UK Football

UK football notes: Juco cornerback Nate Willis gains eligibility for Cats

The cornerback position has been one of the Kentucky football team's biggest areas of concern so far in fall practice. Coach Mark Stoops got some very good news in that department Monday.

Junior college cornerback Nate Willis announced that he has completed his coursework at Arizona Western and will be eligible to play at UK this season. The 6-foot recruit said he will be in Lexington "as soon as possible."

Willis will be counted on as an immediate contributor and could even contend for a starting spot at one of UK's thinnest positions.

Arizona Western Coach Tom Minnick said Willis left the campus this year to concentrate fully on getting eligible to play at Kentucky. He was taking online courses through Arizona Western from his home in Florida.

"I know he's worried all summer about trying to get eligible," Minnick told the Herald-Leader. "We just told him, 'Stay with it and you'll be all right.'"

Willis signed with the Wildcats following the hire of Stoops. He was considered one of the top 50 junior-college players in the country last season and is seen as one of the newcomers who will have the most impact on this season.

"He's got the experience. You take junior-college kids because you want the experience," Minnick said. "He's played against good competition. The kid's got great feet and great football instincts. He's just got to get a little bigger."

Willis will be more than a week behind his teammates, who started formal practices last Monday. Minnick acknowledged it will likely take Willis a little while to get adjusted to his new team, but added that the UK signee "can pick stuff up pretty quick."

The biggest concern might be getting in football shape.

The UK players who were on campus over the summer participated in new "high performance" coach Erik Korem's meticulous conditioning program. The results have been noticeable.

Working with Korem and his staff could benefit Willis.

"Some of those South Florida kids — they don't lift," Minnick said. "They're not in a good lifting program. And then when you get them they don't like to lift, and you're on their a-- all the time about it.

"And (Willis is) one we had to stay on about lifting all the time. But once he gets to that level there, you're eating right and getting all of those nutritional drinks and stuff that they get free. It'll help him build up some muscle mass and he'll be fine after that."

Minnick said Willis will need to gain strength to go up against the higher level of competition he'll face over the next two seasons.

"He's going to have to come up and mix it up as a corner," he said. "I know in the SEC that you have to have corners who will mix it up a little bit. That's his biggest thing. He's going to have to get used to the physical play of the SEC."

Another big addition

Junior college defensive tackle Melvin Lewis announced late Sunday night that he has finished his coursework and will be eligible to play at UK this fall.

Lewis — a 6-foot-4, 320-pound prospect — had 41 tackles, 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss during 11 games as a sophomore last season. He also had late offers from Miami and Washington before committing to the Wildcats.

Mark Stoops said during last week's Media Day press conference that Lewis was finishing up one class at Fullerton College in California and was expected to be eligible upon its completion.

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