NASHVILLE — Jacob Dufrene didn't want his first career start to come like this. But with second-team All-Southeastern Conference linebacker Sam Maxwell out because of a shoulder injury, Dufrene will be center stage on the strong side when Kentucky lines up against Clemson in the Music City Bowl on Sunday.
Dufrene, a Louisiana native, has been mainly a special teams player during his three years at UK and has seen only spot duty at linebacker. He has 10 career tackles, including a tackle for loss against Eastern Kentucky.
But UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith said he's confident Dufrene will be ready.
"He's been practicing the position for a long time," Smith said. "He's worked his butt off. He's earned the right. Now it's time for him. And you never know what guys are going to do until they get out there and get the true test. And he'll get that true test on Sunday.
"He's a very disciplined guy as far as knowing his responsibilities and assignments, and he works hard on his technique. He'll hit you, too"
Dufrene and freshman Ridge Wilson will probably compete for the job this spring, and Dufrene is hoping to use the bowl as a springboard.
"Hopefully I can have a good game and show the coaches that they can have confidence in me going into spring," Dufrene said.
Cats trying to find replacement for Conner
One of UK's biggest tasks in the off-season will be replacing senior fullback John Conner, whose blocking and short-yardage running have been vital to the offense the past four seasons. The Cats have no returning scholarship fullbacks for 2010. The only candidates are walk-ons: redshirt freshman Tatum Lewis (6-0, 232); junior Stephen Ball (5-10, 229); and sophomore Brian Murphy (6-0, 216).
But UK Coach Rich Brooks said he'll worry about that when the time comes.
"We will have a hard time replacing everything that (Conner) does, but what I'm looking for is to see him do it one more time," Brooks said.
Cobb shaves head to honor leukemia patient
Randall Cobb is sporting a bald look this week as a tribute to Bradley Wilson, a 13-year-old boy from Simpsonville who is battling leukemia. Cobb visited Wilson recently and told him he'd shave his head for the bowl game.
"The things that he's going through with this leukemia and the way he's fighting and the miracles he's overcome so far has inspired me to follow him and support him by shaving my head," Cobb said. "Once I got to know him as a person and his family and saw their values and their faith in Christ, I wanted to follow in their footsteps."
Gonzalez, Russell out with illness; King returns
Senior center Jorge Gonzalez and freshman running back Donald Russell both missed Thursday's practice with flu-like symptoms.
Freshman receiver LaRod King returned after missing Wednesday's practice for the same reason.