When it comes to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, defensive lineman Luke McDermott isn't choosy. He was willing to cast his football lot on either side of this intense in-state dividing line.
McDermott first tried to walk on at U of L, his hometown program. Fuzzing the line further, he sent emails to Greg Nord, then an assistant coach at Louisville and now in the same role for Kentucky.
"I was saying, Coach (Bobby) Petrino's son played with me at Trinity," McDermott said of Trinity High's state championship teams he played for as a junior and senior. "So I think Coach Petrino knew of me. I was trying to use that to get my foot in the door."
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"He liked me and stuff, and they wanted me to walk on," McDermott said. "But they never came around to telling me how to go about doing it."
The way recruiting connections are made and come to fruition was a mystery to McDermott. This seems surprising given how Trinity annually produces college prospects in bulk.
"I thought colleges just watched high school games a lot and come see you if they hear about you," McDermott said. "But, apparently, you're supposed to, like, send video of yourself, which I didn't really know."
Hearing only silence from U of L, McDermott thought he would not play college football.
"Then I played in a high school all-star game," he said. "Right after that, Kentucky emailed me because I was emailing them, saying they wanted me to walk on here."
McDermott's size — or, more precisely, lack thereof — dulled recruiting interest. He came to UK as a 220-pound would-be defensive tackle. Even now, four years later, he's no behemoth at 6-foot-1 and 264 pounds.
"I'm smaller than pretty much all the other noses (nose tackles) on the team," he said. "It's not always a disadvantage. I'm also quicker than a lot of guys inside. That helps a lot."
David Turner, UK's assistant head coach and defensive line coach, said that size impacts how much McDermott plays.
"There are times we have to be smart on when to get him on the field and when to get him off," Turner said. UK's defensive scheme for a particular game and the opposition's size help determine McDermott's role.
But, Turner emphasized, McDermott's dependable effort and attention to detail get him on the field at some point every game.
"Luke is Luke," Turner said. "He's been solid while he's in there. ... Luke's going to go hard. He's productive. He's around the ball. He makes plays. We can find a place for a guy like that."
Although he's productive at a relatively small size, McDermott continues to try to add mass. He said he eats "every chance I get" and lifts weights.
During the season, he will eat about four meals a day.
"In the summer, it was up there," he said of his food consumption. "It was pretty much one constant meal. I used to make a whole pan of hamburger helper that's supposed to feed a family, and eat that pretty much all day."
His goal is to reach 270 or 275 pounds. But given UK is entering the third game of his senior season, McDermott noted, "It's kind of late for that."
McDermott has been on and off scholarship throughout his career. On scholarship as a third-year sophomore in 2009 and on again this current academic year.
"He surely earned the right," Turner said of McDermott's status as a scholarship player.
UK Coach Joker Phillips suggested that familiarity can breed over-analysis with in-state players. Thus, a productive player like McDermott gets bypassed.
"Sometimes you can know too much about a home guy," Phillips said of the walk-ons who will play in the UK-U of L game. "We've got a guy in Luke McDermott (who) was a walk-on, came in here and went about his business the way he should, has earned the right not only to earn a scholarship, but a right to start. Made a lot of good plays here."
McDermott experienced the highs and not-so-highs of football playing for Trinity and Kentucky. Trinity had a 27-3 record in his two seasons. In his five seasons at UK, the Cats have a 30-24 record going into Saturday's game against Louisville.
Yet, he called the UK days more fulfilling.
"It requires so much more of your attention, and it takes everything you've got," he said. "It really wasn't the same in high school."
McDermott made his first college start in last season's UK-U of L game. Going into his final UK-U of L game as a player, he said he wants to avoid the distracting hype surrounding the rivalry.
"I remember last year having a bunch of fans yelling my name on the sideline," he said of UK's 23-16 victory at U of L. "I didn't turn around. I had to focus on the game."
When asked if the fans were rooting for him or trying to mess with his mind, McDermott laughed and said, "It's hard to tell. I like to think they were trying to support me."