College football

Kentucky football counting heavily on its freshmen

Henderson: It feels like 'high school all-star team' sometimes

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 8, 2012 

Khalid Henderson


  • Kentucky at Louisville

    When: Noon Saturday

    TV: ESPN2

    Records: Louisville 8-3 (5-3 ACC); Kentucky 5-6 (2-6 SEC)

    Series: Kentucky leads 14-12

    Line: Louisville by 12½

Just a few short months ago, "Kentucky" was not the name across the chests of many of the Cats' key players.

Several of the players that UK will be relying on this week at Arkansas were wearing jerseys of varying colors with their high school names on them instead.

At one point last weekend in a loss to Mississippi State, freshman linebacker Khalid Henderson looked around and noticed that more than half of the defenders around him were freshmen.

"It was kind of amazing," said Henderson, who had a career-best five tackles in that loss. "It seems like we're a high school all-star team at times."

Thanks to injury after injury after injury, UK's team has gotten younger and more inexperienced. So young, in fact, that the team's media notes now say that the number of true freshmen that have played (14) make the Cats one of the youngest teams in the nation.

"You've got to be patient with them," said UK Coach Joker Phillips. "They're 18 years old. So you have to be patient with those guys.

"You don't feel comfortable about anything. ... But, you know, we signed them. We signed them to come here and play. We knew we were going to have to play some of those freshmen anyway, especially in the secondary."

And it's not just freshmen with which the staff is dealing.

Last week a reporter asked linebacker Alvin "Bud" Dupree whether the younger players are starting to "get it."

He smiled and reminded the reporter that he's just a sophomore himself.

"We're all trying to get it," said Dupree, who is second on the team in tackles with 44, including 6½ for a loss.

On the most recent depth chart that came out Sunday, Kentucky lists 18 freshmen on the offense and defense. In all, UK has played 26 freshmen this season, including 14 true freshmen.

In fact, of the 55 players (some positions go three deep) for offense and defense, 34 of the players listed are sophomores or younger.

On defense, it's especially noticeable: 20 of the 28 players listed are sophomores or younger.

"The freshmen, they have been playing well overall," said Cartier Rice, the only healthy senior in the secondary at the moment. "They've been going up there and competing."

Left guard Zach West, himself a redshirt freshman, said he's been impressed with how well the true freshmen are dealing with the spotlight.

"It's kind of an eye-opening experience being thrust into action when you don't have a choice," West said. "It's definitely getting our guys to grow up a lot quicker."

It's not a position he could have imagined himself in at this time last season, when he was learning from the sidelines.

"Oh, it's definitely intimidating, because last year I could've never thought about playing," he said. "I never thought I was ready, and I know it's intimidating for a lot of these guys."

But West said the baby-faces have been good in some ways.

"You've got guys who want to improve every day, every rep," he said. "That's something that definitely energizes everybody on the team when you see guys going as hard as they can for every single play, that's going to energize the whole team."

Right now, it might be a struggle for Kentucky, and it shows in its 1-5 overall record and its winless Southeastern Conference mark, but in the future, Phillips hopes it will pay off.

"It's football. We understand that injuries come with it," Phillips said last week, recalling 2005, when UK was hit by a similar rash of injuries. "What was the end result? Created a lot of depth. The depth didn't show up till the next year, but we did create a lot of depth."

Towles won't play Saturday

Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles will not play Saturday as he recovers from a high ankle sprain. Phillips listed Towles as "week to week.

"We'll take a look at him every week to see how he is progressing," Phillips said of Towles, who sprained his right ankle when he was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Mississippi State.

Towles was a bright spot for UK's struggling offense, completing five of his six pass attempts for 71 yards and a 32-yard touchdown pass to La'Rod King.

The injury to Towles' ankle will not require surgery, Phillips said. There is no timetable for his return, but if he's unable to come back this season, he would be eligible for a medical hardship.

Other injuries, notes

Kentucky suffered several other injuries to key defensive players on Saturday and Phillips listed cornerback Martavius Neloms (hamstring), safety Ashely Lowery (concussion like symptoms), linebacker/safety hybrid Kory Brown (hamstring) and safety Mikie Benton (ankle) all as "day to day."

For Lowery, it's the second time in three weeks he's been labeled as having "concussion-like symptoms."

The training staff is keeping a close eye on Lowery and "making sure that we don't put him out there unless he's healthy a hundred percent."

Neloms is third on the team in tackles with 40. He has one of UK's two interceptions for the season.

■ Kickoff for the Kentucky-Georgia game was set for 7 p.m. on Oct. 20, but the network carrying it will not be decided until next week.

The game will be shown on either ESPN2, ESPNU or FoxSports Net.

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

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