LEXINGTON – The positive influence that fifth-year wideout Aaron Boyd has brought to this University of Kentucky football team goes far beyond Boyd’s team-leading 14 receptions for 164 yards.
Boyd was rated the No. 1 prospect in the state of Kentucky in 2007 out of Henry Clay High School, but he was all but invisible for four long years with the Wildcats until getting a chance this fall.
“It’s a great teaching tool,” UK coach Joker Phillips said Monday when asked how Boyd’s arrival, so to speak, can influence teammates who are facing similar struggles to get on the field. “I have guys in their first or second year here who come into my office and say, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I’m going to get an opportunity,’ or ‘I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to cut it.’
I say, ‘See this thing out. It’s way too soon to give up.’”
Same with Aaron Boyd.
“There was nobody in our locker room (Saturday night after the win over Kent State) happier than the rest of the players, not Aaron Boyd. Our guys have watched him grow up and watched him take the coaching and watched how he responded in the offseason to things.
“Aaron’s happy, I’m sure he is. But our whole team is happy for Aaron Boyd. It only helps us sell to the rest of the guys.”
Boyd said he’s never allowed negative thoughts to take control of his mind, so to speak.
“I have stayed positive through the whole course and things seem to be working out,” said Boyd, who caught 11 passes Saturday in the 47-14 win over Kent State and three balls a week earlier in the 32-14 loss at Louisville. “I’ve had a new outlook on things, a new work ethic.”
So what’s happened with veterans like Boyd, and fellow senior wideout E.J. Fields?
Fields has just two catches so far – both against Kent State – but the Frankfort native has been singled out by Phillips since practice started in August for his blocking on the perimeter.
Fields now seems to be a fixture in UK’s rotation at wide receiver as the 1-1 Wildcats ready to host 1-1 Western Kentucky this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
The most obvious change is the arrival of a new wide receivers coach, Pat Washington. Washington was a former long-time assistant wide receivers coach at Tennessee, who spent the last two seasons at Southern Mississippi.
“Pat is a guy who has knowledge and knows how to get your guys to play,” Phillips said of Washington. “It’s about relationships. It’s about gaining the relationship with the guys and understanding who they are and what they can do.”
Said Boyd: “My coach, Pat Washington, believes in me. It makes it a lot easier to play for someone who believes in you. I couldn’t thank him enough.”
MAXWELL SMITH MATURES
Not surprisingly, Boyd wouldn’t be putting up the numbers he has without the rapid rise of sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith.
Smith is completing 73 percent of his passes through two games. He’s completed 65 of 89 passes for an average of 317 yards per game.
Going into spring practice, Phillips said the QB battle was between Smith and former starter, Morgan Newton, a senior. And then this fall Phillips suggested that incoming freshman star Patrick Towles and even Alabama prep standout Jalen Whitlow were in the mix, too.
The only guy who didn’t pay attention to any of this was the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Smith, a native of Granada Hills, Calif.
“Max went about his business this spring and this summer like he was the starter,” Phillips said. “That’s the thing. Every time we’ve had a guy win the job, they went about it this way. Andre Woodson, Mike Hartline ... those guys went about their business like they were the starters.
“So what happens is they believe and they get it ingrained in their mind, hey, this is mine. And then the other guys start to see that also. This guy is our guy. Let’s cling to him.”
THE TOWLES DECISION
Phillips raised eyebrows all around Kentucky football late Saturday night when he relieved Smith with Whitlow, instead of the massively touted Towles.
Phillips confirmed after the game that Whitlow, indeed, is going to be the No. 3 guy at quarterback, behind Smith at No. 1 and Newton No. 2.
Meaning that Towles will likely redshirt.
The 6-2, 202-pound Whitlow, from Prattville, Ala., brings off-the-charts athleticism to the table, while the 6-5, 242-pound Towles, from Highlands, is more of a dropback passer.
Asked about the decision at his in-season weekly press conference Monday, Phillips offered an explanation that I suspect won’t be of much comfort to Towles.
“He’s a different quarterback,” Phillips said of Whitlow, who got in so late Saturday he didn’t have a chance to show much. “We have to get a third guy ready, and I just think a guy who can win with his legs and some of our passing game, I just thought he would be the guy we’d go with.
“It has nothing to do with the future. But we just thought we had to make a decision, and we made the decision to go with Whitlow.”
Several Wildcats have won awards based on their play in the Kent State win.
Senior offensive lineman Larry Warford was named the Southeastern Conference co-offensive lineman of the week, Maxwell Smith was named the SEC offensive player of the week by SouthernPigskin.com, and freshman punter Landon Foster was named honorable mention, national punter of the week for the second consecutive week.
Warford is a native of Richmond, and Foster is from Franklin, Tenn.
Foster has punted five times for an average of 48 yards.