As he reflected on his flirtation with the NFL in January, Danny Trevathan admitted he had one foot out the door.
It didn't seem that Trevathan had much left to accomplish as a linebacker for the University of Kentucky.
He led the league in tackles and made the All-Southeastern Conference first team as a junior. Collegefootballnews.com named him a first-team All-American. And Kentucky's two other standout players, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, were also on the way to the NFL, with Cobb giving up his final year of eligibility.
"I was gone, man," Trevathan said. "I was out of here."
But in the days leading up to the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, Trevathan did some soul-searching, and in a decision that surprised many people, decided to return to UK for his senior season.
From a football standpoint, going pro might have made sense for Trevathan. But in an age where college athletes often decide to take the money and run at the first opportunity, Trevathan said he wanted to fulfill a promise he made to his mother, Michelle Hicks, and get his diploma. Trevathan is on target to graduate in December with his degree in family science.
"I did a lot of self-evaluation about my future, and talked to my family," Trevathan said. "I just learned that the easy way isn't always the best way. The average NFL career is three years. I don't want to live that short and rely on just football. I want to get my education, finish school and build for my future."
Trevathan said he felt no pressure from UK Coach Joker Phillips or co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
"I talked a lot with Coach Joker, and he just put it in my hands," Trevathan said. "To me, that makes him a great coach and a great friend."
Phillips said he learned from dealing with several other Wildcats who have considered turning pro early in recent years.
"Nothing really surprises you when you've got guys thinking about leaving," Phillips said. "Most people would have been surprised when (ex-UK cornerback) Trevard Lindley came back. I was too at the time. We're just glad we've got Danny back. Danny's always been a leader by example. Now he's becoming one of the vocal leaders of the defense."
Trevathan also took into consideration the potential for an NFL lockout when deciding whether to return. Minter said that even if the two sides reach a labor agreement before the season starts, the potential for the shutdown of training camps and organized team activities hurts young players.
"(NFL teams) are going to be hard pressed to bring new guys into their programs," Minter said. "They're more than likely going to want to hang on to guys who know what to do in their systems."
The question now is how Trevathan can top a season in which he recorded 144 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and forced four fumbles.
He might not top those numbers. But Minter said Trevathan can improve his mental approach to the game.
"This kid can play," Minter said. "He's already the leading tackler. Now it's about taking himself mentally to a whole new level. Instead of just going out and making plays instinctively, he can understand how and why those things happen and know where the ball's going to go before it goes there and all those sort of things."
Trevathan said Minter is constantly harping on the mental part of football, and Trevathan admits he often made plays on pure talent.
"Coach Minter is always talking about having the right mentality, and last year I kind of overlooked it," Trevathan said. "I'd play around a lot, and I could just go out there and make plays because of my speed. This year I'm going to try to use my speed and use the rest of my defense as well."
With Cobb and Locke gone, Trevathan is now the face of the program, the guy who'll grace the cover of preseason magazines and media guides and serve as a de-facto representative for UK football. It's not a role that the unassuming Trevathan is comfortable with, but he's learning to accept it.
"I don't really think like that, but sometimes it is what it is," he said. "I've just got to take that responsibility. I really like to stay behind the scenes, but I notice when I go out, everybody notices me. Even in class. But it's all good. I'm just going to try and take it for what it is."
While Minter is installing a multiple defense that will see a lot of players moving to different spots, Trevathan's role as a weakside linebacker will basically remain the same.
"Fortunately for Danny, while there's all new terminology and fronts and alignments, he's most often going to be in a familiar place and role in our defense," Minter said. "He'll pretty much stay at home."
Minter believes that Trevathan ultimately made the right decision and thinks that will become evident long after his playing days are over.
"There are reasons why kids leave, but everybody becomes better with age and maturity," Minter said. "He can wrap up a lot of loose ends in life, and when he leaves Kentucky, he'll be a complete man because he'll have a degree and won't have to worry about coming back like so many kids who leave early. And when his football career is over, he'll be ready to tackle the real world and be very, very successful."