Mark Story

Five good questions with ex-Kentucky football All-American Derek Abney

Kentucky’s Derek Abney at the start of his 80-yard punt return touchdown against Mississippi State in 2003, the eighth kick return TD (six punts, two kickoffs) of his UK career.
Kentucky’s Derek Abney at the start of his 80-yard punt return touchdown against Mississippi State in 2003, the eighth kick return TD (six punts, two kickoffs) of his UK career. Herald-Leader file photo

In 126 seasons of football, the University of Kentucky has produced few more exciting moments than Derek Abney returning kicks.

A 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver/kick returner, Abney left UK having tied the then-NCAA record for kick return touchdowns with eight.

From 2000-2003, the Mosinee, Wis., product — whose parents, Larry (Winchester) and Sylvia (Frankfort) were native Kentuckians — wrote his name all over the Wildcats’ record book.

Abney is number one in UK history in all-purpose yards (5,856), number two (to Craig Yeast) in career receptions (197) and number three (behind Yeast and Keenan Burton) in career receiving yards (2,339).

Now 36 and living in Charleston, S.C., Abney and his wife, Christina, have two daughters, Eden, 7, and Olive, 4. Abney works as a terminal manager for Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in the United States.

Abney was recently among three UK standouts (Marty Moore and the late Doug Kotar) recognized at the annual Governor’s Cup Luncheon, which promotes the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry and college football in the commonwealth. Before the event, Abney spoke with reporters.

Question one: Is it easier living in South Carolina as a former Kentucky player now that Mark Stoops and the Wildcats have beaten the Gamecocks three seasons in a row?

Abney: “Absolutely. Are you kidding?

“I happened to be at one (game in Columbia in 2011) where it was 100-degree weather and we (UK) kicked off, they (South Carolina) fumbled on, like, the (26)-yard line. We got it, kicked a field goal, led 3-0. And they proceeded to score 50-something points (54) in a row (in a 54-3 Gamecocks win).

“It was rough. My wife was pregnant. The sun beating down. It was not a good game. But (the last three years) have been wonderful. It’s been great.”

Question two: I will surmise that your favorite memory of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry was 2002 (when Kentucky’s defensive front put a physical beat down on Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone and UK upset No. 17 U of L 22-17. It was the only time during Abney’s career the Cats beat the Cards)?

Abney: “That was a beautiful game. (UK defensive tackle) Jeremy Caudill made Ragone look like a rag doll. It was ugly. That poor guy, I felt bad for him, to be honest. The one Cardinal I’ve ever felt bad for was Dave Ragone.”

(Pause).

“But, you know? I didn’t feel that bad. It was a beautiful game. That was my favorite memory of (UK vs. U of L).”

Question three: Of your eight career kick return touchdowns (six punts, two kickoffs), do you have a favorite?

Abney: “Some wonderful person put my (2003) Mississippi State (punt) return (touchdown) up. That was my record-(tying) one, it involved everybody (on the return unit). I have this vivid memory of it, of all of us falling into (the end zone). That was definitely my favorite one.”

Question four: So you got to visit UK’s new, $45 million Joe Craft Football Training Facility. Impressions?

Abney: “It’s truly a commitment that the university has put forth for the program. That is a world-class facility. You are not going to have a lot of facilities where you stay in your locker room and go to the indoor facility or go right to the stadium. But (at UK), it’s all together now. It’s really amazing.

“The nutrition. The different ways they handle nutrition is light years ahead of what we had (at Kentucky). That’s wonderful for the kids.”

Question five: With the $126 million Kentucky spent to renovate Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium) and the investment in the training facility, how close do you think UK is from breaking through as a football program in a meaningful way?

Abney: “Coach Stoops has really put in the long game. He’s got the time to do it. He’s got a great supporting staff. He’s had, I think, top-30 recruiting classes for the past several years. Add that all up together, (plus) a pretty successful end (won seven of last 11) to last season, hopefully this season we can segue into another good season.”

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