This is the sixth in a series of posts breaking down the Kentucky Wildcat football team, position by position. For the first five installments, go here: quarterback, wide receiver, running back, offensive line, secondary.
The history of UK football is filled with elite-level linebackers, especially over the last 50 years -- Jim Kovach ('74-'76,'78) leads all UK tacklers with 521 take-downs; Chris Chenault ('85-'88) brought down the ball carrier 482 times; Jeff Kremer ('84-'87) registered 180 tackles in 1987, second most in UK single season history; Marty Moore ('90-'93) holds the school single season tackle record with 183 tackles in 1991; Wesley Woodyard ('04-'07) has 259 solo tackles to his credit, fourth all-time in UK history; Randy Holleran ('87-'88, '90) recorded 379 tackles in only three years; Tom Ehlers ('72-'74) had 349 tackles in his career, 174 in 1974; Braxton Kelley ('05-'08), Micah Johnson ('06-'09), Sam Maxwell ('06-'09), Lester Boyd ('75-'76, '78-'79), Joe Federspiel ('69-'71), and Wilbur Hackett ('68-'70), are all standout players who plied their trade from the linebacker position.
This year, Danny Trevathan, who opted to return for his senior year rather than enter the NFL Draft, has the opportunity to further solidify his standing in UK football lore. Already the only 1st Team All-America in UK linebacker history, Trevathan will vie to improve a UK defense which last year gave up over 5.3 yards per carry to six opponents -- Louisville, WKU, Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Pitt. Kentucky was 2-4 in those contests, and if the 'Cats hope to better the six wins they attained in 2010, stopping the run will be of major importance.
A Leesburg, Florida native, Trevathan has amassed 226 tackles over the last two years (a team and SEC-leading 144 last year, as well as 16.0 tackles for loss, third in SEC), and was, in his words, "gone," "outta here," after the 2010 season -- A season in which he recorded double-figure tackles in the last nine games, and averaged 11.5 tackles in SEC contests. But, as the point of no return neared (the last day a player can enter the draft), he had second thoughts, including keeping a promise to his mother to get his degree. Trevathan put into words his thought process to Chip Cosby, at the time with the Herald-Leader:
"I did a lot of self-evaluation about my future, and talked to my family. I just learned that the easy way isn't always the best way. The average NFL career is three years. I don't want to live that short and rely on just football. I want to get my education, finish school and build for my future."
In coming back for his senior season, Trevathan has had to deal with a new d-coordinator in Rick Minter, new terminology, and a change in how Kentucky attacks the opponent from a defensive standpoint -- Much more reading and blitzing, and with the addition of former safety Winston Guy to the LB corp as a hybrid safety/linebacker, Trevathan has had to learn how to play with an additional player in his space. According to head coach Joker Phillips, Trevathan has adapted well:
"He can be even better than he was last year. He's bigger, he's faster, he's quicker. He's reading better and understands this defense better. We're blitzing with him, so he's creating some plays in the backfield."
Trevathan's outstanding speed for man his size (6'1" 232lbs), his unusually terrific ability to play off blocks, and his smash-mouth-first-ask-questions-later attitude (he was second in the SEC with four forced fumbles), makes him a danger to any quarterback, or anyone unlucky enough to have the ball in their hands with #22 in pursuit. Although a quiet, introverted person most of the time, Trevathan leads the UK linebackers with his example, which is first and foremost a strong work ethic, and a no excuses ability to get the job done. He's one of those special players who simply has a nose for the ball, and the athletic ability to create havoc for opposing offenses.
Following Trevathan's example, will be:
Ridge Wilson: 6'3," 243lb junior starting strongside LB -- Wilson will be playing a new hybrid linebacker/defensive end position, with a concentration on the linebacker spot. The Central High School product has taken to his new position with gusto, and has proved that last year's very strong finish to the season was no fluke. Wilson, like Trevathan, loves contact, and if all goes well, should be in the opponent's backfield for much of the year.
Last season in 13 games, Wilson recorded 30 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and two pass breakups. In his UK career, Wilson has played in 24 games, with two starts.
Ronnie Sneed: 6'2," 241lb senior starting middle LB -- The returning starter has taken to the blitz-heavy packages like Larry Warford to the buffet table; that is to say, with great enthusiasm. The Tallahassee native, who before had a tendency to over-pursue, has seemed more focused and has taken to the new defensive schemes well.
Sneed recorded 61 tackles last year, and averaged nearly 6.0 tackles in SEC games. Also in 2010, he had 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup, and five quarterback hurries.
Alvin Dupree: 6'4," 229lb freshman -- Dupree, who came to UK as a tight end (he was a top-50 tight end according to Scout.com), was named 1st Team All-State in Georgia his senior year. He started all four years of high school at tight end, and his final three years as a defensive end, where he had 62 tackles and 10 sacks. Dupree also excelled on the hardwood. His high school coach, Jeb Stewart, had this to say about Dupree, "Alvin has a great work ethic. He's a great leader, verbally and by his actions. When he gets to college and concentrates on one sport, he's going to really blossom."
Dupree will be playing behind Ridge Wilson at strongside linebacker.
Avery Williamson: 6'1," 229lb sophomore -- Williamson played in all 13 games last year, recording 10 tackles and one pass breakup. He is very good at making plays in the open field, in one-on-one scenarios, and is considered (potentially) to be a future star at the position.
Williamson will be backing-up Ronnie Sneed at middle linebacker.
Malcolm McDuffen: 6'3," 217lb redshirt freshman -- The man with the 12-cylinder power plant in his chest -- I saw McDuffen play twice his senior year at Christian County High School and came away very impressed with his never-ending pursuit of the ball. He never gives up, until the play is over; his motor is always running, and he loves contact, especially creating it. He was 1st Team All-State and had a combined 164 tackles his junior and senior seasons, causing 15 fumbles in his career. McDuffen was rated a top-50 outside linebacker by ESPN.com, and was ranked the 8th best college prospect in Kentucky by Rivals and SuperPrep. McDuffen was a terrific basketball player and excelled at track, running the 200- and 400-meters. Perhaps most impressive, he was voted class president all four years of high school.
McDuffen's high school coach, Steve Lovelace, had this to say about his star pupil, "Malcolm's work ethic and dedication as a student-athlete will help him succeed at Kentucky. He can dominate a game. He's very coachable and will do whatever it takes to help the team win."
McDuffen's father, Michael, played basketball at Murray State, and his cousin, Ricky Abren, played football for the 'Cats. He'll be spelling Danny Trevathan at the weakside linebacker position in 2011.
Tim Patterson: 6'4," 224lb freshman grayshirt -- Patterson signed with UK in 2010, but after suffering a knee injury in high school -- he's another Central HS alum -- opted to gray shirt in order to rehab his knee, therefore not losing any eligibility. He was the top prospect in Kentucky coming out of high school according to Rivals and SuperPrep. An uber-athlete, Patterson helped lead his Central High School basketball team to the state finals in '09.
Patterson covers a lot of ground in a very short amount of time (he runs a sub-4.7 40), and like his linebacker brethren, he relishes the big hit. His senior year at Central he had 92 tackles. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming gushed about Patterson when he said, "This guy can really deliver a blow, always seems to be in the right position at the right time, takes great angles to the ball, and once he gets there, watch out."
Although Patterson is currently not listed on UK's two-deep depth chart, he'll see action this season, potentially, a lot of action as the season progresses. One thing to remember, though, with all the youngsters there is a learning curve at work, particularly when the SEC slate begins.
Happy birthday, Mom. Love ya.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!