BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — By his own admission, Danny Trevathan prefers to remain under the radar.
Several times during practices leading up to Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl, Trevathan would slip out the side door of the Nutter Field House rather than deal with media interview requests.
"I'm the type of person who really doesn't like the spotlight," Trevathan said. "It's more fun when people don't know who you are and then you kind of come out of nowhere and surprise them."
Trevathan was definitely under the radar when UK Coach Joker Phillips found him as an obscure prospect out of Leesburg, Fla., but those days are long gone. The 6-foot-1, 223-pound junior has turned in one of the best seasons ever by a Wildcats defensive player, leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles and becoming the first linebacker in UK history to earn first-team All-America honors (by Scout.com and Collegefootballnews.com).
"He's had as good a season as any linebacker I've been around since I've been in football," Phillips said.
So what makes Trevathan so good? While he's somewhat undersized for a linebacker, he has sub-4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, top-flight instincts and an uncanny ability to shed blocks and fly to the ball. And by all accounts, he's a student of the game and spends countless hours in the film room, which he says is the biggest reason for his rapid rise to fame.
"I like to be under the radar, but my mother always told me that if you work hard, you can't help but be in the spotlight," Trevathan said.
"Coach Joker found me under a rock in Florida, and that's where I feel like I've been my whole life, under a rock. But working hard is what I've been trained to do my whole life, and once I get to a certain place, I'm still not going to stop."
New co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter has been impressed with what he's seen of Trevathan since arriving in Lexington last month.
"He's a natural inside linebacker because he sees things," Minter said.
"You have to have a natural sense because things are coming at you from all angles, guards are pulling in both directions, so many other things.
"Inside guys have to have that feel. Danny's got that."
Trevathan's generally low-key nature is a sharp contrast to his play on the field, where he's a tireless ball of energy that seems to be around the ball on every play.
"On the field, he's a crazy man flying around everywhere trying to bust somebody's head open," said junior linebacker Ronnie Sneed, one of Trevathan's closest friends on the team. "Off the field, though, he's not a real loud guy or anything like that. He won't stand out in a crowd. If you didn't know it, you wouldn't think you were a guy who made first-team All-American. He doesn't look for attention. He just gets attention because he's good at what he does."
Trevathan's breakout season has led him to a crossroads: He's considering skipping his final season and entering the NFL Draft.
Trevathan said he will go home to Florida after the BBVA Compass Bowl and make a decision. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.
At times, Trevathan has seemed like the only playmaker on the UK defense, so on paper his loss would seem like a crippling blow heading into the 2011 season. But Trevathan said he's confident his teammates would hold down the fort in the event he does turn pro.
"If I leave, I don't think I'll be missed as much as a lot of people think," he said. "We've got a lot of good young players. It's just like when Micah (Johnson) and Sam (Maxwell) left. The next guy steps in and gets a chance to show what he can do."
Minter said he'd love to have Trevathan back — "He makes me a better coach" — but understands the decision-making process. He'll try to sell Trevathan on the opportunity to return to play in what Minter said will be more of a pro-style defense next fall.
"There's something to be said about the college experience," Minter said. "Hopefully, the sweet taste in his mouth is maybe a sign of some things to come. The anticipation of doing something differently, we'll have more of an NFL-style approach on defense next year, and maybe that can benefit him over the next 12 months and he can position himself a little higher next year.
"I'd love to have him back, but the ship sails regardless," Minter said. "We're going to have a season next year, and there'll be a 'Will' (weak-side) linebacker in there. We hope it's number 22."