Kentucky wasn't even looking for a punter when it stumbled on Ryan Tydlacka.
Tim Masthay was well-established as the Cats' punter extraordinaire when the UK staff found Tydlacka at Louisville Trinity.
"We brought Ryan in here and tried him out, and you look at him just sitting up in the bleachers, and I remember (then-Coach Rich Brooks) was like, 'Oh, my God,' " UK Coach Joker Phillips recalled this week.
The 6-foot-1 punter will be one of 21 players honored as a part of Senior Day on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
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Phillips couldn't overstate the impact Tydlacka's had on UK's program.
"People don't realize that you can be a big-time player with the swing of a leg, and that's what he is; he's a big-time player for us," Phillips said. "He's been huge to the program."
This season, Tydlacka, who's up for the nation's most prestigious punting honor, has had 70 punts for an average of 43.7 yards. Eighteen of those have pinned UK's opponent inside the 20-yard line.
That average is second in the SEC and 20th in the nation. Kentucky also is second in the league in punting overall with a mark of 39.3.
Tydlacka has more to do with those numbers than just what fans see on the field, Phillips said.
"He's a pro," Phillips said. "He studies the game. He does a lot of helping us game-plan in our special teams, and he's a big-time player for us."
One piece of silver lining
There are not a lot of positives the players and coaches can take from their five-year bowl streak ending last week.
But when asked this week, Phillips acknowledged that UK's coaches will have a chance to get into homes of recruits early without bowl preparation.
"We'll be able to get all seven (assistants) out to start selling," Phillips said. "Selling the program, selling opportunities. It gives me an opportunity to get into some homes early."
Phillips was later asked if it's more difficult to go into a recruit's home after a difficult season and rumors about his job security.
The coach said he's not selling himself, per se.
"I never go and say I want a recruit to come here because of Joker Phillips," he said. "I think you sell opportunity to play, this great university, this conference we play in. Those are the things we sell. I'm not selling me."
Phillips said that when he signed with UK, it wasn't because of the head coach, and he encourages potential players to think about the name they want on their diploma, not the name of their head coach.
"That's the wrong reason to choose a school," he said.
Pressure to perform?
The day after Kentucky's loss at Georgia, Phillips said on his teleconference that he didn't want his players to ponder his job security.
He said he didn't want his players thinking they need to beat Tennessee for him.
"I don't want them to feel pressure for me especially," he said. "They put their pride on the line and play not for me, but for their own self-pride."
The Tennessee connections run deep on Kentucky's coaching staff, none deeper than for Randy Sanders, the UK offensive coordinator.
He spent 22 seasons as a player and coach at Tennessee, including seven years as the offensive coordinator there before being let go.
But he said his UT past doesn't change his mind-set for Saturday's game.
"The fact that it's Tennessee and Kentucky and I spent a lot of time at Tennessee hits you more after the game ... than it does the week prior," he said. "After the game or the day after, it may hurt a little more or it may feel a little better but, up until that point, it's the next game on the schedule."
UK wide receivers coach Tee Martin won a national title as the Volunteers' quarterback in 1998.
By the numbers
In recent series history, this game has been a close one, with the last two games in Lexington going into overtime. Four of the last seven have been decided by six points or fewer. Five of the last seven have been decided by 10 points or fewer. ... UK hasn't won its last game of the season since the 2009 Liberty Bowl.
The Cat Walk will be held at 10:15 a.m. at Gate One of Commonwealth Stadium. ... Seniors Anthony Mosley and Jake Lanefski will be game captains for Kentucky.