Sometimes it only takes one chance, one opportunity.
Just ask TraVaughn Paschal and Eric Dixon.
The two Kentucky defenders plugged away last season as backups or even backups to backups, and now they've become impact players, ranking second and third in tackles this season.
"That happens a lot in this game," safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto said of the evolution of Dixon and Paschal. "What's happened is those are two guys who have really worked themselves into good football players, and when they got the opportunity, they performed."
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Paschal's opportunity came in the form of a position switch from defensive end — where he made four tackles in seven games last season — to linebacker.
When asked about the position change, the 6-foot-4, 242-pound junior beamed.
"I love it," he said.
He also loves that Coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot have given him a chance to show what he can do. Paschal is tied for third on the team in tackles with 30, including one for a loss as well as a forced fumble.
Paschal had a career-best eight tackles against Louisville and has had three or more tackles in all but one game this season.
"Last year there were times I did have my head down a little at some points, but I just kept reminding myself to pull through," he said last week. "These coaches gave me an opportunity to show what I can do and become the person I am now and that really helped me."
Paschal is a visible reminder that if you keep playing hard, eventually you'll be playing a lot.
"I try to tell these young guys the same thing: Don't give up," he said. "Keep your head up. Just play ball."
It's a similar story for Dixon, a junior safety.
"I didn't get the opportunity I wanted," he said when asked about the past few seasons, where he never earned a start and had a total of nine tackles in 20 games. "That's the biggest difference now: that I got a chance."
Dixon labored low on the Kentucky defensive depth chart until breaking into the starting lineup with an impressive fall camp.
"He had a good spring, had an even better fall and he's really doing some nice things for us so far," said Peveto, his position coach. "He just started showing up in the spring. He made plays, made tackles, wanted to learn about our defense and has played well."
Dixon caught some heat after the South Carolina loss because he wasn't able to make a key third-down play late in the fourth quarter that could've given the ball back to the UK offense with a chance to tie the game.
But the junior responded in the next game against Alabama with a career-high 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
"I've been really proud of Eric," Stoops said on his radio show last week. "I think he gives it everything he has. I think he works very hard. He cares a great deal. ... Eric is doing a good job and working extremely hard. He's very conscientious and I really love coaching Eric."
And Dixon, who has started five of UK's six games this season, loves his new coaches, too.
Like Paschal, they have given him a chance to succeed.
It was all he needed.
"It means a lot to me knowing that the coaches love me and they respect me," Dixon said. "They give you an opportunity. You might have a bad day, but they still have faith in you to make other plays."
Junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said Dixon and Paschal aren't really the vocal-leader types just yet.
But he can see them becoming those guys next season after they have a year under their belts as defensive playmakers.
"Those guys just play relentless," Dupree said. "They don't worry about a lot of things. They just go after the ball. That's what we need more of here."
Smith to start Thursday
In his final media session before Mississippi State, Mark Stoops confirmed Kentucky's plan to start Maxwell Smith at quarterback and said Jalen Whitlow will be "ready to go ... if we need him."
As coaches and trainers waited to see whether Whitlow's ankle would heal quickly enough, Smith got a majority of first-team reps in practice and will be the starter.
When asked if Whitlow was limited on his ankle at all in practice on Tuesday, a day before the team leaves for Starkville, Stoops said: "I didn't even pay attention to it today, to be honest with you. Moving on, getting ready for the game. He got his reps and looked fine."
Kentucky at Mississippi St.
When: 7:30 p.m. TV: ESPN
Records: Kentucky 1-5 (0-3 SEC); Mississippi St. 3-3 (0-2 SEC)