Spring practice is in full swing, and the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to build on their successful 2021 season.
One area that the Cats are going to have a lot of young guys playing is on the defensive line with Josh Paschal and Marquan McCall heading to the NFL Draft.
Since the unit is so new, the Cats will need leaders to step up and lead the group that has been a strength for the Cats in recent seasons.
Junior defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine has been the one rising to the challenge so far in spring practice.
Oxendine suffered a season-ending knee injury on October 9th against the LSU Tigers. While he is still recovering from that injury, he has stepped up as a leader and is getting praise from the coaching staff.
“Ox is doing a great job with the leadership,” defensive line coach Anwar Stewart said this week. “That’s the thing too, getting Justin Rogers and a lot of those guys we’re dependent on to step up this year. Their leadership is one of the things we’ve really got to lock in on up front. Ox and Justin, they’re doing a really good job.”
Last season, Oxendine started in three of the six games he played in and recorded 15 tackles, two sacks, and a QB hurry. He is currently in a red no-contact jersey at practice, but he has found other ways to lead.
“It’s fine. He’s good, he’s flying around. He’s limited to what he can do, but it’s great having him out there in his little red dress. I call it a little red dress. But you know, he’s very vocal. He’s in every meeting and a lot of the young guys. H’s directing those guys. He’s kind of doing what Josh (Paschal) did and that’s the thing about when you’re building a culture.”
Oxendine was establishing himself as one of the top linemen on Kentucky’s defense before going down with an injury. Against LSU, he recorded 3 tackles and two sacks which led to him winning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week. He is expected to be 100% when fall camp rolls around and Stewart is expecting a big season.
“It’s their moment,” Stewart said of Ox and Rodgers. “It’s their time. We just talked about Josh Paschal, he’s out, he’s gone, and Marquan (McCall_. So, they’re up. They’re our upperclassmen right now, so it’s their time to shine.
“So, it’s my job to keep developing them and keep my thumb on them and make sure they’re doing the right things all the time. They’re being students of the game, they’re coming in early, and they’re leaving late. They are doing all the right things to be successful.”
You can check out everything coach Stewart had to say below via Jeff Drummond.