A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Talk about freshmen playmakers motivates UK's returning receivers to show their worth

Since an uninspiring spring game from the University of Kentucky wide receivers, much of the focus surrounding the football program has been on the incoming class of freshmen receivers.


[widgets_on_pages id=”Jon”]

Throughout the summer, head coach Joker Phillips sang the praises of his new receivers. He repeatedly noted that unlike his previous receiver classes, these freshmen had played the position in high school and only needed to learn the playbook. That smaller learning curve should mean they would be better equipped to play early, Phillips said.


All that talk has served to motivate UK’s returning receivers.


The freshmen “come out on the field and are trying to take somebody’s spot,” said junior receiver LaRod King. “If a freshman takes my spot, it’s my fault.”


“Those guys (the freshmen) are going to help us out. They’re going to push us, we’re going to push them and help us all get better,” said redshirt sophomore receiver Brian Adams.


Wide receivers coach Tee Martin said he has seen a difference in the returning players since the freshmen arrived on campus.


“As a coach, sometimes you can say in the spring ‘you know we’ll have competition coming in the summer and the fall,’ and they are like ‘yeah, whatever,” Martin said. “But then when that competition shows up in summer school it makes some guys get a little better.”


To the veteran receivers credit, they have not withheld information from the freshmen because of the competition, Martin said.


“They brought those freshmen in as brothers when they got here,” Martin said. The veterans have “been great, teaching them the system. That’s probably why they are further along than you would think as freshmen.”


“It’s like more of a responsibility, leadership role as far as taking care of those guys,” King said. “You’ve got to make sure they are on time for classes and tutors, being able to watch film and doing what they need to do to get better and be SEC receivers.”


UK returns just three wide receivers who caught at least one pass in 2010. King caught 36 passes for 478 yards and five touchdowns and senior Matt Roark caught 12 passes for 170 yards. Adams caught three passes for 23 yards last season but shined with with seven catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue/White Spring Game. Redshirt junior receiver Gene McCaskill missed the 2010 season after tearing his ACL in fall practice, but he caught 17 passes for 163 yards as a sophomore in 2009.


On UK’s post-spring depth chart, King and Adams were listed as starters at the two outside receiver spots, and Roark was listed as the starter at the slot receiver position.


“I don’t think anyone really has a spot right now,” Adams said. “LaRod is probably the front runner because he has the most playing time.”


The grizzled veteran


LaRod King, University of Kentucky footballAs the player with the most experience, King — who has totaled 46 catches for 620 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons on campus — has morphed into the leader of the unit since the freshmen arrived on campus, Martin said.


“LaRod is a different guy,” Martin said.


King said it’s not hard to help the freshmen, because he remembers his experience as a young player on campus.


“When we went through it, I kind of had Chris (Matthews) and Randall (Cobb) to share the weight, but now it’s kind of just me who has the most game experience,” King said. “I’ve got to get everybody on the same page. Once we get in the game, there’s no more teaching, there’s no more helping. You’re on your own.”


King said while the freshmen have lots of talent, his three-year history with junior quarterback Morgan Newton is invaluable. During the two players’ freshmen season in 2009, nine of King’s 10 receptions came from Newton.


“Being around a guy, you kind of just know him,” King said. “If me and you were hanging out and we went to McDonalds, I’d know what you were going to order just like I know when I’m running a route when he’s going to throw it, where he’s going to throw it. The chemistry has to be right, the timing has to be right.”


The deep threat


Adams, who spent the spring splitting time between baseball and football practice, showed big-play ability throughout spring practice, but the defense has started to adapt to him this fall, Martin said.


“The defense is doing some different things, not allowing him to make as many big plays, which is to be expected,” Martin said. “He’s gotten better though. I can see technique-wise he’s gotten better.”


Much of that improvement can be attributed to Martin, Adams said.


“His resume alone is unbelievable,” Adams said of Martin, who won a national championship as the starting quarterback at the University of Tennessee in 1998. “I can look at film from when he first got here to now, and its unbelievable the strides I’ve made. We’re continuing to make strides daily, weekly. It’s awesome, what he’s done for us. He’s a huge asset for us.”


The forgotten man


While Adams and King at least have their work last season and in the spring to keep in coaches’ minds, McCaskill can be considered the forgotten man among the UK receivers.


“That’s how it is,” McCaskill said. “When you’re on the field everybody loves you, when you’re not you feel forgotten. Everybody moves on.”


McCaskill missed all of the 2010 season with a knee injury, but he recorded the most catches and receiving yardage of any of the returners during his last full season.


“From my standpoint I feel like I’m going to come back on the field and be a veteran receiver,” McCaskill said. “I will help the young guys, they are going to get a lot of playing time. I’m going to be there for them.”


While he plans on helping the freshmen, the talk from the coaching staff and fans about how those same freshmen might occupy the key receiving roles this season isn’t lost on McCaskill.


“It gets to a point where you just have to block everything out and just go to work everyday,” McCaskill said. “Whatever happens, happens.”


While the freshmen receivers will most likely see plenty of playing time this season, none of the UK returners are ready to give up their spots just yet.


“Everybody is coming into their own, myself included,” King said. “You just have to realize you’re a football player, and we’re out here to make plays. If you don’t realize that quick, you’re going to get passed up.”


Photos of Brian Adams, top, and LaRod King, side, during UK reporting day.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment