Kentucky newcomer Stamps wants to bring 'winning momentum'

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 24, 2014 

  • SATURDAY

    Blue-White Spring Game

    When: 3:30 p.m.

    Where: Commonwealth Stadium

    TV: Live on CWKYT-27.2 (Delayed broadcasts on Fox Sports South at 7 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday)

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

For a few minutes on Saturday, A.J. Stamps won't need the fancy high-performance equipment to know his heart will be racing.

When he walks out onto the Commonwealth Stadium field for Kentucky's Blue-White Spring Game and sees the projected 40,000 plus fans there, Stamps knows he's going to have some jitters.

That's mainly because the new UK safety will be playing in front of about 38,000 more fans than he's ever seen before.

In high school and then at East Mississippi Community College, he doesn't think he ever played in front of more than 2,000 people.

"I'm hearing 40,000, and I'm like, 'Whoa!" Stamps said with a smile on Wednesday. "I've never played in front of thousands of fans."

But coaches are hoping once the butterflies take flight, Stamps' instincts will take over and he'll impress the Commonwealth Stadium crowd as much as he's impressed them in the past couple of weeks.

Over and over again this spring, Stamps has made plays on the ball and drawn praise from the UK staff.

"I'd say A.J. Stamps is probably coming along the fastest on defense," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's been progressing really fast."

It hasn't just happened. Stamps, a 6-foot, 189-pounder who has played safety, cornerback and wide receiver, said he's been working hard to get up to speed.

He said he spends two to three hours a day studying the playbook and watching game video.

That's another big difference between UK and junior college: There, the defense ran roughly five plays. At Kentucky, it's hundreds of plays.

"You deal with a lot of tricks and changes within the defense, knowing the whole defense, where everybody is and where you're supposed to be is kind of tough, but it's not so much that I can't handle it."

His coaches have been impressed with how quickly he's caught on, including getting an interception in his first full practice and multiple pass breakups this spring.

"He's got good instincts," head coach Mark Stoops said. "He's got good size and good athletic ability. He seems to pick things up fairly quick, which is a good thing because it's a hard position. Things go very fast; things change all the time. ... You have to have some instincts to play (safety). I'm excited about him and his progress."

Stamps had 51 tackles, including seven for a loss, and forced a fumble for his junior-college team last season.

He tries to have a speedy motor to go with his quick hands and feet.

"I feel like a more athletic safety," Stamps said. "I can come out and cover from playing corner. I'm used to covering receivers and having to match up with a man. I feel like (I bring) athleticism and energy."

Stamps' four interceptions (including one he returned for a touchdown) last season were more than Kentucky had as a team in 2013. The Cats were tied for fewest picks in the nation with three.

Stamps' wide receiver skills from high school, which included 112 catches for 2,310 yards and 29 touchdowns in his last two seasons, make him a natural in the UK secondary.

"He's got good athletic ability and he's giving us some options back there, a lot tighter coverage, so that's helped," Stoops said of Stamps, who had nine pass breakups last season.

The team's new safety, who won a national title last season, hopes to turn Kentucky into the consistent winner his junior college was. He hopes that starts to show on Saturday in front of all of those fans.

"I'm just trying to come in and try to turn this program around to win games and compete," he said. "Just bring in the winning momentum."

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

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