This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
It's always fun to think about who your favorite players are at Kentucky, and I have several. It's easy, of course, to pick out the stars, and I have some of those. But I also have some guys who were not stars, but were every bit as important to the team's success as the stars were.
Not all of my favorite players come from winning teams. Sometimes, decent football teams wind up with ugly records, and looking back on those seasons after a while sometimes reveals that those teams were better than they were given credit for. Of course, the other side of the coin is true, also. Sometimes teams wind up with better records than they deserve.
But this post is about players, not teams.
So here we go with a list of my favorite players, and why:
- George Blanda (QB, Kicker, 1949) -- Blanda played most of his professional career with the Oakland Raiders, and in my younger days, the Raiders were my favorite team in any sport. Blanda played under Paul "Bear" Bryant when he was at Kentucky, and was a quarterback and kicker for UK. When he played for the Raiders he was their place kicker, but I didn't see a moment of his time at Kentucky. Still, he is included because he was one of my all-time favorite football players ever to play.
- Sonny Collins (RB, 1976) -- I mentioned Sonny in my first post of this series, because to me, he is the guy that resurrected Kentucky from a long stint of irrelevance and began a five-year comeback story that would end in a 10-1 (albeit probation-hamstrung) season. Collins was that guy we all wanted to be when we were playing sandlot football in Shelbyville, Kentucky during the mid-1970's.
- Art Still (End, 1978) -- I remember Still because he was one of the first players taken in the 1978 NFL draft. He was an all-American at Kentucky and a huge reason for the success of the 1976 and 1977 teams that won the Peach bowl and went 10-1, respectively.
- Derrick Ramsey (QB, 1978) -- Ramsey was an unusual player for his time. He was very tall and very athletic, almost like a tight end taking snaps (in fact, he went on to play tight end in the NFL). He didn't have a great arm, but he rarely threw into trouble and he was a load to bring down.
- Tim Couch (QB, 1999) -- Couch was "Mr. Football" in Kentucky and for the Wildcats. He was one of the highest rated quarterbacks ever to be successfully recruited by UK, and no matter what you think of the job Bill Curry did, he was the one who got Couch to come to Kentucky (even though he did insanely try to turn him into an option quarterback). Couch was the guy behind Hal Mumme's "Air Raid" offense, which was unquestionably the most exciting offensive scheme ever to be played at Kentucky. Sadly, Mumme's tenure at UK ended in NCAA disaster, but Couch was responsible for the resurgence of Kentucky football from a long stretch of mediocrity that started after 1977 and was broken by only 3 winning seasons.
- Derek Abney (Kick returner, 2004) -- Abney was a remarkable, fearless kick returner and all-purpose player who played on some UK teams with relatively unimpressive records, but at least one of which was much better than its record, namely 2003. That team had several very close losses to teams like Florida and Alabama as well as the famous 63-71 shootout with Arkansas. Abney was a memorable player at UK whom I always looked for every game.
- Kennan Burton (Kick returner, WR, 2008) -- Keenan Burton was a terrific player and a leader for my favorite all-time team, the 2007 Wildcats. He was a great route-runner and caught almost every ball thrown near him.
- Dicky Lyons Jr. (Kick returner, WR, 2009) -- Lyons may be a strange choice considering he wasn't all-American or all-SEC, but he was a clutch performer who was one of the truly interesting characters in UK football history.
- Jacob Tamme (TE, 2008) -- Jacob Tamme was perhaps the best tight end at Kentucky since James Whalen in 1999. Tamme was a major offensive weapon with his superior quickness and great hands.
- Wesley Woodyard (LB, 2008) -- Woodyard was simply one of the finest linebackers ever to put on a Kentucky uniform. He was undersized, but was first-team SEC his final two years at Kentucky.
That's my list. What's yours?