UK football notebook: Williamson assumes new role as mentor

Herald-Leader staff writerFebruary 15, 2014 

His blue and white No. 40 has long since been washed and put away.

Time is up for Avery Williamson to wear his Kentucky jersey, some 296 tackles and four seasons later.

The middle linebacker is still taking a full course load and he's training two to three hours a day for the upcoming NFL scouting combine, which starts on Saturday.

But he's also found time to help some of Kentucky's newcomers make the most of the time they will have. Williamson can be seen around the football facility in film rooms with new players and returning players, explaining the nuances of the defense.

"If they want to learn, I won't hesitate to teach them," Williamson told the Herald-Leader this week. He had 10 total tackles as a freshman and he's hoping some of UK's younger players can put up much bigger numbers.

When new linebacker Dorian Hendrix came to Williamson with a question about the defense, the former defensive leader spent 25 minutes in the film room with Hendrix, one of seven players that enrolled a semester early.

"I showed it to him on film, just to help him out some," Williamson said. "Every little bit helps, especially with those young guys."

Hendrix was grateful for the extra aid: "Avery's going to help me with everything he can. He's gonna teach me everything he knows."

Normally stoic D.J. Eliot, UK's defensive coordinator, had a wide smile when he talked about Williamson's contribution even though the linebacker's playing days are done.

"Avery continues to be amazing," Eliot said on signing day. "He's done playing but he's still working out here and he meets with the kids and he mentors the kids, and like you said, he's telling some of those young backers what it takes to be a great linebacker."

Kentucky's going to need extra help at linebacker this off-season.

It was a position where the Cats were shorthanded all of last season and it was a priority position in this signing class, which includes true freshmen Hendrix, Nico Firios, Kobie Walker and junior college transfer Ryan Flannigan, whom Williamson said is the most likely candidate to get his old job next season.

Doing the extra tutoring with this group of young linebackers has helped Williamson, too, as he gets ready for the combine.

"It's kind of brushes up my memory, too, on the things I've forgotten," he said of the impromptu tutoring sessions. "So it's good for me to go over things with the guys because it's a learning process for me as well. I've learned some things, too, and been reminded of some things, too."

Weight room reworked

With a new practice facility in the works, Kentucky didn't want to spend a lot of money revamping its weight room at the current facility, but it did make several alterations to give the team "a fresh start mentally," High Performance Coordinator Erik Korem said during a recent tour.

A once cluttered weight room has been reconfigured — to make the room more functional to get more players trained simultaneously — and refloored.

"We don't have a huge room — it's really not all that big — so how do we make the most of it?" Korem said they pondered before the additions (and subtractions). "That's pretty much the concept. We love it. We're so excited about it."

It starts with new PLAE sports flooring all around, eliminating the previous need for players to throw down mats before starting their weight training.

"What we like about the floor is it's aggressive, when you lift it gives back, like if you put your knee on it, it doesn't hurt and that's rare," Korem said.

New industrial strength platforms, including five extra ones, have been added to the room so that 20 more players can be trained at a time.

They're similar to giant erector sets in that all sorts of attachments (ring work, pull-up bars, etc.) can be bolted on, Korem said.

"Whatever your mind can come up with, this is built for the future," he said of the Sorinex machines. "They designed this so if you come up with something, you could attach it."

On the top of each platform, which can be used by multiple players at the same time, is a single word or phrase in block letters, the new core values Coach Mark Stoops has been pushing this off-season: All in, Accountability, Character, Dependability and Attitude.

A new indoor sprinting track also was added to the little-used mezzanine level of the Nutter Training Center as well.

Interception issues

One of the craziest (also probably most frustrating to lifelong defensive backs coach Stoops) statistics from Kentucky's season was the Cats' lack of interceptions, just three total in 12 games.

That three total picks was tied for fewest in the nation this season with Texas-El Paso, Illinois, Temple and Utah.

Since 1946, it's the fewest number of Kentucky picks in a season. Before that, it was four of them in 1990.

To add insult to injury, not a single one of the three picks came from the Cats' corners.

That turned out to be a draw for several defensive backs in the 2014 signing class.

"Yeah, I think that should be something we should be able to fix," said A.J. Stamps, a junior college cornerback, who was one of the seven early enrollees. "It just takes time."

Stamps said he didn't worry that maybe Stoops had lost his touch with defensive backs.

"His DBs history and how he sent guys to the league," Stamps said of his recruitment. "He had a couple win the Jim Thorpe Award, or whatever. That really grabbed my attention."

Stoops said he hopes this class of defensive backs, including Stamps, Mike Edwards, Kendall Randolph and Darius West, will be able to help solve the interceptions issue quickly.

"What you'll hear me talk about as a group — and I can say that about every one of them — is versatile," Stoops said. "I like that in a secondary. I like guys that can play corner, nickel, dime, safety.

"We do a lot of things, and there's a lot of packages involved in today's football. And that's what I love about this group. In general, I think they're tough, hard– nosed guys, versatile, and explosive."

'A little bit nervous'

Since Williamson found out in the middle of December that he was invited to the NFL combine, he's been working out at the UK facilities to get ready.

He called former UK and current Green Bay Packers standout Randall Cobb for advice on the process and has talked with coaches.

"I haven't talked too much about it, just talked to coaches and stuff, saying what to expect and you know it's going to be a long process, going to be draining," Williamson said of the combine, which starts on Saturday in Indianapolis.

He said he's been "real excited" and maybe "a little bit nervous, more anxious than anything" to get going, but he feels ready .

"I've been training so much that I know what I've got to do when I get there, so I'm trying not to put any extra pressure on myself," Williamson said.

He's specifically worked to bring up his 40-yard dash times as well as positional drills.

"I just want to be at the top of the charts on as many events as possible in as many days, to run a good time and do good on my drills, my linebacker drills, the best that I can," he said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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