At the start of fall camp, it was all about appearance.
At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds with long arms and strong hands, junior college transfer Kayaune Ross certainly looked the part of a Southeastern Conference wide receiver.
“He’s a kid who looks good,” Kentucky wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas said at the start of August. “When he walks out on the field, he wins that award. When you see a guy get off the bus, he’s physically intimidating.”
But once you got past the look, the rest was pretty pedestrian.
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“He’s so far behind,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran lamented on the first day of fall camp. “Hopefully we can get him ready and he’s a guy that can help us, whether it be game three or game six.”
Early on, Thomas nicknamed Ross “Godzilla” because of his impressive physical presence. “I mean, the kid’s put together now,” he joked.
But the wide receivers coach admitted that he is terrible with names and gives many of his players nicknames so he doesn’t have to remember all of them.
By the end of fall camp, with the season opener against Southern Miss on Saturday, Ross has more than made a name for himself.
“I believe I made it kind of to the point where they’re going to have to play me,” Ross said matter of factly last week, after two monster scrimmages in which he caught three touchdowns, two for 50-plus yards each.
“That’s how I feel about it. I knew as the season went and practice went on, that’s how it would go, just the more opportunities I get to show what I can do.”
It’s how Ross feels about his fall camp performance, and his coaches aren’t arguing with him.
“After certain scrimmages, after certain practices, we simply said he has to play,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Ross. “We’ll teach him the rest of it.”
Ross has some time to come along, playing behind some experienced veterans with some size, too.
But he’s come along quicker than most of his coaches thought he would after going nearly two seasons without playing in a game. His last game action came at Phoenix College in Arizona in 2014.
Ross played in the first four games there before an injury, and then he sat out last season.
When he got on the field this fall, he was a little bit lost, but it all seems to be coming back to him now, Thomas said.
“He’s playing faster because he’s learning the offense,” his wide receiver coach said. “I think before, it was kind of holding him back some and he was thinking too much. We’ve all been there where we really don’t know what we’re doing and we play kind of slow. He’s playing faster now, loosening up a little bit.”
And when Godzilla gets loose, look out.
“Physically, he’s a beast,” quarterback Drew Barker said. “I haven’t really seen a receiver like him. And obviously Dorian (Baker) looks just like him, too, but Kayaune is probably a little bigger even.”
Those big bodies, including Baker, redshirt freshmen Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson, all at 6-foot-3, as well as players such as Blake Bone (6-5), could terrorize some opposing defenses this season along with Godzilla.
“So that’s even crazier to have guys like that on your team who are that big of targets and you can just use them in the red zone and really just big bodies,” Barker continued.
Ross, who wasn’t on the Cats’ initial two-deep depth chart, has played himself into getting on the field, Stoops said, hinting that his first game action most likely will come Saturday against the Golden Eagles.
All of Southern Miss’s starting secondary is 6-foot or smaller.
“He’s a big, athletic target and we have been very impressed with him,” Stoops said of Ross, who has three seasons of eligibility left.
“You’re going to really see him make strides throughout the season and you will see him in there during the first game I would anticipate. We do have some depth but he is a difference-maker.”
Ross, a former Lakota West High School teammate with offensive linemen George Asafo-Adjei, Kyle Meadows and running back Mikel Horton, is more than just a big target in the red zone.
He could become a difference-maker in space, too.
“The thing with Kayaune is he can really run, too,” his quarterback continued. “I know in the scrimmage, we had a touchdown to him and he had like a 30-yard run after the catch and no one caught him; he broke a couple tackles. So it’s just good. He was a great addition to our team.”
Southern Miss at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)