From the first pass of the first game, opponents tried to single out Kentucky’s Chris Westry.
The throw in his direction in the Louisiana-Lafayette game was the first of many tests for the Cats cornerback who started every game last season as a true freshman. He led the team in pass break-ups with eight while piling up 36 tackles, a sack and two interceptions.
After that big season, Westry was singled out again, by the Southeastern Conference coaches, who named him to the league’s All-Freshman Team, one of many postseason honors for the 6-foot-4 corner from Orange Park, Fla.
Now, as he goes through his first full spring at UK, Coach Mark Stoops is singling out Westry as a player that “could take a giant step” after a full season of conditioning and coaching.
Stoops also is singling out Westry as a player who can’t get comfortable with how well he performed as a true freshman.
“I’ve got to stay with a boot up his you-know-what 24-7 and get him playing on edge because the game is not easy,” Kentucky’s head coach said at the start of spring ball. “You have to play on edge defensively all the time like we talk about. He’s got to have a great spring.”
That colorful imagery didn’t bother Westry.
“He just wants the best for me and from me,” the cornerback said.
So when Stoops would see Westry slacking off in winter conditioning or unfocused in workouts, the coach would point it out.
And it’s easy to get the attention of the 12-game starter as a true freshman with the roster of other big-name, multi-star freshmen that Kentucky signed in February. Those players could be first-year difference-makers, too, Westry said.
“He said at any time you can lose your spot,” Westry said of his discussions with Stoops. “(He said) that college football is a job and you have to come to work and work at a certain level. I just try to get to that level each and every day.”
That “boot up his you-know-what” is more like a “gentle foot,” secondary coach Steve Clinkscale corrected on Thursday.
It’s all about finding the right ways to keep Westry motivated.
“He’s a young guy and you want to keep his confidence up, but at the same time, you want him to have a reality check and know we have a long way to go.”
The awards and the big plays were nice last season, Westry said after a recent scrimmage, but there were enough times when he was beaten or outmanned that he craves the coaching.
“He really wants to be the best, and he’s always in here watching extra film on his own, calling me at home: ‘Coach, what can I do better here?’” Clinkscale said.
Westry is a “film rat, a gym rat” who seems as hungry as ever to continue to improve.
What Westry said he learned in that first season was that he was going to get tested. A lot.
“There’s no such thing as taking a play off,” he said of making the transition from Oakleaf High School to college. “You always have to have your head on a swivel pretty much. You have to be ready at all times.”
So far Westry has done everything his coaches have asked, including gaining 10 pounds since this time last season. That should help the cornerback become more physical, one of the criticisms of him last season.
“I like for him to be a lot more physical and violent when he has to get off of a block and tackle the backs, things of that nature,” Clinkscale said.
With three seasons left for Westry, his coaches are excited to see what’s next, but they want to make sure he understands what work has to be done.
That’s been the message of the spring.
“Sometimes guys that have some success as a true freshman they don’t really, truly understand how much it takes to take it to the next level,” Stoops said. “But he’s a great kid and he takes coaching and we’ve just got to continue to press with him.”