UK Football

‘Big Bo’ has big-time potential, Kentucky coaches say of rookie defensive lineman

Normally a man of few words (at least in interviews), Kentucky’s defensive coordinator didn’t even wait for the question to end before starting his reply.

“He’s gotten better every practice,” Matt House said in his rush to discuss true freshman defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna. “Sorry to cut you off.”

There’s just something special about the 6-foot-4, 320-pound nose tackle from Cordova, Tenn.

“He’s a guy that’s a big twitched up guy,” House continued enthusiastically. “I mean for a big man he moves well. Another guy that I think football is really important to him, which if you’re blessed with athleticism, size and it’s really important to you, you’ve got a potential to be really good.”

There is zero question that football is important to Bohanna, said his former high school head coach at Cordova. While some teams might leave their defensive calls to linebackers or safeties, it was Bohanna for his team.

“He’s probably the smartest football player I’ve ever had the chance to coach,” Coach Anthony Jones said of Bohanna, who recorded 91 tackles last season at Cordova. “He does all the small things right. He knows where the play is going before the ball is even snapped.”

Bohanna studies film in the same relentless way that he goes after opponents in the backfield, racking up 24 tackles for loss and 19 sacks last season, Jones said.

On national signing day just a few months ago, it was clear that House already was feeling good about the potential he saw in Bohanna, who was rated the No. 45 defensive tackle in the country by Rivals.

“Big Bo’s got a chance to be a big-time player,” House said that day.

But Kentucky’s coaches weren’t sure how long that process might take. It’s always hard to know with freshmen, especially ones who play at a position so close to the ball.

Coach Mark Stoops erased much doubt about where Bohanna would be on game days this season: on the field.

“We really feel like he’s got a great upside,” Stoops said on his radio show Monday night. “He’s a guy who’s very big, but also very explosive. He’s a little more twitchy then some of the nose guards we’ve had. So hopefully he can get in there and be a little more disruptive.”

Bohanna isn’t just a big body in there, Stoops continued, he’s also “athletic for how big he is.”

That athleticism is evident any time you watch him do anything, his high school coach said.

“Quinton was probably one of the most athletic kids we had, not only on our football team but one of the most athletic kids we had at the school,” Jones said. “Quinton probably could go out on the basketball court and play basketball if he wanted to with his size. From a football standpoint, he probably had the best set of hands on the team. Of course he never played receiver, but he could catch the ball. He could actually throw the ball.”

Bohanna never did actually throw the ball in a game, but he did serve as the backup quarterback for the middle school team before a significant growth spurt.

The freshman’s emergence has created a greater “sense of competition” at that nose tackle spot where both junior college transfer Naquez Pringle and Matt Elam played last season, new defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc said. Pringle finished with 39 tackles, including two tackles for loss last season, while starting in five games. Elam had nine tackles and also started five games.

Bohanna has rotated in with starters, backups and the third team at various points during fall camp and has made a serious push for playing time.

He’s also created a sense of urgency for the veteran players at his position, Stoops said on Monday night.

“Playing time will solve a lot of problems,” he said. “You’ve got guys who are sitting there and hungry to play that can replace you, then we’re going to do it. There comes a point that either you can’t or you won’t. If that’s the case then we have to move on and find somebody who can or will.”

Roster additions, adjustments

Once the semester started, Kentucky made some roster changes and added some walk-ons, which include a handful from the within the commonwealth. Most of the players will serve on scout team and as supplemental players.

Added walk-on names from Kentucky include defensive back Spencer Blackburn, who played quarterback during high school for Trinity; running back Donald Smith (Mercer County); tight ends Patrick Henschen (Newport Central Catholic) and Will Roden (Lexington Catholic) and linebackers Jackson High (Ryle) and Branden Layne (Lafayette).

Other additions include defensive back Aamir Holmes from Chicago’s Leo Catholic, tight end Josh Diado from Vienna, Va. (Oakton), punter Colin Goodfellow from Cleveland (Saint Ignatius) and kicker Matt Ruffolo from Centerville, Ohio (Archbishop Alter).

• Three-star defensive lineman Chris Whittaker, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound freshman from Hollywood, Fla., changed numbers from No. 94 to No. 97 on the updated roster.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Season opener

Kentucky at Southern Miss

4 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader