UK Football

Kentucky turns to 4 freshmen to help secure defensive backfield for present and future

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops talked with defensive backs Chris Westry, left, and Derrick Baity in the fourth quarter of the Cats’ game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 14, 2015.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops talked with defensive backs Chris Westry, left, and Derrick Baity in the fourth quarter of the Cats’ game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 14, 2015. Lexington Herald-Leader

They don’t have a fancy nickname or anything.

Not yet.

But by the time the four freshmen in the secondary are finished at Kentucky, they hope to have made a name for themselves.

The phenomenon of playing four freshmen — safeties Mike Edwards, Darius West and corners Chris Westry and Derrick Baity — together in the UK secondary started at Mississippi State.

It’s continued at times through the next few games and likely will be a combination seen often in the next few seasons.

“I see them getting more and more confident and I see them making good plays and not being afraid of anything,” Stoops said of the four freshmen. “They like being out there competing against the very best. They’re enjoying it and they’ve been fun to coach.”

There’s still one quite important game left on the Cats’ schedule against Louisville on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, but looking toward the future, the secondary looks set for years to come.

“We’re going to have a very, very talented secondary in the future,” secondary coach Derrick Ansley said. “Guys we’ve got here and guys coming in. I think we’re going to have depth and quality depth at every position where maybe we can roll guys in a little bit more.”

Westry, a 6-foot-4 true freshman with 33 tackles, has been a key component for the Cats’ passing defense, which is rated No. 35 in the nation, allowing 200.2 yards per game with 13 touchdowns with eight picks (two for Westry).

The Orange Park, Fla., native is seventh in the Southeastern Conference this season with breakups on eight of the 10 passes he’s defended. He’s the only freshman in the top 10 of that category.

As the season progressed, Westry’s friend, 6-foot-3 Derrick Baity has taken on a much more active role as well.

Safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards, special teams standouts early in the season, claimed their playing time for the defense midway through the season.

The group has made a strong statement on the field, and it also has become a close-knit group off of it.

West and Edwards, both redshirt freshmen, got close during their recruiting process and during their season sitting. Now they’re roommates and good friends, Ansley said.

“They’re together all the time and Derrick and Chris both took their official visits here at the same time,” Ansley said. “So those guys have all developed a connection.”

Connection is the word that keeps coming up, said Edwards, who has 33 tackles in 11 games played with four starts.

“Us four freshmen, we’ve got a connection, just being freshmen,” he said. “We’ve got a good connection out there.”

They’re all around the same age and have similar experiences, which is part of the connection, said Baity, a three-game starter who has 17 tackles this season.

“We’re all so close, being young, we’re always going, practicing with each other,” Baity explained after the Mississippi State game when all of them spent a majority of the second half on the field together. “We just have that chemistry out there. Me and Mike Edwards, we’re combo-ing a lot.

“Then me and Chris are the youngest on the team, and it just felt fun.”

The fun most likely will come in the future for that foursome, with both Ansley and Stoops, who spends a lot of time working with the secondary in practice, noting that Westry, Baity, Edwards and West are only going to get better with size.

“Those guys got a bright, bright future,” Ansley said recently when asked about his 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 corners. “All they got to do is continue to have birthdays and continue to eat and get bigger.”

Stoops echoed that sentiment on Wednesday night as his team prepared to face Louisville, the 38th best passing offense in the nation at 253.1 yards a game.

“I see some good-looking guys,” the coach said when asked about the four freshmen in the secondary. “I see some range. I see some guys that are tall and rangy and have some long arms and have some bodies to build with.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Saturday

Louisville at Kentucky

When: Noon

TV: SEC Network

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