La'Rod King thought it was over.
Just as he was coming into his own as a go-to weapon in the Kentucky offense, King saw it all crumbling before his eyes as he lay clutching his right knee in the end zone after catching his second touchdown pass last week against Georgia.
"When I saw the ball in the air, I knew I had (the defender) beat," King said. "I jumped, kind of did a 180, but I landed kind of awkwardly and all my weight landed on my knee. I heard a pop, and there was straight pain in my knee. At that point I started screaming and I knew I had to let it out. I was scared. I thought my ACL was gone, and I thought my career was over."
Fortunately for King and the Wildcats, it turned out just to be a minor scare. The injury was diagnosed as a sprain, and King was able to return to practice on Wednesday as the Cats prepare to travel to Mississippi State on Saturday. King said he expects to be close to 100 percent on game day.
King has caught four touchdown passes the past two games, giving opposing defenses another receiver to worry about other than Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Matthews leads the SEC in touchdown receptions (seven) and Randall Cobb is second in receptions (47). King now has 27 catches for 337 yards.
Even a critical turnover made by King in the Georgia game was hard to criticize. He was tangled up with Georgia defenders fighting and digging for extra yards after a 31-yard reception and was stripped at the Georgia 44. The ball was returned to the Kentucky 33, but the Wildcats dodged a bullet when Blair Walsh missed a 47-yard field goal.
"That was an effort (turnover)," Phillips said. "That guy was battling his tail off, he's got two hands on the ball, and a guy comes in and puts his hat right on it."
But UK receivers coach Tee Martin talks as if he isn't going to let King get too full of himself. He pointed out that King had a key drop against Georgia and needs to shore up some other areas as well.
"He's made some plays, but I look at plays that aren't made," Martin said. "Yeah he got a couple of touchdowns and all that and everybody's happy about that, but I'm still challenging him to do everything right, and not just when he has an opportunity to score. I still grade him at a C right now. I want him at an A or B+. I don't want him to get comfortable with four TDs. I want him to finish blocks and run hard when he's not getting the ball. There's a lot of things that I point out to him that lets him know I'm not going to be satisfied with the success he's had."
King said the injury scare gave him all the humility that he needed.
"I just thank God I have another opportunity to play," King said. "You work so hard, and all of a sudden it could be gone like that. It humbles you. I think this injury humbled me. I've had to go back to the basics. I think it's a blessing in disguise. I could have gotten big-headed, even though I don't think my teammates would have allowed me to, but just in case, this is just a reminder."
Phillips says that King definitely has No. 1 receiver potential, a role he'll likely have to fill in the near future.
"I've still got two more years, and I've still got a lot to prove," King said. "I've been doing good, but that's nothing compared to what I can do. I know my potential."
Even with King, the Wildcats' receiver rotation will be a player short as junior Matt Roark serves a one-game suspension after being arrested and charged with DUI over the weekend.
Phillips said that means freshman Brian Adams, who was the rave of the summer but has yet to have much of an impact, will have to be ready to go.
"Brian is going to get a lot of reps this week," Phillips said. "He is. We expect him to go out and make plays."
Adams has only one catch for 13 yards but has gradually gotten more playing time. In addition to standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 232 pounds, Adams is also UK's fastest receiver. Martin said Adams has shown that he's ready for an increased role.
"He's emerging," Martin said. "I've kind of sprinkled him in there to see if he'd do the right thing, and he did. He lined up right. I told him I can trust him out there. Now it's just a matter of him going out there and making plays. He went through that stage where he was thinking a lot and saying, 'Am I doing it right?' I told him don't worry about that. You're a freshman. I don't know many freshmen in the country who are perfect. Just go out there and play ball."
Locke sits out practice, questionable for MSU
Phillips said that senior running back Derrick Locke missed Wednesday's practice and is questionable for the Mississippi State game with a shoulder injury.
Locke suffered the injury early in the second half of UK's 37-34 loss to Auburn and has missed the last two games. The injury was initially diagnosed as a stinger, but Phillips acknowledged some worry that it could be a long-term problem.
"It is not just a stinger," Phillips said. "He hasn't had any feeling back in three weeks so it is a little bit more than a stinger. I don't have the knowledge to know all the details of it, but it is more than a stinger. ... After three weeks you have to be a little bit concerned (that it could be a long-term injury), but our medical people don't have as much concern as myself and Derrick do. We have to trust in those guys."