What-ifs are as big a part of sports as yelling at the refs or heckling the opposing teams’ fans, and University of Kentucky athletics is certainly vulnerable to them.
The Wildcats are coming off their second straight season of being one win shy of making a bowl, and the team’s postseason drought moved into its fifth straight year. The latest what-if in the eyes of the disheartened Big Blue Nation came in UK’s second-half collapse against rival Louisville in the 2015 season finale.
Louisville wasn’t the only reason we didn’t get to a bowl game, but it was our last chance to make it to a bowl game. We just felt like we didn’t accomplish our goal.
Josh Forrest, Rams linebacker
Senior linebacker Josh Forrest helped build a 21-0 lead for UK in the first quarter with a 81-yard interception return, but the Cats lost the lead after UK players got caught “looking at the scoreboard” and allowed the Cards to score 31 unanswered points in the second half.
UK fell to 5-7 and again missed out on a bowl appearance.
“Louisville wasn’t the only reason we didn’t get to a bowl game, but it was our last chance to make it to a bowl game. We just felt like we didn’t accomplish our goal,” said Forrest, who starred in high school at Paducah Tilghman.
Two straight years of coming up short is something that Forrest and UK would like to put behind them. Kentucky’s challenge will be another grueling season in the Southeastern Conference. Forrest has moved on to the NFL where he will try to find success after being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the sixth round.
Forrest racked up 93 total tackles (39 solo tackles), 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions in his senior season at UK.
Forrest had to bounce back quickly from last season’s loss to Louisville and begin preparations for the draft. The Senior Bowl in December and NFL Combine in January flew by, and then draft day came, along with anxiety.
“So the draft came by really fast,” Forrest said. “And watching the draft was nerve-racking just because I was not getting called third through the fifth round.”
Forrest was the lone defensive player selected by the Rams in 2016. Also, the team parted ways its all-time leading tackler, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, in a salary cap purge. That spells opportunity for Forrest as he begins offseason training with the team.
As a rookie, Forrest is still trying to get comfortable in his new home. This year, that makes him no different from his veteran teammates. The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles after last season.
Advice veterans would normally supply such as best places to live or eat is scarce. Forrest said that has led to a closeness among the younger players because they have to depend on one another.
Outside of L.A., Forrest can lean on a unique resource for guidance. Previous UK linebackers Avery Williamson, Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard all ranked among the league leaders in total tackles last season, and Forrest hopes to continue their legacy.
“I talk to Danny Trevathan a lot,” Forrest told Rams.com. His advice? “Listen to some of the older guys. Don’t take any crap, but listen. And just get out here and work hard.”
Change is nothing new for Forrest, who did not start playing football until his junior year of high school after mostly playing basketball. At UK, he arrived as a wide receiver and finished as a linebacker.
“You see it on occasion,” head coach Jeff Fisher told Rams.com of Forrest’s changes. “But what you’re doing is you’re looking at a guy who is highly athletic. The basketball background and then to football, and then to receiver, and all this. And he’s grown. He’s going to continue to grow.”
While the goal last season was a bowl game for the Cats, this year Forrest has his sights set on the All-Rookie team in the NFL.
“That would require me being a force on special teams because I figure that’s one of the positions I’m going to be in,” Forrest said. “And then just going in when my number is called and doing my part.”