UK alum Tom Leach has been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12 years and nine years for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April. Read Tom's full biography
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It doesn't seem that long ago that true freshman running back Derrick Locke burst on the scene with 48 rushing yards in the fourth quarter in a come-from-behind win at Arkansas. But now, the Hugo, Okla., product is preparing for his final season wearing blue and white and Locke is committed to making sure both he and his team realize their full potential.
"I want to make sure everything is like it needs to be," Locke told tomleachky.com after a recent spring practice session. "Am I doing everything I need to be doing? Am I over-cutting? People don't understand a running back's got to set up blocks. That's my goal. I don't want to be like 'Locke didn't do this ' "
That's just the kind of attitude Joker Phillips needs to hear from a senior.
Last season, Locke rushed for 907 yards and caught 31 passes, accouting for eight touchdowns. He added another score on a key kickoff return in the win over Louisville and emerged as one of the Southeastern Conference's top return guys. But Locke says the team was capable of more wins that it produced and he takes his own share of accountability for that.
"It came down to one selfish play and then another selfish play," Locke said, noting that "selfish" refers to not always sustaining the committment to finish off assignments. "Let's say on a run, maybe if I had been a little more patient, it would have been an 80-yard run. Or one bad throw or one missed route. We should have had a 10-win season but we didn't. Right now, we need to make sure everybody does their part. They do theirs and I do mine."
Locke considered putting his name into the NFL Draft but opted to return for his final season at Kentucky. He has a 3-year-old son (who Locke says -- with a big smile -- now refers to daddy as "his best friend") and that is powerful motivating force for Locke to be all he can be.
"I talked to my coach and I wanted to let him know that I want to know how to watch film," Locke said. "What do I need to study? What do they like to do? When they're in this front, what do they like to do? If I can learn my opponent, I can be a better player. Trying to take everything to the next level. I don't want (anyone) to have any doubts."
This time a year ago, there was still a question about whether Locke would be able to fully recover from a serious knee injury in the middle of the 2008 season. Locke worked like a demon in his rehab and quickly erased any doubts about getting all of that NFL-caliber speed back. He said it feels great to be back on the field this spring, without any doubts.
"You don't have to worry about 'can he handle it?' " Locke said. "I can handle it. I came off the injury and had an alright season, but now it's time to up the bar. I've got to make sure I'm progressing."
And Locke likes the tone Phillips is setting in his first year as the Cats' head man.
"Intensity is through the roof," Locke said. "Everything's got to be fast, so we're getting a lot more reps. We're trying to get as many reps as we can. All the young guys, that's the only way they're going to get better. I like that."