Mark Story

Darius West is one UK football player adversity cannot break

In Darius West’s one mostly healthy season at Kentucky, he had 17 tackles in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015.
In Darius West’s one mostly healthy season at Kentucky, he had 17 tackles in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015. Herald-Leader

If there were a football equivalent of the Biblical trials of Job, it could be called the tribulations of Darius West.

A consensus four-star prospect out of Lima Central Catholic High School in Ohio, West held scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Penn State, Wisconsin and Louisville among many others before he became one of the jewels of Mark Stoops’ ballyhooed 2014 Kentucky recruiting class.

Yet between the end of his junior year of high school and the start of his junior season in college, West has played in a grand total of 12 football games — two at Lima Central Catholic in 2013 and 10 for UK in 2015 — due to four major injuries.

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Kentucky safety Darius West. Chet White UK Athletics

Through the adversity, West says he has occasionally given in to asking ‘why me?’

“Of course I’m going to feel like that,” the junior safety said Sunday at Kentucky’s 2017 football media day. “I mean, dang, I just want to play.”

As you read below, ask yourself: Could you have persevered through all this?

Trial one. During a summer workout between his junior and senior seasons at Lima Central Catholic, West broke the tibia in his right leg in a one-on-one passing drill.

Trial two. In January of his senior year of high school, he broke the same bone again while doing a “box drill” — an exercise where one jumps from the ground to the top of a box.

Trial three. When he got to UK in August, 2014, West made it through two days of practice before he broke his right leg for a third time.

Trial four. Last August, in Kentucky’s 2016 preseason training camp, the 6-foot, 200 pound safety did NOT break his leg.

However, while competing for a thrown ball in a UK practice, he heard a loud pop. This time, a ruptured patellar tendon had knocked West out for the season again.

“I’ve gotten down,” West said. “I’ve had discouraging days. But I feel like (those) are the days that made me who I am now.”

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Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops instructed safety Darius West during 2017 spring practice. A 6-foot, 210-pound junior from Lima, Ohio, West missed all of last year due to a ruptured patellar tendon. “I'm really excited about Darius and just having him out there,” Stoops said. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

After making it through Kentucky’s 2017 spring practice in good health, West is now the Wildcats’ starting free safety on the depth chart.

“I can’t even imagine. If I went through all that, I don’t know what I would do,” says Kentucky strong safety Mike Edwards. “I pray for (West) all the time.”

UK Coach Mark Stoops will likely send up a prayer or two of his own over the next month that West can get through preseason practice and to the games healthy.

“He’s a tough guy,” Stoops says of West. “He’s worked really hard to get back on the field. He’s a guy you all will root for because it’s important to him.”

Even with all he’s been through, West says he has never considered giving up football. “It’s definitely worth it,” he says. “I’ve been playing football my whole life. I don’t really see that changing.”

West and Edwards, a Cincinnati product, committed to UK at roughly the same time. The two friends envisioned themselves forming a dynamic safety combination in Lexington.

Last year, as a redshirt sophomore, Edwards did his part. He became one of the best safeties in the SEC, recording 100 tackles with three interceptions.

West says people ask him if it was hard to watch his buddy thrive while being unable to play himself. “Of course it’s hard seeing my best friend out there balling out and me not able to be out there with him,” he said.

In the one UK season, 2015, in which West was mostly healthy, he registered 17 tackles while playing on special teams and as a backup.

This fall, Kentucky coaches believe West will put some punch into the back line of the UK defense.

‘He brings a physical presence,” new UK defensive coordinator Matt House says. “He’s a guy that likes to mix it up, which is big. And, believe it or not, in straight-line speed he’s one of our faster guys.”

While noting West needs to improve playing the ball in passing situations, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale says the safety “is going to bring a physical nature to the secondary — which we need.”

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Kentucky safety Darius West made a tackle in the 2016 Blue-White Game. If the junior from Lima, Ohio, can stay healthy, UK defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale says “he’s going to bring a physical nature to the secondary - which we need.” Pablo Alcala palcala@herald-leader.com

Of course, all that is contingent on West’s being able to stay on the field.

After fighting back so many times, it’s hard to imagine there is anybody more motivated to wear Kentucky blue and white this fall than Darius West.

“I’ve been through so much, it’s really nothing anymore,” he says. “I’m just ready to play.”

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