UK Football

Pryor poised to impress

Defensive tackles rarely get any love from fans or the media, as they're often left to do the dirty work inside while the linebackers rack up tackles and the defensive ends pile up sacks.

"We're in the trenches, and we're not supposed to be making a thousand tackles or making big plays," Kentucky senior Myron Pryor said about the perception of his position.

But for perhaps the first time since Dewayne Robertson was the fourth pick of the 2003 NFL Draft, a UK defensive tackle is in the spotlight. Pryor has been the toast of the town after his big game in the Cats' 27-2 win over Louisville on Sunday.

Pryor's fumble recovery and 72-yard rumble to the end zone was one of the highlights of college football's opening weekend. It made No. 3 on ESPN's list for best plays of the week. Teammates and coaches were jumping up and down on the sideline in laughter as the 310-pound Pryor outraced Louisville's 309-pound center, Eric Wood, to the end zone. The play had ESPN commentators Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore using words like "big and beautiful," and "310 pounds of glory."

"I heard somebody compare me to the horse Curlin," Pryor added.

Pryor said he received at least 100 text messages from friends and family members about the return, and while it brought some comic relief to a game that wasn't much on entertainment value, Pryor is certainly no novelty act.

He's been lauded for his strength and explosiveness from the moment he arrived at UK in 2005, and he has shown flashes of dominance throughout. But nagging injuries have kept Pryor from being consistent.

He hasn't had problems suiting up, though, missing two games in three years, one because of a suspension.

Pryor tore a pectoral muscle the summer before he enrolled at UK, and he had a severe cramping problem as a freshman.

"One day we were going to eat, and he was going up the hill and caught a cramp," teammate David Jones recalled. "We've got it on video, and (ex-Wildcat) Wesley (Woodyard) showed it at the rookie talent show. On that return, the first thing that went through my mind was that he was going to catch a cramp."

Toe and elbow injuries slowed Pryor as a sophomore, and he had wrist surgery after the 2006 Music City Bowl. Pryor played through a strained pectoral muscle for most of 2007 and also suffered an ankle injury in November.

Many in UK's camp say Pryor can have a special 2008 if he can avoid injuries, and the Louisville game confirmed it. In addition to his fumble return, he also stripped running back Bilal Powell to set up Ashton Cobb's 28-yard fumble return for the game's first touchdown.

"I thought Myron played a great football game," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "I'm just hopeful he can have a healthy year. You won't see many 72-yard returns, but you'll see plenty of great plays."

Pryor can't control injuries, especially at a rough-and-tumble position like tackle, but his health should benefit from UK's deep rotation. Junior Corey Peters and sophomore Ricky Lumpkin give the Wildcats two other potential standouts at tackle, and sophomore Shane McCord will also see some snaps.

"Ricky played well; he played his best game since he's been here," Brooks said. "You look up and, all of a sudden, you've got a rotation and can rest some guys. That will be great to help keep everybody fresher."

The Southeastern Conference is known for outstanding play at tackle, and UK's depth also speaks to how well the Wildcats have recruited. recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said only a handful of difference-making tackles come out of high school each year.

"It's just so tough to find a guy who can do all the things you really want," Simmons said. "You might project a guy to get bigger, but will he still have the burst and explosion you need? And a guy might have the quickness, but he's not as developed physically as you need him to be. When there's a defensive tackle who's among the elite nationally, he's automatically ranked a little higher just because it's such a rarity."

Pryor has been waiting for his breakout year and said the U of L game could be the start of something big.

"When summer camp started, I told the guys that interviewed me that if I could stay healthy, I'd make plays, get in the backfield and make the quarterback nervous in the pocket," Pryor said. "And going out there in this first game and being able to stay in the whole game just showed people what I can do. I feel like there's no reason why I can't keep it up the whole season."

If he does keep it up, Pryor could wind up as the highest UK draft pick since Robertson, as 300-plus-pound defensive tackles with strength, speed and explosiveness are usually at a premium.

"I have a lot at stake this season," Pryor said. "A lot of people have told me I have the ability to play on the next level, and this first game gave me a chance to show what I can bring to the table. If I can play hard every game, there's no reason why I shouldn't have great numbers and help out our defense."

Brooks was concerned that Pryor might pull a hamstring on his long run, but other than a vomiting spell on the sideline afterward, Pryor was OK.

The ESPN announcers made fun of Pryor's jaunt, saying it could have been timed "with a sundial." But Pryor can move. He said he was timed at 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash at UK's Pro Day two years ago, and Louisville's Wood, a legitimate NFL prospect, was no match for Pryor in the open field.

When asked what would have happened had Wood caught him, Pryor said, "I probably wouldn't have talked to nobody, and my teammates would have gotten on me. But he wasn't going to catch me."