Four years ago, junior Max Godby wasn't sure where his life was headed.
The offensive lineman wasn't sure if his football career was going to continue into college or not.
"My parents and I were praying: Where does God want me to be?" the former Louisville Christian standout said this week. "Every door was just slammed shut and UK was the only one that was open."
So Godby followed his faith and his heart and walked on at Kentucky, where he has practiced and competed on the practice field since arriving on campus in 2010. He's gotten in a game just once against Samford last season.
So on Friday, when coach Mark Stoops told his huddled up Kentucky team that he was awarding the long-time walk-on with a scholarship this season, Godby wasn't sure he heard his coach correctly.
"It was a little overwhelming," Godby said. "I just pretty much had to sit down."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown called it a made-for-television kind of moment.
"It was a really neat, neat deal," said Brown, himself a former walk-on at UK. "It was one of those few times were I wished we actually had cameras up there (on the practice field). Coach Stoops kind of spontaneously — we knew that he was kind of thinking about it, but he hadn't even told the staff — he tells it in front of the whole team that Max got the scholarship. And Max got a little emotional."
It got more emotional for Godby when he called his father Jeff to tell him the news.
A text from former UK center Matt Smith, busy himself with the Atlanta Falcons, helped make it even more special. "That was really big for me for Matt to take some time out."
Godby isn't just a feel-good story to open the football season, he also likely will be the Cats' starting center when they open the season on Saturday against Western Kentucky. He was competing for that spot with red-shirt freshman Zach Myers, who has been injured through much of camp.
"He took advantage of his opportunity," Brown said. "There's no question about it. I think that's the way football is. Some people take advantage of their opportunities and some people don't. He took advantage of his."
Senior Jonathan George said he couldn't imagine a scholarship being given to a better guy. The running back said Godby, whom he called "tough on the field ... with a soft side," has earned the respect of his teammates over and over again.
"It's great to see someone who's worked so hard — and I've been here with Max since he's been here — he works so hard in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field," the running back said. "It's always great to see someone like that be blessed with an opportunity."
His position coach said Godby has earned the starting spot. And he's set a good example for others that hard work will be rewarded.
"As a coach, you always love those underdog stories, guys who get in the mix because of their hard work and dedication," offensive line coach John Schlarman said. "They're really buying into team philosophy and mentality and paying their dues."
'Special' teams again?
Not since 2010 has Kentucky managed to get a touchdown off a punt or kick return, earning it yet another distinction as the only school in the Southeastern Conference that hasn't been able to get those key special teams points in the past two years.
Stoops would like to see that change this season.
"I hope so," he said. "We've worked extremely hard. Coach Peveto has done a great job. We've put an awful lot of time into it, so hopefully we'll see some results."
Special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto has produced some special special teams results at several career stops, most notably at Louisiana State, where the Tigers returned two punts for touchdowns and a pair of kickoffs for scores in his three seasons.
Peveto believes recently named punt returner Demarco Robinson "has a chance to be really special."
The 5-foot-10, 158-pounder returned a punt and kickoff scores his senior season of high school. Last season, his 18 punt returns averaged just 6.5 yards each. He took his lone kickoff return 20 yards.
But Peveto likes what he's seen this season: "First of all, he can catch the ball, two he's got speed, and he's got enough juice to make the first guy miss, and he's a guy who's proven over and over to us that he's got good ball security."
Robinson is one of four who could return kicks for UK with Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet, who Peveto said are "all pretty good."
The special teams coach's eyes got a little wider, though, as he told a story about Blue, who averaged 28.8 yards on kickoff returns and 11.2 yards on punt returns last season for Butler Community College in Kansas.
"Early in camp, there was a punt there's no way we thought he could go get and he took off running," Peveto relayed. "I was like, 'Wow. There's no way he'll get there.' And he did. I'll never forget that. It was really an amazing thing. His speed. He just burst out there. He went and got the thing."
UK walk-on: No regrets
It had been years, literally years, since Lucas Witt had gotten hit on a football field. The walk-on Kentucky wide receiver nearly forgot what it felt like until UK's practice in the spring when he joined the team.
"We had full pads on and I got hit really hard," said Witt, who hadn't played organized football since Dec. 5 2009 as a senior at Lexington Christian. "I needed to get hit because I forgot what that felt like, especially since I played quarterback in high school. I hadn't been hit like that in a while."
He then added, "I'm enjoying it."
It's been a few months since Witt decided to walk away his baseball scholarship and walk onto the football team.
His parents, Elmer and Kathy, didn't protest, in fact it was probably his dad's influence that helped the former Lexington Christian standout make the decision.
"We knew he still had a heart for football," said Kathy, who also is the Fayette County sheriff. "His dad has always been very vocal that you should never look back and say, 'I wish I had tried this, I wish I had tried that."
In fact, his parents encouraged him to follow his heart back to football although it's unlikely he'll ever play professionally. (Witt was a 37th round selection by the Dodgers.)
"There's no better time to be a part of the Kentucky football program," Kathy Witt said. "We're happy he's getting to be part of it."
When jokingly asked if it was such a good time to be in the UK football program that it could get one (or one's 80-plus teammates) out of a parking ticket or two, the sheriff laughed.
"He knows there's no use in calling me," she said. "He and his sister (former UK cheerleader Morgan) always knew better than that."
My friends at the Kentucky Blood Center remind that the Battle for the Bluegrass begins on Monday and runs through Sept. 13. Donors can register as a Cats or Cards fan and receiver a T-shirt and be entered to win tickets to the Kentucky-Louisville game on Sept. 14 or a 2013 Toyota Prius.
To schedule a donation, visit www.kybloodcenter.org or call (800) 775-2522.
■ Several Kentucky coaches and their wives will take a few minutes away from football for a night of fun for a good cause. The Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital's Kentucky Bash will be held on Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Donamire Farm.
Stoops will be offering up the game ball from the UK-WKU game to auction off and as well as a UK football helmet that Maker's Mark will dip in blue wax.
Proceeds from the event will go toward a Pediatric Lokomat, which benefits patients who have suffered brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, cerebral palsy and other disabling conditions.
For more information, call Courtney Feltner at (859) 254-5701 ext. 5602 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.