time against Kent State. Never mind that the other two, Fred Tiller and J.D. Harmon, had seen significantly more playing time.

Quinn wanted to show the coaches he should start.

"We said, 'Who's gonna go into a hostile environment and not flinch?' In other words, keep your cool, be cool under pressure, whatever the clichés are," defensive backs coach Mike Cassity said. "(Quinn) showed he had those things and he went down there and he played well."

In his first collegiate start at The Swamp (of all places), Quinn had three tackles and a pass breakup.

"He played as well as any freshman I've ever been around," Coach Joker Phillips said of the former track and football star from Middletown, Ohio. "The guy challenged receivers, made a huge play in the first series. ... He took on a blocker and ran through the blocker and made the play.

"We're excited about him and all three of those true freshmen that played out there on the perimeter. It's not an easy place to play in this league as a true freshman. And those guys, I thought those guys held up well, especially him."

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter, a longtime friend of Quinn's high school coach, said there's something about Quinn.

"We practiced him all week," Minter said. "And we felt like of all the kids, he's really going to have the most grace under fire. He's got calm, cool confidence."

That ease was evident as the freshman discussed his first career start.

"I wasn't nervous believe it or not going into The Swamp," he said Tuesday. "I thought I would be, but I wasn't. I was just more anxious than I was nervous. ... You've just got to be able to handle it, to stay calm, be able to handle the adversity. You've just got to overcome it and keep fighting."

When he got his hand up and made his first career deflection, his confidence soared, he said.

Across the field, senior cornerback Mikie Benton could see it.

"He might've been a little nervous, but Cody's the type of player that once the first play's over, he's good to go," Benton said. "He's quick as lightning out there."

The not-quite-Southeastern Conference-sized cornerback said he has to be physical.

"I know people are going to try to pick on me because I'm not that big," he said. "I just have to try to stay physical, use my speed and just get off blocks."

Whether Quinn starts or not after Rice returns from his thigh bruise, the coaches are confident all three freshman cornerbacks will make UK dangerous in the future.

Tiller, a 6-foot, 180-pounder from Homerville, Ga., has nine tackles in three games, including five against Kent State. Harmon, a 6-2, 197-pounder out of Paducah Tilghman, has four tackles and two pass breakups in four games.

Their position coach likes what he sees so far. "They're making progress," Cassity said. "Have they arrived? Heavens no."

The threesome will be tested severely by No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks are the SEC's fourth-best passing offense behind quarterback Connor Shaw, who had a career-best 311 yards and four touchdown passes against UK in last season's blowout.

South Carolina has thrown for 971 yards in its past three games (323.7 average).

On Saturday against Missouri, Shaw completed his final 20 passes. If he completes his first four passes against Kentucky, he'll own the league's all-time record for consecutive completions.

QB Smith practices

Quarterback Maxwell Smith, who wasn't expected to throw on Tuesday as he rested a bruised joint in his throwing shoulder, did practice and throw. That makes him much more likely to be available Saturday.

"The original plan was for him not to throw much today, but he felt pretty good so we went ahead and practiced (him), tried to limit his throws a little bit," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He looked good, felt good. He's not 100 percent yet, but I expect by Saturday he'll be real close."

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

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