As anyone who has ever started school at the University of Kentucky can attest, learning how to navigate the campus of the massive state university is daunting.
Many a former UK student — this one included — can regale you with a story of getting hopelessly lost in their first days on campus.
As a rule, however, those stories do not end with the student in Pikeville — 142 miles southeast of Lexington.
A late-blooming 6-foot-3, 308-pound defensive tackle from Jordan City, Ga., Mahone had participated in a UK football summer training session that morning.
Tired after the workout, Mahone did not relish walking across campus to get back to his dorm.
It was then he recalled being told that buses ran on the University of Kentucky campus that transported students where they needed to go.
When he walked outside the football training center and saw a Blue Grass Tours bus with “Kentucky Athletics” on the side, Mahone figured he had found one of those.
“I was new here. I saw a bus that said, ‘Athletics,’ so I got on,” a grinning Mahone said last Friday at UK Football Media Day. “I was thinking I was on the bus back to the dorms.”
Once Mahone climbed on, he sat down in the front seat and closed his eyes to get a head start on the nap he planned to take once back in the dorm.
When he next opened his eyes, the bus was on a ramp pulling onto the interstate.
“I started asking, ‘Are we going to the dorms?’ They were like, ‘well, yeah, after we get where we are going,’” Mahone says. “They pulled out on this expressway, and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m on the wrong bus.’”
It turned out, the bus Mahone had boarded was taking Kentucky coaches, athletes, cheerleaders and dance team members etc. ... to Pike County for a stop on the Big Blue Caravan, the summer outreach program in which Wildcats sports figures visited towns around the commonwealth.
Mahone says UK football aide Dan Berezowitz eventually called to tell the Kentucky athletics representatives who were actually scheduled to be on the bus to Pikeville that they had an unintended stowaway in their midst.
“They started laughing and telling me everything would be all right,” Mahone says. “They took good care of me.”
So rather than sleeping in his dorm room, Mahone spent a couple of hours in Pike County with a group of UK sports luminaries that included Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, Wildcats women’s soccer coach Ian Carry and incoming women’s basketball freshman Blair Green, the former Harlan County star.
The group chatted with Wildcats fans, signed autographs and posed for pictures.
“It was a good experience,” Mahone says. “I never really signed that many autographs before. The people in Pikeville, they were nice.”
If you got Mahone’s autograph in Pike County, you may want to hold onto it. It likely will take some time, but the day may come when the signature of the product of Georgia’s Manchester High School is well worth having.
Last year as a high school senior, Mahone made 64 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and had seven quarterback sacks. Yet Mahone did not emerge as an SEC-level recruit until relatively late in the cycle.
Mark Stoops and Kentucky were the first in the SEC to offer him a scholarship.
“We came across a big kid who (also) played basketball,” said Kentucky defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc. “(Mahone) was really kind of a thin kid who grew into his frame. He’s an athlete. He’s got to develop some other things, but I think he is going to be a good player.”
Tennessee apparently agreed with that assessment of Mahone’s potential. New Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt and UT offered Mahone the same day the defensive tackle got home from his UK recruiting visit.
“Kentucky (was interested) in me first,” Mahone said. “That meant a lot to me.”
For the duration of Mahone’s Kentucky career, it seems the least that Pikeville can do is to adopt him as its favorite Wildcat.
After spending a couple of hours in Pike County in June as an accidental visitor, Mahone says he is more than willing to go back on purpose.
“If they ask me to, I will,” he said. “You know, I thought I was going to my dorm. But it turned out all right. That experience, it was all right.”
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory