Kentucky tackling machine Williamson leads with no-quit style

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2012 

  • Tackle leaders

    This season's top tacklers in the Football Bowl Subdivision:

    Player School Tackles

    Dan Molls Toledo 148

    Marvin Burdette UAB 142

    Avery Williamson Kentucky 128

    Nick ClancyBoston Coll.127

    A.J. Johnson Tennessee 124

    Geoffrey Bacon Army 122

    Dominick LeGrandeMarshall 121

    Phillip Steward Houston 120

  • Saturday

    Kentucky at Tennessee

    When: 12:21 p.m. TV: WKYT-27

After Kentucky allowed Louisville to put up 466 yards of offense in the season opener, there was talk of missed defensive assignments and bad alignments.

Middle linebacker Avery Williamson pointed just one finger.

Directly at himself.

"I wasn't making the correct calls," he said, before adding that he needed to "take the blame for it."

So Williamson studied more film. The junior tried to get more comfortable barking orders at the veteran defensive linemen in front of him.

Since that loss to Louisville, Williamson has undergone a quiet evolution.

"After that game, he stood up as a leader," defensive tackle Tristian Johnson said. "He kept us together; he kept our defense together. He kept us working together. When it got hard, Avery kept trying and he was the same Avery. He continued to work and work and work."

Yes, there have been many more losses since the Louisville defeat, but in a season of lows, Williamson is a highlight.

This season he has 128 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss. He has made 13 or more tackles in four straight games, including a career-best 20 against Vanderbilt.

Williamson surpassed his 49-tackle total of 2011 just five games into this season and has only gotten better from there.

The Milan, Tenn., native, getting ready to play in his home state against the Volunteers on Saturday, is third in the nation and first in the Southeastern Conference in tackles this season.

"It's a good feeling to know that I have improved from the first game," said Williamson, who also has three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and three sacks (including two in UK's last game).

"The season hasn't gone as we'd like it to go, but to know that you're getting yourself better, helping your team, getting yourself better for next year, that's a good feeling," he said.

The Williamson that stood up and took responsibility for the team's defensive issues against Louisville is the Williamson that his teammates and coaches know.

"Avery doesn't really talk; he just does everything the right way," fellow linebacker Alvin "Bud" Dupree said when asked about Williamson's leadership style.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter paid Williamson an even higher compliment.

"If I had a daughter, she could marry Avery," Minter said. "That's just the way I feel about the kid."

His feelings for Williamson on the field are just as strong, calling him "a guy who worked his tail off to be pretty darn good and effective."

Because of the impending coaching change, Minter won't be at UK to watch Williamson continue to grow into the leader he's seen develop both on and off the field this season.

But the defensive coordinator is convinced that no matter what defense the Cats play, Williamson will find a way to lead UK's defense next season, too.

He's a "guy that loves the game," Minter said. "He plays with great spirit and emotion and enthusiasm. He's a great leader."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241Twitter: @jenheraldleaderBlog:

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