Cats' seniors trying to stay positive amid losing streak

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 16, 2012 

Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms were both injured and had no shot of playing against Arkansas, but for a minute Coach Joker Phillips pondered taking them on the trip anyway.

That's how much Kentucky needs senior leaders on both sides of the ball right now, he said.

"I thought about taking those guys because what you saw during the week are those guys trying to help the young guys out on the sidelines," the Kentucky coach said of two of his defensive leaders.

The Cats' seniors are more than just coaches on the field for the young team, which started nine players that were freshmen or sophomores last weekend.

The senior class has tried to be an emotional rock for a team in a five-game free fall. UK has been outscored 152-38 in four Southeastern Conference games.

As Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC) prepares to face its fourth ranked team in five games in No. 12 Georgia (5-1, 3-1) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, the upperclassmen said they're just trying to do what they can to keep the younger players' spirits up.

"You can't just curl up and start backing off," senior defensive end Taylor Wyndham said on Tuesday. "You have to step up and show the right way. We have a lot, a lot of young guys."

Junior defender Avery Williamson said the upperclassmen have been conscious of the younger players getting frustrated by the injuries and losses piling up.

"Some of the younger guys, sometimes they might get down and you've gotta kind of bounce them back, to be a leader," Williamson said. "We've got to tell those guys that we've got to keep fighting. They're young and it's a long, physical season."

Senior center Matt Smith noted it's been difficult to keep the younger players encouraged and focused, especially for the Cats' defense, which started five freshmen or sophomores in its back seven.

He noted that the two Kentucky lines are the only places with upperclassmen and that the team now more than ever needs to think of them as their backbone.

"There's always hope that you can turn the season around as long as everyone is still in it together and we just keep practicing the way we know how," Smith said.

The upperclassmen admitted that sometimes they have to give themselves and each other the same pep talk.

When Wyndham was asked if he was discouraged, he swallowed hard.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel it," he said, before adding: "You have to keep a positive attitude as an older guy, a veteran to the game. You have to stay focused and help the young guys keep a good mindset. Everything that's happened, it's kind of hard not to, but I'm trying to stay optimistic."

Lowery cleared to play

Safety Ashely Lowery, who missed the Arkansas game with concussion-like symptoms, told reporters on Tuesday that he's been cleared to play against Georgia.

"I'm pretty confident for this week," he said, noting he'd been to see doctors five times in the past week. "I went through all the (concussion) tests and done everything they've asked. I feel a lot better, so I'm pretty sure I'll be back."

Towles still a no-go

Freshman quarterback Patrick Towles was in full uniform and on the field with the team Tuesday, but offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said don't let that fool you.

"He's not practicing," Sanders said when asked whether Towles' high ankle sprain had healed. "I told (trainer Jim) Madaleno that I wanted him out here where he's at least watching and learning."

For all but a few practices this season, Towles was running the scout team, with coaches planning to redshirt him. When the freshman does heal fully, Sanders wants him to be ready.

When asked if he expected Towles to be able to practice this week, Sanders said he isn't "counting on it at this point."

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

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