UK Football

UK football team plotting senior salute

Offensive lineman Larry Warford photographed on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 at University of Kentucky football media day at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
Offensive lineman Larry Warford photographed on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 at University of Kentucky football media day at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by David Perry | Staff Herald-Leader

At some point Saturday night, Larry Warford is going to be down in his stance, look over to his left and be hit by the realization harder than an eager linebacker.

Kentucky's right guard will look to the side, see fellow senior Matt Smith and realize it will be one of the last times they get to play together.

The two players from Kentucky have spent the better part of the past three seasons side by side on the Cats' offensive line.

"I can't imagine it right now because the relationship we've built between each other is really great," Warford said. "It's going to be sad."

Under the bright lights at Commonwealth Stadium, Warford will look around and realize it's his last time playing there.

"I try not to think about it too much," Warford said. "It's kind of bittersweet for me."

It's been that kind of season for all of Kentucky's seniors, most who came in as UK football was peaking just a few short years ago.

Their senior season has not been one for the highlight reel.

The Cats, who face Samford (7-3) on Senior Night, are struggling. They've lost eight straight games.

Some seats at Commonwealth Stadium have gone unused since the start of the season.

The pain and disappointment of finding out that head coach Joker Phillips and his staff will not be retained is still fresh.

Little has gone right for Kentucky's seniors, like running back CoShik Williams, who missed most of the season with a serious hip injury. Or senior defender Martavius Neloms, who has switched positions countless times to help fill holes while battling his own injuries.

This season has been filled with hard knocks and hard lessons.

"I wanted this team to succeed, but it didn't go the way we wanted it to," Warford said.

Senior defensive lineman Collins Ukwu said he's learned a lot about himself and his teammates this season.

"Adversity? You've just got to keep on fighting," he said. "Things may not be going your way now, but it might in the future. You just have to keep playing."

The Cats (1-9) say they are going to keep fighting and playing hard for those seniors.

After the UK staff was told they were being fired, they tried to rally the players to focus on the future and on the seniors.

"We just said, 'Hey listen, to our seniors we owe everything to play our best football the last couple of games of the season," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Send them out on a high note. This is their memories and photographs for life."

It was a message heard loudly and clearly by the underclassmen.

Getting a win for the seniors would be "real big," junior running back Jonathan George said.

"Everybody respects those guys and we feel like we owe it to them from all the hard work they've put into the program," he said. "We're all coming out and working hard because we know how important it is to those guys to go out with a win."

Junior defensive tackle Tristian Johnson, who came in with many of the players in this departing class, said a victory is the only proper sendoff.

"It's been a long season, but to end on a winning note, I think that would be the best," Johnson said. "If everything else you forget about and remember that one win, that would be the best thing ever."

Warford agreed. He knows that this last night in Commonwealth Stadium is going to be difficult for all involved.

He didn't rule out tears if he sees his friends and fellow seniors crying.

"I'm going to cry if I see them crying," he said. "It's a biological cue; I can't really help it. I might cry. I'm not going to be embarrassed about it. I love this program."

But more than anything, Warford wants to see a game that starts with tears end in cheers.

What would leaving Commonwealth Stadium on a high note during a low season mean to him?

"Everything," he said. "Just for the season, for Coach Phillips, for this team, it means everything, no matter who the opponent is. If the team wins, it will be the best thing that's ever happened."

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