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Scouting the Cats
University of Kentucky football beat writer Josh Moore and columnist Mark Story are examining the 2019 Wildcats position by position through a series of nine stories leading up to the start of their season on Aug. 31 against Toledo. Click below to read previous installments in the series.
What’s in a name? If you’re one University of Kentucky football player, it’s the superlative desired by everyone in whatever walk of life they choose.
Best. Blake Best.
UK’s long snapper is one of 10 returning starters and one of two specialists (along with punter Max Duffy) from last year’s 10-3 team. Best was the snapper on field goals and point-after-touchdown attempts; this season he’ll snap on punts for the first time in his career (Tristan Yeomans, who graduated, was responsible for that duty last year).
Keeping up with the development of a long snapper doesn’t make for good talk-show fodder, but for Best, improving himself and getting to be an asset in all areas of the kicking game is a point of pride.
“When I came five years ago, the plan was to do both punting and field goals, and not doing punts was humbling in itself,” Best said. “I definitely had some things I needed to work on. I had to get faster, I had to lose some weight. Finally being there and finally being able to contribute in all special teams phases, it’s exciting.”
Best, from Duluth, Ga., committed to UK as a walk-on following a specialists camp in July 2014. That was after the Wildcats’ first season under Mark Stoops, the program’s second straight 2-10 effort.
He bought into the coaches’ vision for what Kentucky could be, and was encouraged by the 5-7 season that transpired during his senior year of high school, but he stopped short of saying a 10-win season was something that should have been expected.
“You can’t just have expectations,” Best said. “It was a lot of work. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs since then. I trusted that the coaching staff was capable of getting us there with the team that we had. It was just neat to see it all come to fruition.”
Best is still getting better on the field, but he’s always been extraordinary in the classroom: he graduated high school with a 4.1 grade point average and came to UK on a National Merit Scholarship (awarded to the top 1 percenters among high school students who take the PSAT).
He graduated last December with a double major in economics and finance with a 4.0 GPA; he’s now a graduate student studying finance at the school, and is on pace to graduate with his master’s degree by year’s end. Someday he wants to be the chief financial officer of a major business; this summer he was an intern at Lexington-based manufacturer Big Ass Fans, where he worked in accounts payable.
UK’s Master of Science in Finance program is relatively new, and the offerings are limited as far as class schedules are concerned. Best is in constant communication with UK’s coaching staff and his teammates to make sure that he stays in the loop, even if he has to miss parts of practice because of his demanding course load.
“I guess just kind of like everything, it’s communication,” Best said. “When I’m here, I try to talk to everybody, meet the new guys, make sure the freshmen feel welcome ‘cause I know it’s a big transition. And then for my position group, especially, we’ve gotta make sure that if I can’t be here all the time, we need to make sure that we’re getting reps and keeping our operations smooth and getting our timing down with each other. I would say like anything in life, it’s just kind of communication and making sure we’re on the same page.”
Special teams outlook
Leading men: Lynn Bowden was one of only five players (Oklahoma’s Curtis Bolton, Boston College’s Travis Levy, Temple’s Isaiah Wright and Wake Forest’s Greg Dortch) who returned two punts for TDs last season and will continue to be a weapon in that phase. Blake Best is now the Cats’ full-time long snapper in his final season in the program. Max Duffy, a junior who could end up with the school record for average distance, was among the best punters in the nation last season and his big leg could quietly be a big asset for an inexperienced defense. Redshirt freshman Chance Poore, formerly the nation’s top-ranked kicker, takes over place-kicking duties while Grant McKinniss continues to hold.
Supporting cast: During UK’s only open practice in the fall, running backs A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke fielded punts in addition to Bowden. It wouldn’t be surprising to see true freshman Travis Tisdale, another running back, get a shot back there, too, before he hits his four-game limit for a redshirt year. MJ Devonshire, a cornerback, is a potential threat in the return game as well. Senior walk-on Ben Logsdon, who transferred from Centre College, provides another place-kicking option if Poore goes down. Several other walk-ons — Zach Johnson, Drew Schlegel, Brett Slusher — have been reliable contributors on special teams and should continue to be productive in their roles.
Synopsis: So often specialists are only noted when things go poorly, and that rarely is the case for Dean Hood’s squad. Poore was 2-for-4 on field-goal attempts and played in three games last year; he’s the biggest question mark in the kicking game, but based on the level of confidence he displays, he’s fit to be the full-time guy and is prepared to step up when the lights get bright.
Scouting the Cats
This is the first of nine stories looking at the 2019 Kentucky football team position by position.