HOOVER, Ala. — University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops does not dish out superlatives about his Wildcats just to uphold his reputation as a nice guy.
So when Stoops bragged at length about senior defensive end Bud Dupree recently at SEC Media Days, it jumped out to those of us who cover Kentucky football regularly.
“He’s a great player,” Stoops said when asked about Dupree, a 6-foot-4, 264-pound freak of an athlete. “He’s so versatile. He’s improved in so many ways. He’s everything you want. He’s a great young man, and he’s a great leader. He’s really taken on that role to help elevate his teammates, and that’s what true leaders do.
“You know me,’’ Stoops added, “I don’t just throw out a bunch of compliments all the time to our players...they have to earn that. But he’s a guy that’s special. He’s as good as the guys I was around at Florida State.”
Stoops came to UK last year after several seasons as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Many of the guys Stoops coached were part of the Seminoles’ national championship outfit this past season.
Dupree is a native of Irwinton, Ga., who signed with Kentucky as a tight end and then played primarily as a linebacker as a sophomore. Stoops and staff moved him to defensive end last season, though Dupree still lines up occasionally at an outside linebacker spot.
Dupree estimates that he runs a 40-yard dash in “high 4.4 or low 4.5,” and has a “41 or 42” inch vertical leap, and an 11-foot broad jump.
“God has blessed me with a lot of ability to be able to do things that others can’t do,” said Dupree, whose Wildcats open the season at home, Aug. 30, against UT-Martin. “And I work hard.”
Dupree also gives Stoops and his staff plenty of credit for his development this past year.
“When they came here, I learned a lot of moves and learned how to use my speed to my advantage, as well as my explosiveness,” Dupree said. “Coach Stoops puts me in a lot of situations, a lot of schemes, to make sure I use my abilities to my best.”
Dupree is the only current Wildcat to garner much respect around the SEC. He’s the only one named to the media’s preseason All-SEC unit, making second team. He has finished in the top 10 in the SEC in quarterback sacks in each of the past two seasons, and has 173 career tackles at UK.
SportsOnEarth.com rates Dupree as one of the nation’s top-five most underrated players.
But Dupree himself would be the first to tell you that his partner at the other end spot defensively, fellow senior Za’Darius Smith, also deserves superlatives.
The 6-6, 263-pound Smith came to Kentucky this past year rated as either the No. 1 or No. 2 defensive end in the junior college ranks the previous season. Smith had some nagging injuries a year ago, but still totaled 59 tackles and made third-team, All-SEC.
“Being realistic, I think me and Z (Smith) could be the best (defensive end tandem) in college football,” Dupree said. “We work hard every day to be that, so we’ve got to go out this fall and prove it.
“I’m more of a finesse guy, and Z’s more of a power guy,” Dupree added. “We go hand in hand. When someone tries to do something to my side, I stop him, and he goes to the other side. We just have to make sure the inside guys are on point.”
“I think Bud and I can be a great tandem,” Smith echoed. “I know that with us being seniors, we’ve got to be leaders on the defensive line and get the other guys right as far as focusing on staying in their gap and having us rush off the edge.”
Junior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle sees plenty of both Dupree and Smith in practice every day.
“I think they’re an awesome combination,” Swindle said. “I feel Bud is a really, really good pass rusher. He’s just amazing. And Z is amazing as well. They are almost unstoppable. They’re both very difficult to block. It’s awesome watching them.”