UK Football

UK's Winston Guy blossoming in expanded role

Kentucky's Winston Guy picked off a pass by Hilltoppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes  during the Cats' season opener against Western Kentucky.
Kentucky's Winston Guy picked off a pass by Hilltoppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes during the Cats' season opener against Western Kentucky.

Early on in Winston Guy's Kentucky Wildcats career, Joker Phillips had his verbal needle sharpened and aimed right at the safety from Lexington Catholic.

The UK head coach, a former Wildcats wide receiver, would oft point out that he was tied with Guy on Kentucky's all-time interceptions list.

Zero to zero.

For the first two seasons of his career and the first five games of last year, Guy had to put up with that.

"He doesn't have any reason to say anything to me about that now, does he?" Guy said Monday with a smile.

None at all.

Amid a mostly encouraging UK defensive effort in Kentucky's 14-3 season-opening win over Western Kentucky University in Nashville on Thursday night, no one was better than Guy.

In his first game as a hybrid linebacker/safety in new UK co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter's 3-4 scheme, Guy was all over LP Field. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound senior had 10 tackles, 2.5 of them for loss, and picked off two Hilltoppers passes.

To go along with interceptions he had last year against Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee, Guy is now five ahead of his head coach on the UK all-time list.

More importantly, Guy thrived in his first game playing the vital role of disrupter in Minter's new system. Where Guy was purely a strong safety in the 4-3 scheme UK employed a year ago, this season he will be asked to play more often near the line of scrimmage as a linebacker.

For a player who tested the NFL Draft waters after last season and who very much aspires to be playing on Sundays, Guy was less than thrilled initially when Minter pitched him on his new role.

"I talked with (Guy) when they first made the move, and I think he was a little confused," Lexington Catholic Coach Bill Letton says of his former star. "I think it was changing the label as much as anything that bothered him. 'Am I a safety or a linebacker?' We tried to come at it with him from the point, (the NFL) is looking for guys who make plays. (Minter) is trying to put you in position to make a whole bunch of plays."

It was against a Western Kentucky team from a lower conference (the Sun Belt) and which had a passing attack of limited capacity, but Guy was in position to make plays time after time Thursday night.

He and middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed combined to tackle WKU star Bobby Rainey for a 2-yard loss. Guy foiled a Western option pitch to Antonio Andrews for a 6-yard loss. He blitzed and pressured quarterback Kawaun Jakes into an incompletion on a third-and-16.

That was just in the first quarter.

Guy never really slowed down, picking off a Jakes pass in the second period that led to UK's first TD and then another on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the fourth.

Phillips said Monday that Guy's play against WKU "is exactly how I envisioned (him playing), exactly."

Besides a new role, a new approach seems to have Guy poised for a big final season.

It was a recruiting coup for Phillips and former UK head man Rich Brooks when they flipped Guy, an early Arkansas commitment, to his hometown school in 2008. Guy's immense athletic gifts were immediately apparent at Kentucky (remember his 96-yard, albeit non-scoring, kickoff return against Georgia in '08?).

Yet at times Guy's free-spirited personality did not always seem to work in his favor. Suffice to say, Winston can be a little different.

"Let's just say when I write my book," jokes Lexington Catholic's Letton, "three chapters will be about dealing with Winston."

Through 2011's pre-season training camp and the season opener, the current Guy seems more focused and mature than in the past.

"I think about 75 percent of his game is maturity," says Kentucky star linebacker Danny Trevathan (no slouch himself against WKU with 13 tackles). "He's taking this serious. I see it with him in the meetings. ... Coach talks about handling yourself like a pro, I think he's really trying to do that."

As the season progresses and the competition takes a massive step up, the challenge for Guy will be to achieve consistency.

Says Trevathan: "I believe he is going to bring his 'A game' every game."

In the new defensive system he once resisted, Guy says he's now excited to see what he can do. "I'm real comfortable," he said. "I'm happy."

Guy might be happiest of all because he doesn't ever again have to listen to Joker bust him over a lack of interceptions.

"I'm up on him by five now," Guy said, again smiling. "I'm feeling good."

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