Kentucky freshman wide receiver Clevan Thomas says when he enrolled early at UK so he could participate in 2017 spring practice, he did not ask to wear the most prestigious jersey number in recent Wildcats football history.
“I didn’t ask, didn’t say anything,” Thomas said last week. “But I’m proud they picked me to wear No. 18.”
In being assigned No. 18 by UK, the 5-foot-11, 205 pound Miami product has been given a numerical legacy of excellence to uphold. Among those who have worn 18 on their Kentucky football jersey over the past decade are:
▪ Tight end Jacob Tamme, who became a two-time Associated Press First Team All-SEC choice while helping lead the Wildcats to back-to-back Music City Bowl championships in 2006 and ’07.
The Boyle County product went on to be a member of three Super Bowl teams in a nine-year NFL career.
▪ Wide receiver/kick returner/Wildcat formation quarterback Randall Cobb, who was an AP First Team All-American as an all-purpose player in 2010. After helping the Cats to three straight bowl games (2008-10), Cobb is justly considered one of the best players in modern Kentucky football history.
An Alcoa, Tenn., product, Cobb has gone on to be a standout wideout for the Green Bay Packers, making the Pro Bowl after the 2014 regular season.
▪ Running back Boom Williams, who last year as a junior ran for 1,170 yards and seven touchdowns to help spark Coach Mark Stoops and UK to a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl. After turning pro but going undrafted, the Monroe, Ga., native is trying to make the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent.
It does not appear to be chance that the No. 18 has acquired such luster at Kentucky.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader’s Jennifer Smith this summer, Tamme said that as his UK playing career was ending, longtime football equipment manager Tom Kalinowski pulled the tight end aside and said he was going to take care of the No. 18 and try to make sure it went to special players in the future.
Now that he has inherited the No. 18, Thomas aims to prove worthy of that designation.
“The fact I am wearing this number tells me a lot,” Thomas said. “But this number or any number, my work ethic is going to be 1,000 percent. I’m going to do my best in any number.”
A graduate of Florida’s Charles W. Flanagan High School, Thomas says he wore No. 18 as a prep sophomore “but I sort of changed numbers a lot through high school.”
After picking UK over offers from Louisville, Michigan and Vanderbilt, among others, Thomas created buzz by performing well in Kentucky’s spring practice. A slot receiver, he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Gunnar Hoak in the Blue-White Spring Game.
“Coming (to college) early, there’s no question that helped him,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said last week of Thomas. “He’s so far ahead right now. Right now, you’d say he’s probably going to be in the mix” to play.
Asked to describe his playing style for those yet to see him, Thomas politely demurred. “I don’t really talk about myself. I’m a humble athlete,” he said.
Since he’s been at Kentucky, Thomas says several people have talked to him about what it means to wear No. 18 in football for UK.
“I know (of) the recent players,” he says, “but the one that everybody knows is Randall Cobb.”
Thomas says every time he looks down and sees the 18 of Cobb — plus Tamme and Boom — on his jersey, he feels extra impetus to prove worthy of the number.
“I look at this number every day, go out and give it my all,” he says. “It gives me more motivation. I already had motivation coming here, but, now, they give me this number, I’m like, ‘OK.’ It’s good pressure on me.”