A good percentage of the Kentucky football team already has experienced the Music City Bowl. And while it might be a stretch to say the thrill is gone, a lot of the Wildcats admitted that they have had to dig deep to find the motivation to spend Christmas week in Nashville.
But Derrick Locke always has marched the beat of a different drummer, and the junior tailback is singing a markedly different tune than a lot of his teammates as the Cats prepare for Sunday night's matchup with Clemson.
"I haven't ever played in a bowl game, so I'm excited," Locke said. "Everybody else has been here, so they're like, 'I'm back here again.' But hey, I'm ready to play.'
But will Locke's first bowl game end up being his last game in a Wildcats uniform?
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Locke rebounded from a serious knee injury suffered last season to lead UK in rushing with 843 yards while ranking eighth nationally in kickoff return average (29.6). He has submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get an evaluation of his draft stock and is seriously considering bypassing his final year of eligibility.
Locke said he's "leaning one way" in his decision but won't make an official announcement until after the bowl game.
Locke will weigh several factors before making a decision on his future. First and foremost, he has a 3-year-old son, Kelton.
"I've got people I've got to take care of, and I've got a lot riding on it," Locke said. "But I am going to weigh my options and make sure I'm making the right decision."
Running backs typically have shorter shelf lives and only have so many carries in them, particularly a back of Locke's size (5-foot-9, 190 pounds), and Locke already has endured one major knee injury. Also, cornerback Trevard Lindley and linebacker Micah Johnson both had their draft status evaluated before deciding to return to UK for their senior years, and injuries have caused their stock to slide going into the 2010 draft.
"I feel like (Lindley and Johnson) lost a lot of money," Locke said. "I'm just keeping it real. They lost a lot of money. You don't want to make a bad decision. Either way, it could end up being a bad decision. I could leave and end up not getting picked up, or I could stay and end up getting hurt. It could be a win-win situation or a lose-lose situation. You've just got to be sure."
Locke doesn't fit the profile of an every-down NFL back, but he has value as a third-down back/return specialist a la the San Diego Chargers' Darren Sproles. Locke, who ran a sub 4.3 40-yard dash before his knee injury, didn't hesitate when asked what he brought to the table at the next level.
"Speed," Locke said. "Speed kills. It's hard to pass up on speed. You can always go get a big back, but you can see the game is changing with the 'Wildcat', and it's good to have speed. I can run, I can catch, I can return, you can flex me out. There's a lot of different things you can do with me."
Not surprisingly, Locke has been getting plenty of opinions on what he should do.
"It's been crazy," Locke said. "People I don't even know, on Facebook and Twitter, everybody, has their own insight whether I should come back or whether I should (go). I just say, 'I appreciate it.' I don't really pay it any mind."
There's no doubt the UK coaches would love to have Locke return in 2010. That could give the Cats one of the league's most dangerous offensive combos in Locke and Randall Cobb.
"I told him that personally I'd like to see him come back," UK running backs coach Larry Brinson said. "I'd like to see him have a full season, get his weight where it should be, and show them that he can go the whole distance. But whatever his decision is, I'm going to back him. I understand that it's his life, and he's got to make the best choices for himself."
If Locke does leave, UK will be left with senior Moncell Allen and a host of inexperienced backs for 2010. True freshman Donald Russell rushed for 137 yards in mostly mop-up duty, and another true freshman, Jonathan George, was impressive in fall camp before an ankle injury forced him to redshirt.
When asked whether it was hard to plan for next year not knowing what Locke is going to do, Phillips smiled, pointed to Locke's eccentric nature and said, "You never know what Locke's going to do. Period.
"But he's got to do what he's got to do for him and his family. The program's not going to shut down. I've said that plenty of times. If I'm not here or whoever's not here, we've got to move forward."
And while Locke is fired up to play in his first bowl, he's not placing any extra significance on it with regard to his future.
"Every game, I want to play well," Locke said. "I'm not going to go out there trying to be Superman or something I'm not. I'm just going to go out there and play my game. If I play well, I play well. If I don't, I don't. It's not like this game is going to determine what I'm going to do."