Matt Lentz moved around quite a bit during his career at Kentucky. He arrived in Lexington in 2007 as a quarterback and spent his redshirt freshman year on the scout team behind Andre Woodson and Mike Hartline.
The following year, he moved to safety and has amassed 46 tackles and two interceptions as a part-time starter and top backup the past two seasons. This spring, Coach Joker Phillips decided to move him again because he was counting on Lentz's speed and hitting prowess to fill a void at strongside linebacker.
But Lentz's final move was a lot harder to swallow. He decided to give up football after a series of concussions. Instead, Lentz will serve as a student coach and finish his degree in management this summer before working on his master's in health administration.
"It was the hardest decision that I've ever had to make," Lentz said. "I love the game, love the team, love the direction we're going. We're headed for special things, and I really wanted to be out on that field and be a part of it."
Lentz first had problems with concussions in high school and had three last year, the last of which came during UK's loss to Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
When asked to describe a concussion, Lentz said, "You black out for a little bit and, when you wake up, you're confused and not really sure where you are, and there's the headaches."
After the bowl game, he and his family realized they had a decision to make. After talking with doctors and mulling it over in the off-season, Lentz decided to hang it up.
"I was cleared for spring ball with no contact," Lentz said. "But the doctors said they couldn't guarantee what would happen with that next concussion. If I had one more, I would have had to give up football anyway. I just decided I didn't want to take that risk."
Lentz's father, Matt Sr., said the family considered the possibility of another season, but he added that all the attention concussions have received recently made the decision easier.
"For the past year, all you'd see on TV is former NFL players and how concussions affected them," Lentz's father said. "Twenty years ago, you didn't hear too much about it. I've had four concussions in my life and never really thought about it. It was no big deal. You just went back out there and played. ... But the bottom line is that the concussions were coming too easy. Matt wanted to have a good mind after football."
The 2010 season could have been a breakout year for Lentz. He had bulked up to 225 pounds in the off-season and seemed a natural to slide into Sam Maxwell's spot, where he would have teamed with Danny Trevathan and Qua Huzzie to give UK its fastest group of linebackers in years.
"It's tough," said Lentz, who looks slimmed down on the practice field as a coach. "I was moving to a position that really suited me, a position that I thought I could really be a contributor. I was looking forward to it."
Now the Wildcats will have to get junior Jacob Dufrene, who started in the Music City Bowl, and sophomore-to-be Ridge Wilson ready to play on the strong side.
Lentz said he will finish school and see how the coaching thing goes. His father said he'd be a natural if he decides to pursue it full-time.
"He likes the strategic planning, he likes to game plan, and he likes thinking and looking at people's weaknesses," he said. "He struggled with the decision but, once he made it, he felt like the burden was off, and he accepted it. He's got a bright future in whatever he decides to do. He loves Kentucky, and everything he dreamed about in his experience there came true."
Cats to hold first major scrimmage of spring
UK will hold its final open-to-the-public practice until the April 24 Blue-White Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The practice is set to begin at 1 p.m. and, after a warm-up period, the Cats will have their first major scrimmage of the spring.
Coach Joker Phillips said quarterbacks Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski would rotate with the first- and second-team offenses and get equal repetitions during the scrimmage. Phillips said the passing game looked much better during Friday's practice than it did Wednesday.
"All of them threw the ball well today, made some plays, threw the ball down the field a little bit better today," Phillips said. "I'm excited to see those guys in the scrimmage. I also want to see how they are going to run the offense, too — tempo, getting in and out of the huddle, getting them to the line and then communicate at the line of scrimmage. All three are getting better. They made huge strides today and hopefully continue to make strides (Saturday)."
Defensive end DeQuin Evans, who sprained a knee last Saturday, will not participate in the scrimmage but hopes to return to practice Monday.
Fullback Moncell Allen, offensive lineman Jake Lanefski and defensive end Taylor Wyndham are being withheld from contact all spring while they rehabilitate injuries.