UK Football

Conner is 'like a brick wall'

Sam Maxwell asked why someone wanted to talk to him about fullback John Conner, his teammate at Kentucky.

"I didn't think many people knew about him," said Maxwell, a UK linebacker. "Fullbacks don't get all the glamour and show time. It's all running backs.

"But ask SEC linebackers. They know about John Conner."

Maxwell knows about Conner, his teammate and close friend for three seasons.

"He's like a brick wall," Maxwell said. "We like to call John a game-time fullback. You don't want to go through practice against him. It's banging, banging, constantly."

Conner and Maxwell have what the linebacker calls "a mutual agreement."

"He knows I can hit hard, and I know he can hit hard," Maxwell said. "We've learned we can still practice hard and not kill each other."

Conner replied, "We try to stay as healthy as we can during the week. We need to protect ourselves as much as we can for Saturdays."

Alfonso Smith, one of Kentucky's star running backs, appreciates his teammate and called Conner one of the best fullbacks in the country. "I'm very comfortable running behind him, like I'm not going to get touched."

Larry Brinson, UK's running backs coach, describes Conner as the prototypical fullback. "He's perfect for our offense and what we do. Fullbacks have to be unselfish. They don't get all the glory. Tailbacks get it most of the time.

"John does all the hard work of a leading blocker. And he's a good receiver out of the backfield."

Brinson calls his senior fullback quiet and reserved. "In meetings, I have to ask some questions to make sure he's alive. But when he hits the field, he's a tenacious, aggressive guy who sets the tone for us. He'll smack a quarterback to get the whole offense fired up."

Conner knows his leadership will be important, "but not just vocally but by example, trying to do everything right and show the younger guys what it takes to play at this level."

Conner takes pride in doing his part "to help us become the 'new' Kentucky, becoming a team you expect to go to a bowl game every year, not just one year."

Coming out of Lakota West High School in Cincinnati, the 5-foot-11, 240-pound Conner had offers from several small schools but chose to become a preferred walk-on at Kentucky.

He was injured in his third game and took a medical redshirt. He received a scholarship his sophomore year and has played in every game the last three autumns.

Probably his most important carry as a Wildcat came in the first half of the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2.

Kentucky trailed East Carolina 10-0 and faced fourth-and-1 on its 44.

Conner was hit 2 yards behind the line, broke a tackle and was hit again but then burst loose.

"He needed 6 inches and made 8," said UK spokesman Tony Neely, "but that kept us going. If we turn the ball over and East Carolina scores, I don't know if we could've come back."

Kentucky managed a field goal, tied the score 16-16 in the third quarter and pulled out a 25-19 victory.

"I felt confident I had enough for the first down," Conner said. "I kept my feet moving and made it. I felt satisfaction especially after getting the victory."

"It took a second and third effort to get the first down," Brinson said. "We needed to get some points on the board, and that gave us an opportunity to score."

That was no surprise to linebacker Maxwell.

"He's like Tim Masthay, an all-around guy," Maxwell said, comparing Conner to the former Cat who made an impact on and off the field. "John's a great guy to have on this team and as a friend."