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Rumph bringing new level of focus, fitness into spring

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Donte Rumph is hoping for a breakout junior season after starting seven games in 2011. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Donte Rumph is hoping for a breakout junior season after starting seven games in 2011. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Donte Rumph pretended to be Warren Sapp during his days in youth football. Sapp, one of the all-time greats at his position, was a 6-foot-2 defensive tackle that starred with the Tampa Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders. He played at around 300 pounds for most of his career and was a durable defensive lineman, lasting 13 seasons in the NFL. 

Rumph, a junior at the University of Kentucky going into just his second season as a starter, is a bit taller than Sapp at 6-foot-3, but has been playing at a weight of 315 pounds.  That extra weight is something that has kept him off the field more than his coaches would like due to his tremendous skill and upside. 

Now, after two seasons at Kentucky, Rumph has made a bit of a transformation and is much closer to the shape of the man he idolized as a kid. He has shed some weight, and is all the way down to 303 pounds. Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips said Rumph is in "the best shape I've ever seen the big fella in." 

Rumph knows it was essential to get into better football shape for the upcoming season.

"It was very important," said Rumph. "You know, I want to be in a comfortable playing weight. The help of (strength and conditioning) Coach Rock (Oliver) making sure every chance I got to do something extra, I took it. So, he's been a great help to get me in the condition I am."

Starting at defensive tackle for seven games in 2011, Rumph made 31 tackles including a career-high of six in a loss against LSU. But at the position, he took several plays off due to the pace of the game and being too winded to play multiple snaps in a row. Defensive line coach David Turner says that though Rumph has had some success in this league, he is still a work in progress. 

"Yeah, I think so," said Turner on Rumph being in the best shape since his time at UK. "But it's not as good of shape as we need him to be in."

For Rumph, Turner says it is all about determination and wanting to be the best player he can be.

"Well hopefully it's a matter of playing the best he can play," said Turner. "I kinda of alluded to that when I said your career is half over. You've played two years; you've got two to go. How do you want to be remembered? 

"He's an older guy that's played. He's played well at times in this league. He's got to take more ownership in this thing and it's got to be important to him to be in the best possible shape that he can be in to play the best way he can play."

It seems Rumph has received the message. When the team returned from spring break, he impressed his head coach and looked like the type of player they want him to be.

"You worry when he went away for a week and came back after spring break," said Phillips at his press conference on Tuesday. "We've all been on spring break before. But watching the (Rumph) come back, took the plan that Coach Oliver and his staff gave him during the break, came back, and I was really pleased with the way the guy ran. He ran really well all winter, but then watching him come back (Monday) and run up and down the field, not a guy that's leaning over, looks like he's about to take his last breath anymore. Running, standing up, breathing the right way, looking like he could play the next play. Before it hasn't been that way."

Not only have the coaches been pushing him to reach a better level of fitness, but Rumph is now pushing himself. He know that in order to get where everyone wants him to be, he has to want it himself and put in the extra work to get him to that point.

"Mainly preparing mentally," said Rumph of his off-season preparation. "Running is just mental. Doing some extra cardio work with Coach Rock. He's been really great. After every workout, I'll be in the cardio room doing something extra. If not 30, 15 minutes, just to be doing something extra."

That work ethic and sense of ownership is something that may help him grow into an enhanced role. With only five starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, Rumph may be thrust into a leadership role to fill the void left by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, among others.

Rumph knows that it is his time to help lead and create a cohesive unit.

"Somebody has to step up," said Rumph. "Being a veteran in the game, you know, I try to take over the roles they left for us, and try to help the young guys, try to push them along, so we can all play together as one."

His coaches believe Rumph has an opportunity to do great things at Kentucky and that 2012 could be a huge one. This year, his coaches have already noticed the changes. A more physically fit Rump and a full year in the defense makes things easier for everyone.

"Well aside from the fact that he's moving around better," said Turner, "I think now, being in the defense a second year, he's picked up things a whole lot easier. It's easier on everybody. It's easier on me. I'm not learning everything new. It's easier on the guys. And now instead of everyone trying to learn what to do. We can do it."

Rumph agrees.

"It's a lot easier," said Rumph. "Less stressful. I'm more comfortable and I can feel more things, instead of just thinking. I can react more instead of just thinking about it."

With a new physique, improved fitness and a better overall understanding of the defense, it is reasonable to think big things are on the horizon for the "big fella." And while he may not be Warren Sapp just yet, a determined Rumph has a chance to be one of the all-time greats to play the position while wearing the Blue and White. 

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