Zach West's best game in a Kentucky uniform came after more than a month with nearly no practice.
So maybe the left guard should start lobbying to get out of practices altogether?
"I mean, if it works," the junior said with a grin.
West can joke about it now, but the ailment that kept him out of practices and games for most of this season was frightening for the former Lexington Christian standout, his family, his coaches and teammates.
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At noon on the Thursday before the Sept. 6 Ohio University game, West developed weakness in his neck and shoulder.
"Just a few kinks and a lot of soreness," he said. "It was a lot of weird stuff I've never experienced before."
It turned out West had nerve damage.
But he's still not sure how or why it happened.
"It was a mystery to me, and a lot of the doctors couldn't really pinpoint what it was," West said. "It was just a whole weird situation to them."
They told him it could be weeks, months or even years before it got better. With nerve problems, there's no precise timetable.
"Everybody's nerves react different," West said. "I could be out the whole year, a few days; it was definitely kind of terrible there for a while not knowing what was going to happen."
When West started to get some strength back in his neck and shoulder, his family worried about him getting back on the football field. But he knew he was ready.
He practiced just two full days before the Cats' big victory over South Carolina, but West's coaches knew he was back.
"He was flying around at practice, and usually that's a pretty good indicator for a lineman that he's going to go out there and play well," offensive line coach John Schlarman said. "It's not always 100 percent, but that's usually a pretty good indicator."
It turned out that the down time did West some good. Against South Carolina, he had what Schlarman, head coach Mark Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and others called his best game at Kentucky, helping the Cats run for a season-high 239 yards against the Gamecocks.
In fact, it was Kentucky's best rushing performance since gaining 262 yards versus Miami (Ohio) in the second game of last season.
"I was really happy for him," Brown said. "It was a weird injury. Don't know really what caused it, but he stayed locked in mentally, stayed really focused on what we were doing even when he wasn't playing. So I was really happy for him."
West, who had 12 knockdowns, zero penalties and zero missed assignments in the victory, made a big difference, his position coach said.
"Zach played really well," Schlarman said. "That's the best Zach's played since we've been here, since I've been here."
Part of that was West wanting to show that he was back to normal, that he was a part of his team.
"I just came out ready to go," he said. "I wanted to prove I wanted to be back out there. I didn't want to show anybody or anybody to think I'd been faking it or I didn't want to be here, so I definitely wanted to prove that."
Not that his coaches or teammates ever thought that of West.
Quarterback Patrick Towles said having West on the field again changed the game for him.
"I play better and I'm more relaxed out there when he's out there," said Towles, who threw for 208 yards in the victory and was sacked just once. "Not because necessarily he's better than the guy that was playing, but we have the kind of relationship where we both stay pretty relaxed out there."
There was an unforeseen benefit for the Kentucky offense, too.
With West's ailment, plus injuries and a suspension, among other things, Kentucky's offensive line has been a giant jigsaw puzzle, with four combinations in five games.
It has meant the emergence of redshirt freshmen Cole Mosier, Kyle Meadows and Nick Haynes. Having fresh guys in to rotate was crucial in the fourth quarter, Brown said.
"What's nice now is we have four guys inside," Brown said. "We had two, but we had some injuries. Now we're getting back and getting healthy, so now we're going to rotate all four guys."
Having the ability to rotate some of those players will be important down the stretch in Southeastern Conference play.
"If we can do that, we can continue to play at a high tempo and we'll keep those guys fresh," Brown said. "Because right now what happens, when they get tired, they lose their technique. If we can keep them fresh, then they'll play with better technique throughout."
West is just happy to be back. He also was excited to see how far Kentucky's offensive line depth had come.
"It used to be five guys the whole game, no matter what the score was," he said. "That's what we've been used to. And now, having two or three series off — maybe one series off — it's a big deal."