UK Football

After a lost junior season, UK’s Ryan Timmons vows senior-year redemption

Ryan Timmons left the field after Kentucky lost to Louisville to end the 2015 season. UK’s leading receiver with 45 receptions in 2014 as a sophomore, Timmons caught only 12 passes in 2015.
Ryan Timmons left the field after Kentucky lost to Louisville to end the 2015 season. UK’s leading receiver with 45 receptions in 2014 as a sophomore, Timmons caught only 12 passes in 2015. Lexington Herald-Leader

Upon reflection, Kentucky wideout Ryan Timmons has found one good thing to say about his lost 2015 season.

“I’m just thankful it wasn’t my senior year,” the ex-Franklin County High School star says. “Thank goodness, I have one more year.”

The 5-foot-10, 198-pound Timmons, a state champion sprinter in high school, was a crown jewel in Mark Stoops’ initial UK recruiting class in 2013 after turning down Florida and Ohio State.

Though not yet the star-caliber player some (perhaps unrealistically) anticipated, Timmons battled through injuries to be a productive player his first two years at Kentucky.

As a true freshman, he started six games and caught 32 passes with two touchdowns.

Timmons led Kentucky with 45 receptions for 536 yards and two TDs as a sophomore. He caught 10 passes in a win over Ohio, and had 114 yards receiving on five receptions against No. 1-ranked Mississippi State.

However, after the 2014 season, Neal Brown left as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator to become head coach at Troy. In a bid at continuity, Stoops stayed in the “Air Raid” coaching tree by hiring Shannon Dawson away from West Virginia to replace Brown.

For whatever reason, Timmons’ production collapsed under Dawson in 2015. The guy who had led Kentucky in receiving as a sophomore made one start and caught all of 12 passes.

What happened?

“I don’t want to get into that too much about the coaching staff and the relationship we had with the offensive coordinator and the receivers coach,” Timmons says.

Chris Tracy, who coached Timmons at Franklin County, said his impression is there was tension last year between Dawson and then-UK receivers coach Tommy Mainord, a holdover from Brown’s offensive staff.

“Ryan kind of got caught in the middle of that,” Tracy says. “I think it would be fair to say he’s happy for a fresh start with the new coaches.”

After UK lost six of its final seven games last year to finish 5-7, Stoops fired Dawson and Mainord. Eventually, Kentucky hired Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw off the coaching staff at Cincinnati as co-offensive coordinators and brought in Lamar Thomas from Louisville to coach wide receivers.

Tracy says he challenged Timmons to use spring practice in 2016 as a proving ground to show UK’s new offensive brain trust what he could do. The message appeared to get through.

“I wasn’t really that productive last year. I didn’t play that much. I was really disappointed about that and disappointed with the way certain things were handled,” Timmons says.

“But this is my senior year with these new coaches and I didn’t want to bring that negative energy over. So I just took a deep breath and calmed down, then sat in my room and thought about the opportunity I have.”

Drew Barker, the redshirt sophomore about to enter his first season as Kentucky’s starting quarterback, says he has a good on-field rapport with Timmons. The one touchdown pass Timmons caught last season, at Vanderbilt, was also the only one Barker threw in mostly backup duty.

“Last year, Timmons, he kind of got in a funk,” Barker said. “... But I don’t see any effects of last season wearing on him at all. It’s his senior year, and I am really excited to see what he can do this year.”

At Franklin County, Timmons was less a true wide receiver than an all-purpose back. As a senior, he actually ran for more yards (1,306 with 25 touchdowns) than he had receiving (33 catches for 1,004 yards with 16 TDs).

“We would line him up outside some and let him run by people,” Tracy said. “But we moved him around a lot, too, would put him in the slot, or even in the backfield, and pitch or throw the ball to him and try to get him in a crease and watch him go.”

For Timmons’ senior year at Kentucky, Gran envisions moving him around via formations, too. Gran says he wants the wideout to learn the routes for both inside-slot receiving positions. That would allow UK to switch Timmons from side-to-side seeking the most advantageous matchups.

“I’m looking for some great things from him, I really am,” Gran said of Timmons. “It will be disappointing if (that doesn’t happen). I think he feels the same way.”

He does. Timmons has a plan to make everyone move past his forgettable 2015 season. It involves memorable production in 2016.

“I expect me to have the best season I’ve ever had in football, including high school,” he says. “And, in high school, I was pretty successful.”

Season opener

Southern Miss at Kentucky

When: Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m.