Kentucky defensive tackle Phil Hoskins needs to clear some barriers
One shoulder surgery is tough enough to get through.
Consecutive shoulder surgeries — one on each side — makes things extra complicated.
That’s for a normal person.
Add in that the two torn labrums happened to a defensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference, and it’s almost unimaginable.
Kentucky senior defensive lineman Adrian Middleton doesn’t even like to think about what teammate Phil Hoskins has gone through.
“Coming back from two shoulder surgeries?” Middleton said this spring. “That’s something serious. That’s like coming back from two knee surgeries. You’re not the same.”
But Hoskins, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound junior from Toledo, Ohio, is trying to get back to who he was before the injuries.
He’s battling Middleton for playing time as part of what could turn out to be a deeper, more stout UK defensive line than even coaches previously predicted.
It has been a long road to recovery for Hoskins, who played sparingly in his first season since coming back from back-to-back labrum surgeries. Last season, he played in seven games with two tackles.
Just being back on the field feels like a gift to Hoskins, who had his right shoulder fixed in the summer of 2016 and then his left one repaired in the spring of 2017.
Each surgery required at least six months of recovery. But that was easier than life with a torn labrum.
“When it first happened, if I slept in a weird position, my arms would just go numb,” Hoskins described.
“When (a shoulder is) torn, it might just come out. When that first happened, I was like, ‘Oh, man, this hurts so bad.’ But then after a while you kind of get used to it. It drops out and you put it back in.”
Sometimes Hoskins worried that he might not be able to bounce back, that he might have to quit playing the game that he loves.
“It’s kind of tough because you need these in my position,” he smiled, touching a shoulder. “You get double teams, combos, that’s a lot of weight coming at you and if your shoulders aren’t strong, you’re out of luck.”
So Hoskins has worked on his strength. He’s still working on his endurance, coaches said.
“He’s got all the tools,” defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc said. “He’s a very talented kid, but there’s a trust factor with him and I, but we’re working on it and I’m all over his butt. …
“Once he gets it all through his head, he’s going to be a very good football player and very disruptive.”
Not only was there a physical barrier for Hoskins to get through last season, there also were some mental ones as he tried to pick up the nuances of a completely unfamiliar defensive formation.
“For me last year it was tough taking that year off for the shoulders, getting all out of shape,” Hoskins said during spring practice. “Now getting in the swing of things … I’ve learned the technique, but I’m still working on that because the physicality is in there but I’ve got to work on the technique part.”
Coaches are expecting much bigger things from Hoskins in 2018, his first full year healthy.
During the so-called “talking season,” defensive coordinator Matt House was asked about potential breakout players in his group.
At two different events, House mentioned Hoskins.
“Phil is a guy that could be very disruptive,” House said in July. “He’s a quick twitch player. And he’s a guy the more reps he gets, the better he’s become. … He’s a guy who has improved and has a high ceiling to improve even more in training camp.”
Now that he’s healthy, coaches want to see more from the junior lineman.
Hoskins will be a known commodity soon, a teammate predicted.
“He’s learning more. He’s being more physical,” Middleton said. “I feel like this year he’s going to have a really explosive year for us and be an impact player.”
Scouting the Cats
This is the third of nine stories looking at the 2018 Kentucky football team position by position.
Scouting the defensive line
▪ The main man: The veteran of the group is Adrian Middleton, a former South Warren standout, who has 25 career starts, more than all other UK defensive linemen combined. The senior has 68 career tackles, including 8.5 for a loss. He has become a more vocal leader.
▪ The supporting cast: Perhaps the most important player on the line is in the center of it, nose guard Quinton Bohanna, who had a breakout true freshman season last year and has continued to develop. Bohanna has an athletic veteran behind him in Tymere Dubose, too. Junior college transfer Phil Hoskins is vying for playing time with Middleton and caught coaches’ attention with his disruptiveness in the spring. Several other regulars from last season such, as Calvin Taylor (22 tackles, one sack last season in 11 games) and T.J. Carter (18 tackles, three for loss in 12 starts last season), have dramatically changed their bodies. UK is waiting still to see how much it will get from Josh Paschal, who had a break out true freshman season as an outside linebacker but has moved to the interior line. Paschal is a question mark, especially in the first half of the season, after being diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on his foot. Coaches are hopeful that others like sophomore Kordell Looney and redshirt freshman Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald will add even more depth. Three true freshmen — Davoan Hawkins, Marquan McCall and Jerquavon Mahone — also could join the rotation, but how much is unclear.
▪ Outlook: A frequently maligned position group during Mark Stoops’ tenure looks like it might finally have the depth and athleticism needed to make a jump in the Southeastern Conference. UK returns starters at every interior line spot from last year and has much more skilled depth. “We have some good competition in our room that we didn’t have before,” defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc said. Of the Cats’ 11 tackles for loss by interior defensive linemen last season, 9.5 of those are back, as are all five of the sacks that group had last season. Kentucky coaches have high expectations that those numbers will only improve this season.