It's gotten to where the University of Kentucky knows what they're going to get when they sign a prospect from LaGrange.
They'll love football. They'll hit you hard. And most of the time, they'll turn out to be pretty good players.
So needless to say, the UK coaching staff was disappointed last August when prized freshman Qua Huzzie, a 2009 signee from LaGrange, Ga., suffered an injury to his left shoulder in August that caused him to redshirt.
Huzzie had shown enough early in fall camp that he would have likely seen backup action behind Micah Johnson at middle linebacker as well as being a key contributor on special teams.
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"From what we saw early, we thought he was a guy that would get on the field in some capacity," Phillips said. "We don't have enough of those types of people in our program that we could have kept Qua Huzzie off the field."
Huzzie is the all-time leading tackler at LaGrange, which has produced standout defensive players such as ex-Wildcats Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley; Sam Olajubutu, a two-time first-team All-SEC selection at Arkansas; and former prep All-American Trey Blackmon.
UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said Huzzie fits the LaGrange profile.
"They're all phenomenal people, hard workers, and they're like catfish, you have to put a nail through their head before you can kill them.They're tough son of a guns, they're accustomed to working hard, and you can coach them. He's a yes-sir, no-sir guy and just a great all-around kid."
Former Kentucky receiver DeMoreo Ford, who's also from LaGrange, said he remembered Huzzie as a standout baseball player coming up. Another LaGrange product, UK junior cornerback Randall Burden, said he first began hearing about Huzzie in middle school.
"People were already talking about him before he got to high school," Burden recalled. "And he didn't even play for the ninth-grade team. He went straight up to varsity, and he was a starter from the 10th grade on. Not many people do that at LaGrange."
"He always wanted to be the best at everything, and he wasn't going to let anybody stop him," Ford said. "LaGrange guys like to hit, and Qua loves nothing more than to hit somebody. And he wants everybody around him to play the exact same way."
Huzzie came to Kentucky in large part due to the success of Woodyard and Kelley, who are both now with the NFL's Denver Broncos but at the same time he also knows their legacy leaves a lot to live up to. When asked what it meant to come from LaGrange, he said, "It just means you have expectations to be a leader and keep the defense going, hyped up and get to the ball, and make sure everybody's on one page," he said. "The linebackers that came here from LaGrange, they expect me to keep that going."
Sitting out was rough for Huzzie, but he said he tried to spend as much time as he could observing game-like situations both in the film room and on the practice field. He was able to participate in Music City Bowl practices.
"I was just trying to learn the plays as much as I could as wait for my chance this year," Huzzie said.
Huzzie may very well get that chance, as he's currently second team behind junior Ronnie Sneed at middle linebacker in what shapes up to be an intense battle to replace Johnson, an All-SEC performer.
Brown said Huzzie's still trying to get comfortable after the first week of spring practice, but Huzzie's energy level is unquestioned.
"He just hasn't played any football, so he's making mistakes," Brown said. "But at least he's doing it at 100 miles an hour. I really don't care that they mistakes. I just need them to show me and show each other how aggressive they can be."
After following in the footsteps of guys like Woodyard and Kelley, Huzzie said he welcomes the opportunity to step in for Johnson in 2010.
"I know I've got big shoes to fill," he said. "But I can think I can fit in."