By: Larry Vaught
Last week running back Mikel Horton became the ninth signee in the 2014 recruiting class to decide to transfer from Kentucky. One other player in that class, the highest ranked recruiting class that Mark Stoops has signed in four years at UK, was kicked off the team.
Overall, the 2014 recruiting class has not lived up to the recruiting hype, something players in that class thought they could change this year.
“We have grown up. Coming in we were 17, 18. As we start to get older, we see the bigger picture. Our maturity levels are going up,” junior receiver Dorian Baker said. “There is always room for improvement. When I was 17 and 18, I felt like nobody could tell me anything and that I had it all. I had all the answers. But I have learned you have to sit down and listen to the people who really care about you. They are the ones trying to help you. You can’t get blindsided.”
Baker has been sidelined by a hamstring injury much of this season, which has frustrated him because he knows he’s a veteran now with time running out in his career.
“Time goes by so fast because we stay so busy all day every day from practice to class to tutors. We do the same things and time just flies by,” Baker said. “Seems like just the other day my mom and dad dropped my off at the dorm and I was kissing and hugging them at the elevator telling them to have a safe drive back home. Now I am a junior and it is unbelievable. I am blessed. We all are.”
Junior Charles Walker returned a punt against New Mexico State for a score, the first UK player to do that since Randall Cobb in 2010. “Just to be mentioned with Randall Cobb is something,” said Walker, a former walk-on from Louisville.
When Charles Walker finally returned a punt for a touchdown against New Mexico State, it ended a six-year drought for UK on returning a punt for a score. While Walker, a junior, obviously was thrilled with his first touchdown at Kentucky, so were his teammates.
No one was more jubilant than freshman offensive tackle Landon Young.”That was awesome. We were getting tired of hearing about no returns for a touchdown and getting that was awesome for him and us,” Young said. “He has been working his butt off, too.
“He was a walk-on coming into camp and got a scholarship and he is an awesome guy. A one in a million guy. Has a great attitude every day. Comes out with a smile on his face. Can’t ask for a better guy.”
Walker is also the only player in Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class who has played in every game the last three seasons. And as Young noted, he came as a walk-on.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran knew that Boom Williams had some off-field issues his first two seasons at Kentucky and then had to deal with the unexpected death of his younger sister in the summer. Gran and the junior running back sometimes bumped heads, especially during spring practice.
With the emergence of freshman Benny Snell, Williams’ improvement sometimes has been overlooked this season. But Gran keeps saying over and over how proud he is of Williams’ maturity and play.
“I think he matured like crazy. His demeanor and everything has been fantastic. You know, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think the relationship is good. He knows me now and I know him. I think that’s been really good for both of us,” Gran said.
“We can’t go side to side on any of these SEC teams. I will say this, he can sometimes, but you’ve got to pick and choose when you do that. I think he’s still got to learn that when it’s not there, stick your foot in the ground and get us three yards. And I think he has progressed that way. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer.”
Williams was not always the first player to congratulate teammates when they had success. That has changed this year. He’s become a mentor to Snell — and others.
“He’s always been a talented guy but he’s more detailed in his runs, and his mentality is much better. It’s great for him to see – him on the sidelines smacking Benny on the head and giving him a high five and cheering it instead of it just being about Boom,” Stoops said.
“Boom’s going to get his. Benny’s doing some good things with the physical runs, so it’s a great complement to each other. But you just see growth in all areas (of Boom) and I continue to see that.”
Both Williams and Snell had problems running against Alabama last week, but for UK to beat Vanderbilt Saturday both will need to play well.