Sports

Give thanks for Trevard Lindley

For Trevard Lindley, 2009 has not exactly provided the Hollywood ending to a storybook career.

When South Carolina victimized Kentucky's young cornerbacks for three touchdown passes in what became an excruciating UK road loss, Lindley had his sprained left ankle parked in a Lexington Bw3's and was watching on television.

"It felt weird to go in there and watch us play," Lindley said.

When the guy whose big moments are stamped all over many of the memorable UK football victories of the Rich Brooks era made a 2009 appearance on SportsCenter's top plays, it was as the beaten defender on a circus touchdown catch by Vanderbilt's John Cole.

Even during the telecast of UK's upset over Georgia in Athens last Saturday, the most prominent mention of Lindley was when ESPN2 color analyst Bob Davie noted that Kentucky's pre-season All-America cornerback was having a tough night.

Someone needs to call rewrite on this ending.

Lindley delayed life-changing money as an almost certain second-round pick (if not higher) in the 2009 NFL Draft to return to UK for his senior year.

In place of going out with a bang, he has lost four full games to a high ankle sprain suffered against Alabama. He has not been close to his normal game-altering self since returning.

"I'm probably somewhere in the 80s," Lindley said last week, asked to put a percentage on the physical status of his injured ankle. "It's hard to explode and cut" off the injured ankle.

Now, instead of taking bows at the end of a stellar college career, the Hiram, Ga., product is answering whether he regrets his decision to stay at Kentucky for his senior year.

"It's 11 months too late for that," Lindley said. "That's how I look at that."

Yet rather than continue to lament a senior season sidetracked, let's render an appreciation. My firsthand recollection of UK football goes back to the initial season in Commonwealth Stadium (1973). In all that time, I'm hard pressed to come up with a (non-quarterback) player who has made as many game-changing plays in Wildcats blue as Lindley.

The question on the floor this morning is: What is your favorite Trevard Lindley game-changing play?

UK defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin goes with the one-handed pick the freshman Lindley made in the end zone against Clemson in the 2006 Music City Bowl.

"It was so acrobatic," Lumpkin said. "That's when I knew the little man would be something big."

Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown and defensive tackle Corey Peters like the Lindley interception that clinched the first major upset of Brooks' tenure, the 2006 win over Georgia.

"I don't think that was his best play, his greatest play," Peters said, "but that was the first really big win since I had been at UK. We had so much fun that night. So that's my favorite Trevard play."

Brown said, "One, it sealed a big win. Two, a young man from Georgia did it against his home school."

Senior safety Calvin Harrison is partial to the Lindley pick that set up the field goal that sent Kentucky's eventual upset of No. 1 LSU into overtime.

Both of my two favorite Lindley game changers came against South Carolina.

In Columbia in 2007, tight end Weslye Saunders was behind the Kentucky defense and headed for a long touchdown play — except Lindley ran him down from behind and, one step from the goal line, punched the ball from his hands.

The next season here in Lexington, Lindley ripped a reception out of the hands of Gamecocks star Kenny McKinley and took it 28 yards to the house.

I didn't even try to pin Brooks down on his favorite Lindley moment.

"Numerous, numerous plays," Brooks said of Lindley's Kentucky career. "I can't even recall them all."

As for Lindley, his favorite Trevard Lindley game-changing play is the 66-yard fumble return for a touchdown at Arkansas in 2007 that turned the momentum of a game the Cats rallied to win.

"We were down, like two touchdowns (20-7 actually), and I was able to score to get us moving," he said.

As Lindley prepares to play in Commonwealth Stadium for the final time, one other thing bears noting. In a T.O. world, Lindley is an anti-braggadocio. Rather than call attention to himself, his big plays tend to be punctuated by tossing the ball to the ref.

Brooks said, "He's always conducted himself in an absolute first-class manner, on-campus and off."

At the end of a senior year that hasn't gone according to script, Kentucky fans need to remember how much noise has been produced by the play of the quiet man from Georgia.

When the UK seniors are introduced Saturday, No. 32 deserves a game-changer of an ovation.

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