About a month ago, Ashton Cobb decided to cut the shoulder-length hair that had become his trademark and was something of a family heirloom.
Cobb said the new 'do is the symbol of a new start.
"It's just a way of starting over," Cobb said. "Last year was more like an aberration, and I don't want people remembering me for that, so I just decided to start over fresh."
Last season started great for Cobb. After a two-year apprentice as a reliable backup, Cobb was the starting strong safety in the opener at Louisville and scored the Cats' first touchdown of the season on a 28-yard fumble return. Cobb started the next two games, wins over Norfolk State and Middle Tennessee, but was not in the lineup for the Sept. 27 game against Western Kentucky. Cobb had been arrested the night before after his ex-girlfriend said he sent her several threatening text and voice-mail messages.
Cobb was suspended from school, then reinstated shortly thereafter. And while Cobb missed only two games and even returned to the starting lineup for the regular-season finale at Tennessee and the Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina, he clearly wasn't the same player who had shown such promise as a freshman and sophomore.
Cobb said the toughest part for him last season was trying to overcome negative perceptions that came with the arrest.
"It bothers you a little bit," he said. "The whole thing about that issue was that people didn't know me. They just know what they read. Once you sit down and get to know me, you know what type of guy I am."
Cobb credited Coach Rich Brooks for standing behind him when many were of the opinion that he should be dismissed from the team.
"Coach Brooks is a really good man," Cobb said. "He's a man's man. When no one else believed in me, I told him the truth and told him what happened, and he believed me and stood by me. And I owe him everything."
In February, Cobb pled guilty to third-degree terroristic threatening and was sentenced to 12 months to two years of adult supervision along with anger management classes. That allowed him to finally put the incident behind him and get focused on spring practice.
"It was difficult, but nothing unbearable," Cobb said of his ordeal. "I think me not starting might have been the best thing for the team because my mind might not have been there at times. You just have to try to find the positives, pray and get through it.
"Everybody goes through tough things in life, and you live and learn. Last year is last year."
UK secondary coach Steve Brown thinks Cobb should be able to return to his 2007 form.
"I think everything he went through affected him a great deal, but he's bounced back and learned from it and should be in great shape," he said. "We expect him to be a leader in whatever role he has for us."
Brooks said Cobb is leaner and in better shape physically than he was last season, but he's not a lock to win either of the open safety positions. Sophomore Winston Guy finished spring practice No. 1 at free safety and is a probable starter. Cobb is battling senior Calvin Harrison and sophomore Matt Lentz, who also have starting experience. Brooks said this week that Harrison holds a slight edge.
"No one's job is safe," Cobb said. "The way I'm looking at it, the competition is against myself, not others. I've got to challenge myself. I might end up ahead of some others or behind some people. We'll just have to see."
Brooks said the competition at safety is the fiercest he's seen going into his seventh season at UK.
"I feel good about any of those guys," Brooks said. "It's just a matter of who gets the start. But no matter who starts, we'll have plenty of guys rotating in and out."
Johnson, Lindley honored
Senior linebacker Micah Johnson and senior cornerback Trevard Lindley have been named to the pre-season watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation's top collegiate defensive player.
The honor is sponsored by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte (N.C.) Touchdown Club.
Duncan, Peters captains
Brooks announced Wednesday that senior offensive lineman Zipp Duncan and senior defensive tackle Corey Peters have been named team captains for the 2009 season. Brooks will name two additional captains for each game.