The formula for student-athletes at SEC Football Media Days usually goes like this: smile, be polite and answer the questions without saying anything too controversial.
But the reporters got a bonus with Kentucky's Zipp Duncan at his Media Days appearance a couple of weeks ago. There was a much bigger crowd assembled around Duncan's teammate, Trevard Lindley. But those who got to spend some time with Duncan were taken by his down-to-earth, regular guy personality. And while many athletes would look at Media Days as an obligation, you could tell that Duncan really enjoyed being there.
When asked about the toughest place to play in the league, Duncan said either Florida or South Carolina "because the fans are close to you, out of control, and a little boozed up."
A reporter asked him to pick one of the two schools, and Duncan finally settled on South Carolina, recalling UK's trip to Columbia for a Thursday night game in 2007.
"They were out of control," Duncan said of the South Carolina faithful. "I don't know how they kiss their moms with mouths like that."
Duncan, a senior left tackle, has already completed his degree in kinesiology and will be taking classes toward a second major in the fall. But SEC Media Days made such an impression on him that he now is considering a career in sports broadcasting after his playing days are over.
"The whole Media Day experience really inspired me," Duncan said. "Ever since high school, I've really wanted to go into sports broadcasting. I'd love to be able to get my name out there. And I'm huge sports fan. I can spit out crazy stats from tennis, basketball, baseball, you name it. It doesn't matter what sport, I'm always watching the (ESPN) ticker.
"I was pleasantly surprised about Media Day. I didn't know what to expect. It was intense, but at the same time I felt real comfortable. It was neat to see some of the ESPN anchors in person that you'll see all the time on TV, and getting to see what went on behind the scenes with the cameras and everything. It was quite a learning experience."
Duncan seemed to use a live chat hosted by UK this week as an early audition, as he showed off his wittiness and his TV aspirations simultaneously.
"With such a media-friendly face I would love to be on television," he wrote. "I just feel like I am comfortable in front of the camera. I'm quite witty with responses. I just really feel like the people would love to see me on a daily basis on television. Wouldn't you like to wake up every morning and turn the TV on and see me?"
Duncan, all 6-foot-5, 291 pounds of him, took things a step further, stating his goal was to be the "male version of Erin Andrews."
"So intelligent mixed with great looks; something the people tune in to see," Duncan wrote.
Duncan has had several twists and turns during his UK career and now the fifth-year senior said he's ready to enjoy the last part of the ride.
"I just took the attitude that I'm going to have fun while at the same time representing Kentucky football in a positive manner," he said. "I've always been kind of laid-back, and if I can add a little humor to certain situations that's even better."
Duncan's probably earned the right to let loose a little. He started off as a defensive end at UK before moving to tight end as a redshirt freshman. He then was asked to switch to guard and played on both sides of the line before finally settling it at left guard. Then, faced with losing three-year starting left tackle Garry Williams to graduation, the coaching staff asked Duncan to move outside to fill that void.
Duncan never complained, a fact that hasn't been overlooked by UK Coach Rich Brooks.
"Zipp Duncan is a great example of a guy who just wants to play football and play football for Kentucky," Brooks said. "He's been willing to do and agree with whatever we feel is best for the team."
Duncan used spring ball to help him get acclimated to left tackle, where he'll have to deal with more speed-rushers off the edge. But Duncan, who described himself as a "fleet-footed power forward" who played in the Sweet 16 at Elizabethtown High School, has the athleticism to make the transition. He's gotten quite a few pointers from Williams, who's now in training camp with the Carolina Panthers.
The media expects Duncan to make a smooth transition. He was a second-team All-SEC selection at Media Days.
"I really kind of expected the move," Duncan said. "Coach Brooks has always been honest with me about what position he feels I best fit in, and it's actually worked out great. Left tackle is kind of the marquee position on the line, and if I play well there, it's great for my future. And I've shown some versatility in being able to play guard or tackle."
Duncan doesn't have to be in front of the camera to turn on the charm. He takes part in various speaking engagements, including a class of 31 students from the Phoenix Academy, a credit-recovery program based at Franklin County's alternative school, the Educational Development Center. He will also be the President of UK's Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) chapter this fall.
"Zipp is always available," said Gavin Duerson, the FCA area director. "Even if he knows there's only going to be three people there, he still makes it a priority. That's the thing about Zipp; he's just himself. He's the same guy whether he's speaking in front of ten people or a thousand. He really has a sense that life is about more than football. He's well-grounded, and his deep trust in God has helped him on the football field. You've never heard him grumble or complain."
Duncan will probably have to wait awhile to become a "male version of Erin Andrews." First he'll try and become part of the first class in school history to go to four straight bowl games, and then he'll likely find himself in an NFL camp the following fall.
"Looking back on it, I've really had some great times during my career here," Duncan said. "Bowl games, beating Georgia and LSU, going to Media Day. I'm hoping to add to that list these next few months."