For some players, spring football might seem like a grind, with no real game for months and no next-opponent film to watch.
But for Kentucky tight end Justin Rigg and wide receiver Kayaune Ross, spring couldn’t come quickly enough.
Both players had to sit out much of last season with frustrating injuries, and both hope to become impact players by September.
“It was hard to sit there and watch and you always want to be out there,” Rigg said. “I was really glad I could get better and get back out for the spring.”
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For Rigg, it was a freak injury in the second game of his Kentucky career, during a kickoff return. He got hit awkwardly, and his body twisted.
“Then my back started hurting,” Rigg said. The pain got progressively worse as the game continued.
“I knew something was wrong because it was a different type of pain in there.”
Turned out the 6-foot-6 freshman had suffered three lacerations on his kidney. Rigg sat the rest of the season while they healed.
It was a similar story for Ross. The 6-6 freshman suffered from what he called unexplained back spasms for much of the season.
“I played with it and it got a little worse, then I played with it and it got a lot worse,” said Ross, who played in six games last season, with two catches for 10 yards and a touchdown, before being sidelined for the final five games.
“It’s something I would fight through and fight through because I wanted to be on the field, but it really grabbed me at one point of the season and said, ‘Sit down. Get it right.’”
The injury, which Ross said “came out of nowhere,” required him spending “a lot of overtime” in the training room to get better.
His rehab included hot tub, cold tub, stretching and other things.
“It was frustrating, but it made me a lot better,” he said, and it seems to have gone away for good. He said being in regular pain made it difficult for him to do what coaches asked of him.
At different times this spring, both Ross and Rigg have gotten high praise from their coaches for bouncing back.
“The back (injury) put him way behind the eight ball,” wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas said of Ross.
But what he’s seen this spring from the big-bodied wideout is a desire to become a playmaker this spring.
“He’s one of those guys every day who is looking for his moment,” Thomas said. “He is on top of it. He’s just a different kid right now. He’s a grown man. He’s literally a grown man. He’s using that grown-man-ness to impose it on the group. He’s stepping up and being a leader.”
Ross has worked at several receiver spotsand as both a first- and second-string player. He impressed with a couple of key catches in a recent scrimmage.
“He’s embracing it,” Thomas said of Ross. “He’s not complaining, just doing his job, and you can tell he wants to be successful.”
For Rigg, it was about just giving his body time to heal.
Coaches have seen a jump this spring, including a couple of catches in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He gets the ball thrown anywhere, and it just looks like he can gobble it up and catch it, you know?” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who wants to see Rigg improve his run blocking.
Vince Marrow said Riggthe freshman has had a good spring, and he thinks he’ll be special by fall camp if he keeps working hard.
“He’s going to be a good end-line blocker,” Marrow said. “He’s a big target. He just needs to play SEC speed all the time. … When he does that, he’s going to be a special tight end here.”
More contract extensions
Two more members of Kentucky’s offensive coaching staff had their contract extensions made public this week: co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and offensive line coach John Schlarman.
Both received raises and extensions while restructuring their bonus and incentive clauses. In return, UK added a new buyout clause for each coach should he decide to take a job somewhere else.
Hinshaw’s deal, which was made at the start of March, extends through 2020 and bumps his salary from $400,000 a season to $500,000 starting July 1.
“I’m very excited about it,” Hinshaw said Tuesday of the deal executed March 1. “Again, want to be here for a long time. Very appreciative to Mark Stoops and everything that he does for me and my family. So, really looking forward to being here for a long time.”
Most of Hinshaw’s contract remained the same, with the exception of his bonus structure as it pertains to postseason play. Schlarman was given the same updated bonus structure.
Now, a non-college football playoff bowl game nets each of them one month’s salary. An SEC championship game appearance results in 1.5 months’ salary, and a trip to a college football playoff bowl gives him a two-month bonus.
Another clause was added to Hinshaw’s previous deal that says he agrees to pay Kentucky $150,000 for each year remaining on his contract if he should leave UK and take another coaching position. No such provision existed in his original contract.
The Kentucky offensive line coach was extended through 2019 and was given a $75,000 salary increase to $375,000. Schlarman agreed to repay the university $100,000 for each year remaining on his new contract should he accept a coaching position elsewhere.
“Obviously Kentucky means a lot to me,” Schlarman said Tuesday when asked about the new contract. “Knowing that we’re continuing to move forward and that we’re doing some things that are positive is very important.”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 14
TV: SEC Network