UK Football

After a freshman season that left him wanting more, Kentucky’s Bowden working hard to get it.

Lynn Bowden’s numbers were jaw-dropping.

His high school clips were eye-popping.

So maybe some were disappointed when the four-star University of Kentucky wide receiver who arrived with a backpack full of hype didn’t immediately duplicate his senior season at Warren Harding High School, a season that included 2,277 yards rushing and 1,366 yards passing along with 57 total touchdowns.

Maybe Bowden was disappointed that he went from 57 touchdowns a few months before he got to UK’s campus to zero end zone trips in his first college season.

But the 6-foot-1, 195-pound standout isn’t saying so.

“I know it’s going to come sooner or later, but it’s not on my mind,” he said of the lack of scores in his first season at Kentucky. “It could be first game, last game, next year maybe, but it’s going to come.”

Bowden isn’t boastful. He isn’t frustrated. He’s focused.

“I learned everything is not easy,” Bowden said Tuesday after UK’s first practice returning from spring break. “Not everything you do in high school is going to correlate to playing against experienced players.”

The wide receiver had plenty of success in plenty of ways in his first season wearing blue and white. He averaged 23.5 yards per kick return, seventh best in the Southeastern Conference.

Bowden amassed 192 all-purpose yards in a win at Vanderbilt, which included a 93-yard kickoff return.

Lynn Bowden said he didn’t lift weights before arriving at UK. He’s learned the importance of putting in the work and has spent the offseason building his strength. Ken Weaver

He completed three of his four pass attempts for 92 yards. And he caught 17 passes for 210 yards, which isn’t bad considering some of the obstacles he faced at the starting gate.

Among them: Bowden arrived on campus a week into fall camp. He didn’t have a summer of lifting weights and building chemistry with teammates.

He’d never played wide receiver.

Going into this 2018 season, Bowden now can say with some confidence that those obstacles are in his rear-view mirror.

“I never really lifted in my life,” he said Tuesday of getting in the weight room. “It was something I really didn’t have interest in doing.”

There wasn’t much of an emphasis on it in high school, so Bowden struggled to lift a standard 225 pounds when he arrived at UK.

“I barely could hit 225,” he said. “Now that’s one of my regular reps since I’ve been here.”

He feels himself getting bigger, stronger and better prepared to shed Southeastern Conference defenders.

Bowden’s head coach sees the changes, too, after eight weeks of winter lifting and conditioning.

“Some of these guys are so talented, they go play their whole life and they never really work out the way you need to,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “He’s taken it very serious. I like the way he worked this winter. You could see he’s stronger. If you get stronger, I think it’s only going to help his explosiveness.”

And then there’s the whole never playing the position in college that he’s being asked to play now.

Being a wide receiver, especially one at this level, isn’t an easy transition even for a stellar athlete like Bowden.

“People just think you go out there and throw and catch,” wide receivers coach Michael Smith said of playing the part. But it’s more “timing and spacing and getting on the same page with the quarterbacks.”

Bowden has intangibles that have helped ease his transition like “good feet, extremely good hands and good hips,” Smith continued, adding: “Lynn’s been asking the right questions. He’s been doing the right things on the practice field to try and become a better wide receiver.”

A new position coach at UK, Smith didn’t see Bowden when the player arrived on campus, but those with more perspective see a player who has changed dramatically in just seven months.

“He’s doing some stuff right now that you knew he could do, but he had to learn it because he wasn’t always at that position,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “He’s making some plays right now. He’s having some fun. He’s very, very smart.”

The sophomore is a dramatically different player than he was last season, co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said of Bowden, whose 17 catches are second most for any returning UK player.

“We didn’t have much time to mold him,” Hinshaw said of the sophomore’s delayed arrival while awaiting the NCAA eligibility clearinghouse. “We went through the season — obviously he did a fantastic job — but he had a lot of polishing to do. Well, I’m seeing that out there now.”

Now, Bowden is able to get open with more ease. He’s running solid routes, using his hands more effectively, coaches said.

He dropped a pass in practice Tuesday and then grabbed a quarterback afterward to keep working on it, Hinshaw said.

“He’s becoming an elite receiver, which is what we need him to be,” the coach said, noting that Bowden will still get used in myriad ways next season. “We’ve got to find ways to get him the ball. But he’s becoming a much better receiver, which is very exciting.”

For his part, Bowden said he’s improved “a little bit.

“I’ve still got a ways to go to become a great receiver,” he said. “I’m just trying to do my best.”

He’s not worried about touchdowns or setting records.

“I’ve just got to be better than last year,” he said of his personal goals. “That’s the biggest thing. Just have to be better than last year and make this team better than last year.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Blue-White Spring Game

When: April 13, 6:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Tickets: Free

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