As we step forward to the Kentucky football season, it feels like we are on the verge of getting back to winning ways, and Big Blue Nation gets to plan annual bowl trips again. There is no better way to get excited about the future than by being nostalgic about the past.
I am going to take us back to the beginning of the year 2000 and put together a football team composed of players from the last 15 years. The initial goal was to see if that group could be a national title contender, as well as some healthy debate about who was the best at their position.
I was inspired to do this by a phone call into Kentucky Sports Radio. The caller asked Jared Lorenzen if he thought he could hand pick a team composed of guys from 2000-2015 and create a national title winner.
It is a fun question, and for all the "what-if" scenarios we put together for UK Basketball teams, I thought it would be apropos to field a football dream team, so to speak. Anyone over the age of 25 likely remembers watching all these guys play, cheering for them, and being filled with the promise of better days ahead for Kentucky football.
Below is the field chart for each position; you will notice there are more than 11 guys on each side. This is because of the constantly evolving formation sets, and the common sub-packages in today's game. Again, this is about how an All-UK team would do this coming season.
The charted players are the ones who would be playing the vast majority of the time. I will list the "honorable mentions" in the position breakdowns; these would serve as the second units, etc.
Quarterback is the position where there were two easy choices, but picking only one is the tough part. The reason that Andre' Woodson was the pick here is due to the talent around him. Jared Lorenzen is a gunslinger who could put the game on his shoulders and win it or lose it all by himself.
This team would not need that type of QB and I think that is the biggest reason we would go Woodson over Lorenzen. Woodson would routinely throw up 300+ yard games with little to no turnovers on this team.
You will not see either of them with many accolades, and neither was drafted in the NFL. However, both were historically great at UK. They were both in the unfortunate position of being a QB in the SEC for teams that were middle of the pack, at best... not a great recipe for accolades or draft status.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Hartline
The backfield for this team begins with the Terminator, fullback John Conner. Fan favorite Conner opened up more holes than a Mike Major defense, and there is not a better option to be in front of the ball carrier. The guy he would be opening holes for would be Artose Pinner. Pinner was a truly special running back for Kentucky, and I personally loved watching him "pinball" off defenders every week.
He put together an outstanding senior season, earning a first team All-SEC selection, as well as being named the top offensive player in the SEC that year. Pinner's 1,414 yards his senior season was second best all-time only to UK great Moe Williams' 1,600 yards in 1995. Pinner also caught 37 passes that season, for perspective, 37 catches would have been second in total receptions last season for UK.
Backing up Pinner would be Rafael Little, who put together an outstanding career at Kentucky. He rushed for over 1,000 yards each of his final three years at UK and averaged over five yards per carry for his career. Little was also a first team All-SEC player in 2005 with just less than 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
HONORABLE MENTION: Derrick Locke
The leader here is easily Jacob Tamme. Tamme caught 60 balls and 6 touchdowns his senior season on his way to a first team all-SEC selection and an NFL draft pick. Tamme is also still active and productive in the NFL.
HONORABLE MENTION: Derek Smith
There is no question who would lead this group; NFL Pro-Bowler Randall Cobb. Cobb left Kentucky with first team All-SEC honors, All-American honors, and a second round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers. In just three seasons at Kentucky, Cobb scored 37 touchdowns to go along with 5,363 total yards of production (1,787 yards per season). Cobb would undoubtedly be the heart and soul of this team as well as the captain.
Filling out the rest of the squad would be fellow first team All-SEC performer and fellow All-American Derek Abney. Abney scored 26 touchdowns in his career to go with 5,856 production yards. In 2002, he would score 10 touchdowns... SIX of those 10 were via kick returns. Flank those two with fan favorites Stevie Johnson and first team All-SEC Keenan Burton to round out a filthy foursome.
HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Matthews, La'Rod King, and Dicky Lyons Jr.
The tackles would consist of Garry Williams and Antonio Hall. Williams was a second team All-SEC performer and while he was not drafted, he was signed to an NFL contract and remains in the league. Antonio Hall was first team All-SEC in consecutive years and anchored the line the entire time he was at UK.
The guards would be Zipp Duncan and Larry Warford. Duncan was a second team All-SEC performer and actually played Tight End his freshman season. Larry Warford never could break the first team all-conference honor, but he was a second team All-SEC performer in three consecutive seasons. Drafted by Detroit, he went on to be the best rookie OL in the league and will likely be a staple in the NFL for years to come.
The man in the middle is Jon Toth. Toth may seem to be a premature pick, but he is a likely NFL draft pick and All-SEC performer. He has been named to the Rimington Award watch list for 2015, given to the nation's top center.
HONORABLE MENTION: Josh Parrish, Omar Smith, and Justin Jeffries.
The defensive line begins with the big uglies in the middle; Dewayne Robertson and Cory Peters. Robertson was an early entrant to the NFL after a stellar junior season at UK. Had he come back for his senior season we likely would have seen him as a first team All-SEC honoree. Robertson would go on to be drafted fourth overall by the Jets.
Cory Peters fills the other gap, he was a three-year starter at UK, and earned second team All-SEC honors. Peters would go on to be drafted in the third round by the Falcons and recently signed a three-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Bookends for the defensive line are Jeremy Jarmon and Dennis Johnson. Jarmon was a second team All-SEC honoree after his junior season. He was poised for a strong senior season when he encountered controversy by testing positive for a banned substance.
Kentucky self-reported the violation and the supplement was an over the counter product, but the NCAA would suspend him for his entire senior season. This prevented Jarmon from likely becoming a first team all-conference player and high draft pick. Jarmon would eventually be drafted by the Redskins in the supplemental draft.
Dennis Johnson completes the line; he was a heralded phenom in high school where he was named the national defensive player of the year by Sports Illustrated. A lot of how good Dennis Johnson was at Kentucky gets lost in the hype of expectation. He was expected to come in from day one and dominate the league as a man among boys.
Although Johnson did not come in exceeding those unfair expectations, he was an exceptional player for the ‘Cats. Johnson earned the starting role six games into his freshman year and would earn freshman All-American status. He would garner second team All-SEC his sophomore season and seemed poised for a breakout junior campaign.
Johnson ended up redshirting his junior year due to a severe ankle injury early in the season. He would come back for his redshirt junior season and dominate the SEC; leading the conference in tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sacks. This would lead to a first team All-SEC accolade and culminate in Johnson deciding to forego his senior season for the NFL where he was a third round pick.
HONORABLE MENTION: Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns, Ricky Lumpkin, and Za'Darius Smith
The Linebacker position has been one of strength for Kentucky thus far this century. This was a tough one to pick from simply because UK has had some very talented players come through the program these last 15 years.
However, the no-brainer is Bud Dupree. The converted tight end is one of the more impressive physical specimens to ever wear the blue and white. Dupree leaves Lexington as a first team All-SEC player and first round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dupree was the first UK player to go in the first round since Dewayne Robertson back in 2003.
The man in the middle goes to first team All-SEC player and tackle hoarder Danny Trevathan. He earned that honor in consecutive seasons while piling up an SEC leading 144 tackles his junior season and another SEC leading 143 tackles his senior season.
Trevathan was drafted late in the sixth round, but quickly showed the world that many teams missed an opportunity on him by becoming an integral part of the Broncos defense as a rookie.
Completing the trio would be none other than Wesley Woodyard. The LaGrange product was an absolute ball-hawking magnet. Woodyard came in as a safety, but quickly moved to linebacker and flourished. He became a regular starter as a sophomore and would go on to record 100 tackles, and recover four fumbles that season.
Woodyard would lead the team in tackles and tackles for loss with 122 and 9.5 respectively the following year. He would complete his career at UK as a first team All-SEC performer tallying 139 tackles in his final campaign.
Woodyard would not be drafted, but he was signed by the Broncos. After an injury to starter D.J. Williams, Woodyard stepped in and recorded 10 solo tackles in his first NFL start. He recently signed a 4-year, 16 Million dollar deal last spring with the Tennessee Titans.
HONORABLE MENTION: Avery Williamson, Micah Johnson, Marlon McCree, and Braxton Kelley.
The Cornerback position has not been one of strength for Kentucky over the last 15 years. There have been a few solid players, but it has lacked in playmakers and depth.
There are really only two players in the last 15 years that I would truly want to take to battle with the nations best. The first one is Trevard Lindley; Lindley was a first team All-SEC player and was a staple at UK for years. He was a fun player to watch and in his prime could certainly play the shutdown corner role.
Next would be Randall Burden; Burden had a solid career as a Wildcat. While he would not amass accolades or even be an NFL player, he was a three-year starter and did an admirable job in the toughest conference in America.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bo Smith (what might have been)
The defensive backfield woes extend to the safety position as well. There are only a few guys who truly competed at an SEC level for the ‘Cats. Winston Guy, Muhammad Abdullah, Marcus McClinton, and A.J. Stamps fit that bill.
Winston Guy's final two season in Lexington were highly productive and somewhat underrated. Guy did not earn very many SEC accolades but he tallied over 100 tackles in each of his final two seasons, including 14 tackles for loss his senior year. Guy was drafted in the sixth round by the Seahawks.
Marcus McClinton would line up beside Guy in the defensive backfield. Injuries slowed McClinton in his final two seasons in Lexington, but his sophomore season he tallied 68 tackles, 4 interceptions, and five forced fumbles. He also created the UK Football hype video/rap that everyone liked and site editor Jason Marcum said he gets bonus points for that.
The perfect nickel back for this team would be Muhammad Abdullah; Abdullah was a three-year starter for UK and garnered second team All-SEC honors in all three seasons.
HONORABLE MENTION: A.J. Stamps
We will start with the Punter in this section; UK has had some stellar success at this position over the years. That is not necessarily a good thing, but having a great punter does help the defense a lot. Since 2000, Kentucky has had three punters earn first team All-SEC honors... only the linebacker position for UK has had more first team honorees with four.
The popular pick for the punter would likely be Tim Masthay; after all, he is currently one of the better punters in the NFL and enjoyed a stellar career at UK. Masthay averaged 40.2 yards per punt for his career at UK and was a 4-year starter.
However, my pick is Glenn Pakulak; he was also first-team All-SEC in addition to one of only three UK All-Americans this century. Pakulak averaged an otherworldly 44.4 yards per punt for his career. He could also win a flexing contest and likely beat you up.
For the Kicker, it is a little premature, but I have to give the nod to our current Kicker, Austin MacGinnis. There are really only two possibilities here, either MacGinnis or Joe Mansour. Mansour put together a great senior season; he was 12 for 14 on field goals, good for 86%. This is over 10% higher than any single season up until then.
Austin MacGinnis only has one season so far but he was 21 for 27 and made some ridiculous kicks (at Florida, at Tennessee). He will leave Lexington as one of our best kickers of all time, in my opinion.
Manning the kick return duties would be Derek Abney and Randall Cobb. Can you imagine the terror for opposing teams when those two lined up beside each other?
HOW GOOD WOULD THIS TEAM BE?
When the question was posed to Jared Lorenzen, the caller was curious as to whether or not a National Championship team could be assembled. Being the victims of Kentucky football heartache only creates hesitation about that question.
Upon further inspection, this team should be a title contender. I looked back at the SEC champions from the last six years to see what the makeup was for a championship team. Surprisingly, only the 2009 Fighting Tim Tebows had more than six players earn first team All-SEC honors. Each champion had at least four, but no more than seven.
The aforementioned Kentucky Team would have 13 First Team All-SEC honorees playing the majority of time, and another three as subs:
- Randall Cobb
- Derek Abney
- Keenan Burton
- Artose Pinner
- Jacob Tamme
- Antonio Hall
- Dennis Johnson
- Danny Trevathan
- Bud Dupree
- Wesley Woodyard
- Trevard Lindley
- Austin MacGinnis
- Glenn Pakulak
In a sport where talent generally wins over scheme, to have that type of talent on the same team and NOT be a national title contender would be disappointing.
One of the cooler aspects of this handpicked team is the amount of players from Kentucky that this team consists of.
The good days of Kentucky football are upon us again, it will be fun to look back in five years to see how many of Coach Stoops players take the places of those above.