Sometimes it takes a while, even up to a full year, before a final verdict can be reached on junior-college football players. Kentucky is just a few days away from its season opener against Miami (Ohio), and the buzz around Wildcats camp is that they might have a couple of players who can buck that trend.
Junior-college transfers DeQuin Evans and Chris Matthews have yet to suit up for a game, but they've been two of the most talked about players in camp. According to coaches, the 6-foot-5 Matthews has been a playmaking force at receiver, and the 6-3, 260-pound Evans has been wreaking havoc off the edge at defensive end.
There will be no transition period or easing the players into the lineup. Evans and Matthews, who were teammates at Los Angeles Harbor College, will start against Miami. The players say that's exactly what they signed up for when they selected UK.
"When I was talking to the coaches, they said they needed somebody to come in and make plays," Matthews said. "That was my goal from day one, to be that guy."
Evans echoed that sentiment: "I only have two years, so I don't want to sit out a year or waste a year. I felt, physically, I was ready to come in and compete at the Division I level."
UK assistant head coach Steve Ortmayer, who recruits the California junior colleges, said teams typically recruit junior-college players to start or be major reserves. When they don't, Ortmayer said, it usually means they're not picking up the system or are having problems with strength or confidence. But Ortmayer said he recognized early in the recruitment of Evans and Matthews that they had the makeup of guys who could make an immediate impact.
"You try and get to know players as athletes, one, then as people, two, and how committed they are to getting on the field when they get here as opposed to buying time and learning for a year," Ortmayer said. "These guys were committed all the way through the spring when they were finishing their school work. They worked very, very hard in the conditioning programs. I just think they're those kind of guys, and it's starting to pay off."
The players still faced some early problems. It took Matthews most of the summer to pick up the offense, and Evans battled a pulled hamstring early in camp.
But it soon became clear that the two players were potential difference-makers this season.
UK's two senior captains, defensive tackle Corey Peters and left tackle Zipp Duncan, spoke highly of Evans.
"He probably has the best motor I've seen since I've been here," Peters said. "From my experience with junior-college guys, they're either hit or miss. But DeQuin has come in and proven himself. I'm excited to see what happens in the game. In practice he's been spectacular, making all kinds of plays all over the field."
That's a bold statement considering that, for the past three years, Peters was lined up next to two guys, Jeremy Jarmon and Myron Pryor, who are getting ready for the opening of the NFL season.
Duncan, a second-team pre-season All-Southeastern Conference selection by the media, found himself across from Evans quite a bit in camp.
"He's given me a workout every day in practice," Duncan said. "He's a guy that comes off the edge with speed. He's physical. I really want to see him go up against another tackle because I'm tired of dealing with him. He's got a motor that's pretty much unmatched out there."
Matthews also has made a big impression on his teammates.
"He can go up and get the ball, he can get deep, he can go over the middle," Duncan said. "He can pretty much do it all."
Matthews said he's put blinders on when it comes to pre-season hype, but Evans said he's aware of the high expectations.
"I do feel a little pressure, because I've never been in this position before in my life," Evans said. "But if I just come out here and play my game, I don't think it will get to me. I'll have some jitters on my first couple of plays, but once I get a hit or two, it will feel just like practice."
Defensive coordinator Steve Brown said he has no fear or apprehension about the high expectations being placed on Evans.
"You don't put things on a player based on potential," Brown said. "You put things on them based on what you see. And you see great work ethic in DeQuin Evans. He's probably one of the best workers I've had since I've been here as far as every play, every practice.
"He's got the kind of work ethic that Braxton Kelley and Wesley Woodyard and those guys had. He's relentless, he runs to the football great, he works hard every play. That's what you expect pros to do. You don't ever, ever, ever see him not working and making the offensive line better."
Hartline, Lindleynamed game captains
Junior quarterback Mike Hartline and senior cornerback Trevard Lindley have been named game captains for the Miami opener. They join permanent captains Corey Peters and Zipp Duncan.
Alumni Associationto host tailgate party
The UK Alumni Association will host a "Rumble at the River" tailgate party Saturday from 9-11:30 a.m. in Cincinnati.
The party will take place on the B&B Riverboat, located on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, near the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and Paul Brown Stadium.
Cost is $10 for pre-registered UK Alumni Association members, $15 for non-members and $15 for walk-ups. Price includes food, soft drinks and admission. A cash bar will also be available. Visit www.ukalumni.net/tailgate or call 1-800-269-2586 or (859) 257-7161 to make reservations.
Improvised Cat Walkat Paul Brown Stadium
UK was not able to work out a "Cat Walk" arrangement suitable for the school and Paul Brown Stadium, so fans are encouraged to line the street on Central Avenue on the western boundary of the stadium to greet the buses. The buses should arrive at the stadium by 9:45 a.m.