The Nielsen Company says 108.7 million Americans watched last year's Super Bowl. Even if all 317 million U.S. citizens tune in this year, I'll surmise that no one will be more excited about the game than Chuck Smith here in Kentucky.
Smith, 56, is the former longtime head football coach at Boyle County High School. From 2005-12, he coached the linebackers for the Kentucky Wildcats. When Denver kicks off next Sunday's Super Bowl XLVIII against Seattle, three players Smith worked with closely will be on the field in Broncos orange and blue.
Tight end Jacob Tamme played for Smith at Boyle County (the duo were at UK together for three seasons, too). Linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan were the two best LBs Smith had in his time at UK.
"I just wish the game would get here," Smith said Thursday. "I'm so proud of those guys and so excited, I can't wait."
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Of the three, Smith's connections with Tamme run deepest. The 6-foot-3 Tamme starred as a junior and senior on Boyle County state championship teams.
"He's a special young man, always has been," Smith said. "He's very intelligent, very athletic. At Boyle County, he played football, basketball and baseball and he was good at all of them."
As all of us who covered UK football during the era in which Tamme twice was named first-team All-SEC at tight end can attest, in personal interactions the ex-Boyle star is unusually friendly and engaging. Because he's so nice, I think people tend to underestimate just how hot Tamme's competitive fire burns.
"I think that's true," Smith said. "I remember at Boyle County, we went away to football camp and it was a rugged, physical camp. Jacob just threw himself into that camp, was all-out the whole time. By the end, he just collapsed. He is super competitive, wants to beat you at everything he does."
From the moment Woodyard arrived at UK in the fall of 2004, an early part of Joker Phillips' recruiting pipeline from LaGrange, Ga., his personality lit up the UK linebacking room, Smith said.
"Actually, in terms of his personality and his character, Wesley is very much like Jacob," Smith said. "A very competitive guy, a tough, tough football player."
Recruited to Kentucky as a safety, Woodyard (now listed at 6-foot, 233 pounds by Denver) became an undersized linebacker and the defensive leader of UK's back-to-back eight-win teams in 2006 and '07.
An undrafted free agent, Woodyard not only made the Broncos, he has been a Denver team captain for six seasons in a row.
"Always in our linebacker meetings, from the time Wes got there until the day he left, he was the leader of that room," Smith said. "The other guys all listened to him, and they all followed him."
Former UK assistant Rick Petri "discovered" Trevathan, a little-heralded recruit from Leesburg, Fla. "I remember, I went down and watched him in an all-star game," Smith said. "He was all over the field, made plays from one side to the other. I remember thinking, 'This guy has a chance to be something special.'"
At UK, Trevathan led the SEC in tackles as a junior and senior. Yet questions about his size (he's now listed at 6-1, 240) caused him to last until the sixth round (188th overall pick) in the 2012 NFL Draft.
"I remember leading up to the draft, people would call me about Danny," Smith said. "I remember a guy asking me if I was confident he would play in the NFL. I told him, 'Actually, I'm confident he will be a multi-year starter in the NFL.' Danny just has that God-given instinct for the game; he would know where a play was going almost before the offense knew."
This season, Trevathan led the Broncos in tackles (129) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (three).
For those who worship at the altar of the recruiting "star system," Denver's 'UK three' are a spit in the eye. Rivals.com had Tamme (2003) and Woodyard (2004) as three-stars and Trevathan (2008) as a two-star.
Now they're in the Super Bowl.
In 2010, when Tamme played for the Indianapolis Colts in their Super Bowl loss to New Orleans in Miami, he provided tickets for his old high school coach. This time, Smith, who was recently named head man at Madison Central, says he plans to watch the game from home on TV.
But Smith said he has sent Tamme a text message.
"I told him he's already been in one (Super Bowl), this time he needs to get the ring," Smith said. "For all three of them, I really want that Super Bowl ring."