UK Football

Ex-Creekers relish coming back underdogs

Most oddsmakers have Kentucky a favorite by 11 to 14 points in its annual rivalry game against Louisville.

That's fine with two Cardinals who will be returning to their hometown Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

"It only adds fuel to the fire," said Pete Nochta, a 6-foot-5, 244-pound junior tight end. "I don't think anybody really needs a line telling them that they're underdogs to get motivated for a game like this."

Daniel Covington, a 5-11, 206-pound senior strong safety who was Nochta's teammate at Tates Creek High, relishes the added fuel.

"Anything gives us motivation," he said. "Even the (UK football) billboards around town give us motivation."

Nochta, who earned a starting job last year, missed Louisville's season-opening 30-10 win over Indiana State.

Knee soreness early this year was first diagnosed as tendinitis, Nochta said. But an MRI revealed a benign tumor in his femur.

"I had to have two surgeries — one to clean it out in case it was infected, and then another surgery to fill it back in so it could fully heal," he said.

Coach Steve Kragthorpe said Monday that Nochta has "a chance to play in this game." A qualifier was assessing how Nochta would tolerate back-to-back game-week workouts.

Tuesday, Nochta said all systems are go and that he'll do whatever he is asked, be it special teams, block or catch.

"Hopefully, I get to play. But I understand that it's more important to the team that I get my knee healthy and can contribute all the way rather than risk injuring it again," he said. "So whatever happens, happens. But I'm trying to push it and get ready to go so we can get a win."

Covington, U of L's second-leading tackler last season (66), has no complaints this year, even though junior-college transfer Terrence Simien has taken his starting job.

"It's not been tough to take," said Covington, who had two tackles in the opener. "It's whatever's best for the team."

While UK is coming off a 42-0 rout of Miami (Ohio), Louisville had a tougher time with lowly Indiana State. But it was a win, and one that could have an unexpected benefit. The Cards have been all business while making adjustments for nearly two weeks.

"It's going to be a great scenario," Covington said. A key, he added, "is going to be 'no big plays' on defense."

Nochta cited another key.

"For the past six years, whichever team has led in rushing yards has won the game," he said. "I feel like, if we can get a good running game going ... then that would be the best situation for us."

Saturday will mark Covington's first game at Commonwealth. He was academically ineligible for the 2007 game.

Nochta played only in goal-line situations in that 40-34 last-minute loss. He caught two passes for 9 yards in last year's 27-2 loss at Louisville.

"That was my first start ever, and everything was thrown at me at once," he said. "We missed out on a couple plays. But I feel like we had a lot of inexperience, and this year I think that inexperience is gone."

What if he had to choose between beating UK or winning a Big East title?

"I really don't like them so I'm going to have to say Kentucky," said Nochta, whose dad, John, played for UK and is principal at Henry Clay High School. "Then we'll see what happens down the road, try to knock them both out."

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