Marcus McWilson got congratulated by Boom Williams after his interception return for a score against Mississippi State. A few seconds later coach Mark Stoops, left, basically tackled McWilson when he congratulated him.
By: Larry Vaught
If Kentucky goes on to get bowl eligible, a lot of credit will go to kicker Austin MacGinnis for nailing the 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat Mississippi State 40-38 last week.
But don’t forget the play of safety Marcus McWilson. That’s the senior safety coach Mark Stoops called out after three games and said he had to start playing better.
McWilson accepted the challenge and he’s doing exactly that. He had perhaps his best overall game at UK against Mississippi State with eight tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception he returned 45 yards for a touchdown.
“I studied film. I knew the routes that were coming and knew what I was going to get. I was able to make a play on the ball, get to the end zone and help our team get up,” McWilson said. “Again, excitement there was just crazy. I was caught up in the moment and loved it.”
So was Stoops. He basically tackled McWilson on the sideline as he went to congratulate the senior.
“I’m so happy for him. He doesn’t realize how much potential he has sometimes and that’s why I’m hardest on him,” Stoops said.
And he’s been tough on him from the time he came to UK as a highly-touted prospect from Ohio. He’s played but never quite to the level Stoops has wanted.
“I definitely had to except the challenge myself and be the player he expected me to be,” McWilson said. “I had to hold myself to a higher standard and above the standard he even holds me to.
“They tell us that all the time that a coach is someone that takes you to a place that you cannot get to on your own. So as he pushes me, I push myself, and my teammates all push each other to keep it going.”
Still, not every college athlete can respond to the challenge/pressure like McWilson did and he played his best just when UK needed him most.
“Now I just want to build on this. I want to help us win more games,” McWilson said. “I’m grateful for this win, but now we’ve got to focus on next week.”
Don’t forget what receiver Jeff Badet did, too. Sure, he caught two touchdown passes but his biggest catch came on the game’s next to last play when he snared a 20-yard pass and went down immediately in the middle of the field. That let UK call timeout with :03 left to set up MacGinnis.
Stoops said he talked to Badet on Friday about him being ready for his chance.
“We needed him to stay the course, stay patient. We’ve had our struggles with throwing the ball but that opportunity was going to come and when it comes, you’d better make it and do it and he certainly did,” Stoops said.
Badet, a junior, admits he thinks a lot about playing in the NFL and knows he needs to show NFL personnel he can be productive and stay healthy.
“I am just riding along and playing football as long as I can and helping my team,” Badet said. “The next level is something I think about all the time. I am getting older now.
“I do think about the NFL but you can only control what is happening now. Whatever I am doing now, I can’t dictate the future. I just have to make sure I am doing all I can now so we can keep winning games and hopefully the dream I have of the next level will happen.”