LeBlanc on his coaching style
More from the series
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.
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Kordell Looney thought he was a basketball player.
Looney, a 6-foot-3, 297-pound junior at the University of Kentucky, didn’t play football his first two years at Springfield High School in Ohio. Now, going back to his redshirt freshman season, he’s played 18 straight games for UK — 11 against Southeastern Conference foes — and will be an integral piece of the defensive line in however many games the Wildcats play this season.
But Looney was a basketball player. A power forward, to be precise. He still likes to run at UK’s Johnson Center, too, and during UK’s Media Day a couple weeks ago made a bold proclamation.
“I’m the best basketball player in this stadium right now,” Looney said. Redshirt freshman Nick Lewis, an offensive tackle, disputed that notion immediately.
“You wasn’t no hooper,” Lewis, a 6-foot-9 behemoth, said. “I had offers, I had offers.”
Looney wasn’t having it. “Tell ’em, tell ’em,’ Looney said. “I’m better than Nick Lewis.”
Good-natured ribbing about the round ball aside, it’s clear Looney made a good call coming back to football, which he’d played from second grade up until his freshman year of high school. He recorded 15 tackles (one for a loss) and broke up a pass last year, and has twice come up with three tackles in a game (against Louisville in 2017 and against Vanderbilt last season).
Maurice Douglass, a former UK football star and the father of true freshman Moses Douglass, was considering taking the head coaching job at Springfield in 2014. He discovered Looney while watching a basketball practice at the school in the winter, and encouraged him to return to the game.
“I said, ‘If you’ll play, I’ll come,’” Douglass told The Springfield News-Sun in 2016. “He said, “If you come, I’ll think about it.’”
Douglass became the coach. Looney bought his pitch.
FBS offers rolled in before Looney even hit the field as a junior. Looney couldn’t believe it.
“He sought me out and told me I could be a really good player for him and all this stuff,” Looney said. “He helped me get to college. It was just crazy how it even happened.”
UK defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc, now in his third season with the program, said Looney’s path from the court to the gridiron has become something of a trend around the U.S.
“So what happens is it takes ’em a little while longer in the program to kind of get it, and just the physicality of it,” LeBlanc said. “And right now he’s pretty solid. I’m gonna depend on him and (T.J.) Carter to play that field end position, and he’s gonna be a big piece of our defense.”
Looney has never made a start at UK, but the nature of the unit makes that something of a moot point: the defensive line was able to platoon last year, and its returning depth and quality thereof should make that sustainable heading into a 2019 season full of moving parts and unknowns in other areas of the defense.
The line is eager to shoulder the load while things get sorted out elsewhere.
“I want us to all eat, y’know what I’m saying? That’s what I want,” Looney said. “I want everybody to eat. I feel like anybody can stand out. … We’re gonna be good. I saw a lot of flashes last year of us improving. We used to be the worst (group) on the team. I know it, I witnessed it. Now guys are building.”
Kordell Looney is a basketball player, but he’s doing a good job figuring out this football thing, too.
Defensive line outlook
Leading men: Nose guard Quinton Bohanna and defensive end Calvin Taylor each bring multiple years of experience, and a combined 21 starts, to the defensive line. Bohanna, a 6-4, 361-pound junior from the greater-Memphis area, started UK’s final six games last season, coming up with 17 tackles (four for a loss) and a sack. Taylor has played three straight seasons after redshirting in 2015. The 310-pound senior from Augusta, Ga., recorded 26 tackles (six for a loss) and started the final nine games in 2018. Taylor and offensive tackle Nick Lewis are the tallest players on the team at 6-9.
Supporting cast: T.J. Carter, Kordell Looney and Phil Hoskins all have at least two years of playing time under their belts. Carter (6-4, 289 pounds) is the only senior among the three and will succeed Adrian Middleton as the Cats’ starting defensive tackle. Backup nose guard Marquan McCall played in eight games as a true freshman last year and will be a key reserve. Sophomores Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald and Davoan Hawkins, as well as redshirt freshman Qua Mahone, could all see the field for the first time this fall.
Synopsis: Kentucky’s defense needs as much help as it can get from the men up front, and thankfully those fellas bring a lot to the table. The line accumulated 23.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in Derrick LeBlanc’s second season, and the group’s size, experience and versatility should help it match or exceed those totals in 2019. It’ll be asked to do just that due to uncertainty about what the secondary will be able to provide, especially in the early going.
Scouting the Cats
This is the second of nine stories looking at the 2019 Kentucky football team position by position.