Sophomore Matt Smith won a heated fall camp battle with Jake Lanefski for Kentucky's starting center position. The 6-foot-4, 288-pound Smith, a Louisville St. Xavier graduate, will be making his first career start in front of the home folks when Kentucky battles Louisville on Saturday afternoon. Smith played in six games as a reserve last fall. He talked this week about his new role.
Q: When did you find out you were starting and how did you react?
A: I've been working with the (first unit) for the past couple of weeks so in my mind I kind of knew. But I found out for sure this week when they released the depth chart. I was excited. I put in a lot of hard work.
Q: Did you feel like the underdog going into fall camp?
A: I felt like I was, experience-wise, because Jake had started in the SEC at guard. I knew what kind of player he was, so I felt like the underdog even though I was No. 1 coming out of spring because he was out (with an injury). ... And with him being as good as he is, I had to push myself that much harder. It was a great competition, and he came up to me and congratulated me after he found out, so we're still friends and nothing's going to change between us.
Q: How does it feel to be making your first career start in Louisville?
A: This is the way you dreamed it would be like. Growing up in Louisville, this was always the big game of the year, and if you lose it, you're going to hear about it for the next year. I've got a lot of friends on Louisville, so this is a big game. For it to be my first start is a dream come true.
Q: Was your family U of L fans or UK fans?
A: I grew up a Wildcat fan, like the rest of my family, so living in Louisville wasn't easy. In the past few years it's been a little easier. We've just got to keep that going. We've got 13 other guys from Louisville, and they've got five or six from Lexington so it's a big game both ways.
Q: How does the St. X-Trinity rivalry compare to UK-U of L?
A: That St. X-Trinity game brought 38,000 fans to the stadium, so I've been there when it's almost full. It'll be a little different atmosphere and the game will be faster, but it helps. I've played in the stadium about seven times, I think, so having a feel for that stadium will definitely help me calm my nerves.
Q: The offensive line lost four starters from last year, but the feeling around camp was that you guys are expecting to be solid up front.
A: We do feel good about things, especially since we started working together, building brotherhood, having each other's backs, and knowing each other's tendencies. Even the young guys we feel like can come in and help without missing a beat. We know we're going to be OK.