Many people figured a pair of local kids, Aaron Boyd and E.J. Fields, would have been cornerstones of the Kentucky wide receiver corps by now.
Boyd, from Henry Clay, was the highest-rated member of UK's 2008 recruiting class, and the Wildcats looked as if they had gotten a steal when Fields, from Frankfort, reported to fall camp the same year.
But Boyd and Fields have yet to make an impact, and the players and the UK coaching staff get "why," "if" and "when" questions continuously.
When Joker Phillips spoke in Frankfort with Louisville Coach Charlie Strong in February, the first question he received from an audience member was whether this was the year Fields, the hometown hero, would get on the field.
"Whenever I go home I get asked, 'Are you going to play this year? Are you going to start this year?'" Fields said. "All I can really say is time will tell."
Boyd played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2008, catching five passes for 46 yards in limited duty. But he struggled to show the consistency the coaching staff wanted, was buried on the depth chart last fall and was redshirted.
Fields' problem has been injuries. He looked like a candidate for early playing time as a freshman, but a pulled hamstring muscle in fall camp forced the coaches to redshirt him. He worked his way back and was making a push for the rotation last fall before a torn ligament in his foot caused him to miss the season.
Both players struggled initially with their setbacks but said they're in a good place mentally this spring.
"It was kind of hard at first," Boyd said. "This is the first time in my life that I've actually been humbled. It's been a learning experience. But I'm older now, and I feel like I'm in position to be a better person and be a better athlete. Having to redshirt was a minor setback but, whenever there's a minor setback, there's an opportunity for a major comeback. That's the way I'm looking at it, and hopefully, this year is a comeback year for me."
Fields said, "For about a month, I was down in the dumps, being on crutches and everything. But my parents did a real good job of keeping me in it, and a lot of people were in my corner telling me to keep my head up. Everybody kept saying, 'You've still got time,' and I was kind of tired of hearing that. But after a while you've just got to accept the fact that you got hurt. There's really nothing you can do but work hard and get back into it."
Boyd and Fields still have plenty of ground to make up. Phillips said the duo sit at the bottom of the depth chart behind regulars Randall Cobb, Chris Matthews and La'Rod King.
"They've got to come," Phillips said. "This is an important spring for both of those guys. Both are going into their third year in our program, and we need to see if they can help us."
New receivers coach Tee Martin said he hopes to get the best out of Boyd and Fields. When asked what would be the key for both players to get on the field, Martin said, "Produce."
"Expectations can be a tough word sometimes. Kids can feel the stress of what they're expected to do. You've just got to come through on it. And I've given both (Boyd and Fields) that challenge. If I'm playing right in my backyard, I want to be out there on the field. And to get on the field, they've got to be consistent and produce. If you want to be the man, you've got to beat the man. You hear that all the time. But those guys are working as hard as they can to get in the rotation, and hopefully, we can get them there."
Fields said that while his foot still gets a little sore at times, he feels 100 percent. The mental hurdle figures to be the bigger obstacle.
"I've just got to block it out," he said. "You can't really play with fear. It feels like everything that could have happened so far has happened, and you've just got to move on with it and act like the injury never happened."
The high expectations have been an albatross around Boyd's neck, so now he says he's trying not to put too much pressure on himself.
"It's always my goal to move up, but I don't think it's crunch time," Boyd said. "I've still got the whole summer and fall camp. I'm trying not to worry too much about it. I just want to come out here, work hard, have fun and try and get better. Really I feel like I just need a chance to prove myself. I really haven't gotten the chance yet this spring. But hopefully when my chance comes I can take advantage of it."
While the Sept. 4 opener with Louisville is still months away, Fields wants to put himself in position to be in full pads for that first game, something he has never done as a Wildcat.
"It would mean everything," Fields said. "I've never even gotten to dress for a game or play a snap. Even if it's just on special teams, it would just mean a lot for me to get out there on the field."