For new college students, acclimating to living away from home for the first time is a process that doesn't happen overnight. Especially for a student-athlete balancing a course load, tutoring sessions, practice and whatever time is left over for a social life, a period of adjustment is inevitable.
Maybe it's his laidback nature, but incoming freshman Zack Blaylock reports it didn't take long. Even though he's only weeks into summer classes and workouts at Kentucky, the 6-foot, 188-pound safety already feels like he has a new home.
"It was quick," Zack said. "I came down here and got in the groove of everything and it was easy."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has his brother Daron there every step of the way. The two fraternal twins - sons of former NBA All-Star Mookie Blaylock - are roommates at their new school, which is fitting for the pair, both of whom report spending nearly every second of the day together. During the recruiting process, there was some passing thought given to the notion of separating for college, but they figured they would end up together.
"We kind of knew we were going to go to the same place because, me and my brother, we've done everything together," Daron said. "We get along very well. We never fight really so we thought we'd just go to college together. Why not?"
Especially at the beginning, having a familiar face around was a nice security blanket.
"I think it helps," said Zack. "It's one of those brother/twin things. It makes everything easier."
However, it didn't take long for Zack and Daron to build relationships with their new teammates.
"If I knew my teammates like I do now, it wouldn't really matter because I know my teammates pretty well," Daron said.
Perhaps even more fitting than the fact that they're roommates is the hobby that the two easy-going Marietta, Ga., natives share. When they're not on the football field or in the classroom - where they also excel - there's a pretty good chance they're gone fishing. They picked up the hobby as youngsters and became devotees in high school. In fact, the biggest issue they've run into in moving to Lexington is finding a spot to fish bass.
"We're still looking," Daron said.
The twins got a fix a few weeks ago when head coach Joker Phillips invited the entire freshman class to his house for a Sunday cookout. There, Zack and Daron made a beeline for a pond in the backyard, where Zack snagged a good-sized carp and needed help to reel it in. Seven or so of his teammates jumped into action, including Daron. The whole episode showed Phillips a lot about his group of newcomers, in addition to making him laugh.
"That right there showed me these guys really like each other, like working together," Phillips said.
Neither Daron nor Zack need any additional reason to get excited about their freshman class. They go through Rock Oliver's workouts together. They've seen how well they've tested athletically. They've seen spectacular plays in seven-on-seven drills.
"We're a very talented freshman group," Daron said. "Some of us could play this year and we're going to be a really good team in the future, including this year."
The twins are big parts of that future, in addition to the third (unrelated) freshman bearing the Blaylock surname, Shawn.
Daron and Zack each played safety at Walton High School, helping lead the Raiders to a 14-1 record and a state runner-up finish in the Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs. Zack is the ball hawk of the two with a well-deserved reputation for big plays. He picked off 11 passes as a senior, returning five for touchdowns. In defensive coordinator Rick Minter's attacking scheme, Zack would seem to be an ideal fit.
Regardless where he ends up, his summer work in the weight room figures to pay off. Daron is happy to report he's already gained a "freshman 15" with weeks to go before the start of the fall semester.
"I came in here at 208 (pounds)," Daron said. "I'm up to 223 now."
Daron and Zack acknowledge the workouts are trying, but a track background has given them a solid baseline in preparation for what they're dealing with now.
"People think it's tough, but I've ran track and everything so I've been in shape," Daron said. "It's not that tough, just some days when Coach Rock is in a bad mood."
The days figure to get tougher and longer in a couple weeks with the start of fall camp and two-a-days. Gaining weight, strength and speed might make the two twins look the part, but they know camp is the time when they have to prove they can play it.
"It all depends on fall camp," Daron said. "That and then getting to know the playbook. That's probably the hardest part of this whole transition."
At least one thing doesn't come easy for the twins.