UK Football

‘I feel like a new guy’: Kentucky lineman’s appetite for success outweighs joys of junk food

Kentucky defensive tackle Adrian Middleton made 35 tackles last season, including 5.5 for loss.
Kentucky defensive tackle Adrian Middleton made 35 tackles last season, including 5.5 for loss. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Adrian Middleton does his best to avoid eye contact.

There’s a lot of temptation wrapped up in the white package with the orange oval on it.

And the Kentucky defensive lineman has dropped 25 pounds by looking away from those white chocolate Reese’s peanut butter cups in their various forms.

“They’ve got the Reese’s milkshake and ice cream things,” said Middleton, shaking his head. “I was tearing those up, too. Now if I want something like that now, I get a small or a mini. I’m just trying to eat better.”

The peanut butter-centered, white chocolate goodness wasn’t the only enticement for Middleton, who is down to a svelte 275 pounds after giving up much of what he loved this offseason.

“I was eating too much Chinese food,” said Middleton, one of the Cats’ top returning defensive linemen after starting 12 straight games last season. “Eating cheeseburgers, milkshakes. I live right beside a Sonic.”

His worst vice now is a strawberry lemonade at Wendy’s, which he declared “too good to give up.”

In a lot of ways, Middleton thought he had to be bigger to be a top-level defensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference. It’s a common misconception, said Derrick LeBlanc, his new defensive line coach.

“I think coming in he thought he had to be this big guy to hold up in the line of scrimmage,” LeBlanc said of Middleton, a player he called a potential difference-maker for UK’s line this season.

“He’s realized that he can do it if he can move a little better, and I think the game’s getting that way,” LeBlanc continued. “With the different personnel groups you see now, the game’s getting faster. Not so much more physical, but a lot faster and guys got to be able to move, even the big guys.”

That realization hit Middleton in waves.

“I felt kind of sloppy with my belly hanging out,” he said of playing so heavy.

At various times in the past couple of years he’s been at Kentucky, he’d wake up in the morning feeling sluggish and exhausted.

“I felt tired all the time,” said Middleton, who had 35 tackles last season, including 5.5 for loss, fourth most on the team. “I wasn’t myself. I had to change my life around.”

He took a nutrition class and tried to learn how to become his own personal “Chef Boyardee at home,” cooking a lot of chicken and fish dishes.

The former South Warren standout found the better his body felt, the better he played and practiced. It’s something his coaches and teammates have noticed. He hopes it’s something others will notice, too.

“I’ve gotten a lot stronger, cutting down some weight,” he said. “I feel like a new guy out there, like I have more energy, more explosion.”

There’s more experience than in the past coming back on the defensive line, so there’s more expected.

“It was not a strength of ours last year at all,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said before the start of spring practice. “It was an area that we need to address, and we are addressing, and we expect to play better.”

The line is still a work in progress, new defensive coordinator Matt House said Thursday.

“We need to see more,” House said. “Those guys up front set the tone. Yesterday we didn’t practice necessarily how we want to. I thought we were much better today. We came with a more physical mentality.”

And as the player with the most starts under his now smaller-sized belt, Middleton is trying to lead the way.

“He’s trying every day to be that guy, to be a strong leader of the D-line,” nose guard Naquez Pringle said of Middleton. “He’s trying to make sure everybody’s working toward being better.

“He doesn’t want to be the (part of) the team everybody talks about in a bad way. We’re all trying to be that D-line everybody talks about in a good way.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Blue-White Game

When: 7:30 p.m. April 14

TV: SEC Network

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