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Rumph ready to roll now

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Donte Rumph was the butt of jokes after a two-year delay in arriving to the Kentucky football team.

Upon breaking the news of Rumph's eligibility a few weeks ago, head coach Joker Phillips poked at Rumph by saying that if UK doesn't play him now "he'll be 40 years old before he finishes." In practice, his teammates have notoriously tagged him 'Bout Time.

Rumph laughs, shrugs his shoulders and hardly bats an eye. With the way he sees it, he'll let his play do the talking. To him, it's 'bout time he made an impact - even if he is still technically just a freshman.

"I'm here now," Rumph said Monday after practice at the Nutter Training facility. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to show my talent."

Rumph, a 300-plus pound defensive tackle, waited two years to suit up for Kentucky. After failing to qualify in back-to-back seasons, Rumph learned a few weeks ago that he was deemed eligible to join the team.

"Two years waiting, it was hard," Rumph said. "It was very emotional. I'm thankful Coach Phillips and my friends and family stuck by my side."

While Rumph worked to become eligible, he has spent the last two years playing at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.). The highlight of those two seasons was playing against Kentucky in a junior varsity game.

But before that, Rumph was a star at Calhoun County High School in St. Matthews, S.C. In totaling 107 tackles and 14 sacks during his senior season, Rumph was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press and Columbia State newspaper.

At 6-foot-3, 317 pounds, according to Rumph, he has the frame be to a future star in the Southeastern Conference.

"He's a load," Phillips said. "He's what we play against every Saturday."

But Rumph has been humbled by two years of broken potential. After battling just to get on campus, Rumph is now doing everything in his power to make up for lost time.

Defensive line coach David Turner praised Rumph for his eagerness to learn. Turner knows his uncle Chris Rumph, a defensive ends coach at Clemson, and said it's pretty obvious that Donte Rumph has been coached up well.

"Every day he gets a little bit better and a little bit better," Turner said. "He keeps working and he's a great kid. He's always asking questions, wanting to know and wanting to learn. As he gets in shape, you can start to see the light come on."

Technique wise, Rumph isn't that far off.

"Surprisingly, it's still there. My reactions are still there," Rumph said. "I need some improvements, though. Coach Turner is helping me with my technique. I'm learning a great deal from Coach Turner and my other teammates. The older guys - well, I won't say older because they're probably the same age as me - the guys that have been in this program, I'm just learning so much from them. They teach me and take me in as if I'm their little brother."

Getting in shape is the biggest hurdle standing in Rumph's way. The first-year lineman said he would like to get down to at least 310 pounds by the time the season starts, but the coaching staff is hoping it's more like 300, so long as he doesn't lose his strength (UK's media guide lists him at 265).

The most positive sign from Rumph in fall camp is that he's willing to catch up.

"I need to do a lot of work as far as conditioning and getting back into shape," Rumph said. "I knew I needed to step up, show my gratitude to all the coaches and try my hardest to help all of my teammates. I'm trying to continue to work harder and harder every day."

Though Rumph has been noticeably winded after practices, he's getting closer and closer to being in game-day shape, which he credits to Director of Strength and Conditioning Ray "Rock" Oliver and his legendary workouts.

Phillips has joked that Rumph can last for about six reps now, but there's no mistaking Rumph's impact in fall camp. The true freshman has continually been the subject of praise from the coaching staff after practices, a bit surprising considering how far he had to come.

"Ninety-nine continues to show up," Phillips said after Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium.

It's a credit to Rumph's fervor to learn and trim weight, plus you just can't teach Rumph's size.

"Have you ever shook his hands?" defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "I'll tell you, you better get your fingers in there. He'll break your fingers." (As this writer can attest, Brown isn't joking around.)

Rumph is what defensive line coaches like to call a disruptor. He's so big and so talented that he will draw the attention of double teams if he continues to improve.

The coaching staff wasn't necessarily counting on Rumph to be an immediate contributor this season because of his conditioning, but the ineligibility of fellow defensive tackle Mister Cobble thrust Rumph into a needed role.

Though UK received a huge upgrade in depth and talent Monday when defensive tackle and former LSU signee Elliott Porter joined the team, in addition to veterans Ricky Lumpkin and Mark Crawford, it hasn't changed the coaches' recent thoughts that Rumph could contribute now.

"You never know how things are going to play out, but right now I would think he could be a guy that could help us this fall," Turner said. "I've got to do a good job and figure out what he can and can't do. Once he has a chance, which I think he will, and adapt to the college game, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can pick it up."

Whatever Rumph's role is, he just wants to help.

"I'm just glad to be here," Rumph said. "I would have done anything to be here, no matter how long it would have taken. I had to get here. It has been my dream to come here. I worked hard to get here and now I finally am."

The way Rumph views it, it's never too late to make an impact.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes," he said.

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