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Confident freshmen look to make impact, leave legacy at UK

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With every recruiting class, a new sense of energy fills the air. Things are no different at the University of Kentucky this season. At most media days, reporters flock to star veterans and upperclassman, but this year, many of the new faces of the 2012 Kentucky football team had an opportunity to introduce themselves to the Big Blue Nation.

What is described as one of the most talented freshman classes ever to set foot in Commonwealth Stadium, this group of rookies would seem to be carrying a heavy burden. Without the guidance of the veteran presence in the Kentucky locker room, that may well be the case. However, the guidance and presence has been there and has assisted in the adaptation of high school seniors into college freshmen. 

Though opportunities are abundant for these incoming rookies, the pressure to prove themselves to their teammates and upperclassman simply does not exist. 

"There are a lot of leaders on this football team, and they've shown that throughout our off-season, throughout spring football, and throughout the summer workouts," said head coach Joker Phillips. "I'm excited about the dedication this football team has displayed, and I'm excited about the hunger this football team has shown."

Zach Myers is a freshman offensive lineman from Miamisburg, Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Zach Myers is a freshman offensive lineman from Miamisburg, Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Thanks to a strong core group of leaders already in place in the Kentucky football program, the freshmen already feel right at home.

"It's been great learning under these veterans and them teaching us the way and how everything goes. They've really stepped up and showed us how to act as Wildcats," said freshman offensive lineman Zach Myers. "Right away they let us know we were family."

Myers' sentiment was shared by most of the freshmen that spoke at Media Day Friday afternoon. In just a few short weeks on campus, it appears the freshmen are already adopting a family attitude towards one another.

"We have great senior leadership and great upperclassman leadership," said freshman offensive lineman Jordan Watson. "Guys that are willing to put their arm around us and show us that this is what we do at UK. It makes it more comfortable for us to really try and get better when we know we have the support from the upperclassmen."

The support could go a long way in allowing these freshmen to settle in and simply be themselves. With that obstacle overcome, these players can come in immediately and focus on what they were brought to Kentucky to do: Win football games.

These newcomers are not shy when it comes to the goals that they've set for themselves. It seems many of the conversations amongst the rookies are about what they hope to accomplish over the next few years while representing the University of Kentucky. 

"We talk a lot amongst ourselves," said freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow. "We just say we're just going to work hard and we're trying to be the best group that came through here. We're trying to have four or five rings on our fingers before we leave."

He isn't the only one saying it. This class has big plans and lofty aspirations.

"It's great to be a part of it," said freshman defensive lineman Thomas Chapman. "We want to be the best class to come through here, and that's our goal. We all plan on being here as long as we can, so we just plan on improving the team and coming in helping wherever we can."

What it is about this group that gives them so much confidence?

"We have talent everywhere at every position," said Whitlow. "Lots of talent. We've been bonding all summer so everybody's cool, everybody's got talent. We're going to come into camp, I know we're freshmen, but work hard, and see what we can do."

A common theme that emerged amongst the freshmen during media day was their work ethic. Each one of them noted just how hard this group is working to learn the playbook, push themselves in the weight room and prepare to make an impact for the team as soon as possible.

"We have guys here, all the way from the upperclassman to the freshman, that want to work hard, want to do the right thing even when nobody's watching, and that really makes a good scenario," Watson said.

One of the things that has Phillips most excited about this upcoming season is how many young, talented players gained experience a year ago due to injury or circumstance. This year's freshmen will make the Cats even younger and more talented.

The influx of talent will likely boost the competition in camp. Phillips says this will likely be the most competitive camp he's had since his time at Kentucky due to the amount of talented players on the roster.

"We've never had a situation where we've had (third) and (fourth team players) to work," said Phillips.  "We've had threes and fours.  It hasn't been threes and fours that you wanted to get work. We always wanted to get our ones and twos reps, and there might have been a three here or there. But there are now threes and fours that we've got to get reps, so we've got to practice a lot faster to try to give those guys a chance to compete and give those guys a chance to get reps so when scrimmages come, they understand what's going on and compete at a high level."

And yes, this confident and talented group is ready to make an impact as soon as the opportunity is within reach.

Khalid Henderson is a vocal, confident, hard-nosed player who has made an instant impression on the coaching staff. Phillips had high praise for Henderson in his opening remarks.

"Khalid Henderson who has a lot of fire in his belly," said Phillips. "A lot of fire...He wants to learn. He wants to learn more and take it to the next level.  That's why we're excited about this football team."

Henderson himself was outwardly excited about getting the season started. He's well aware that he and his teammates have a lot of hard work to do to prove they are as talented as the staff and fans hope for them to be. But he wants to go a step further.

"I feel like we're going to make an amazing impact," said Henderson. "I have to just say it. We're going to make a great impact. We're going to shock a lot of (people)."

This young man exudes confidence in a very positive way. He clearly sees the talent this group possesses, and he wants as much success for his teammates as he wants for himself. With that type of attitude, one that appears to be shared by many of his teammates, this team could go a long way. 

It hasn't only been the on-field performance that has encouraged Henderson, but the overall dedication to the life of the college athlete that has caught the eye of the freshman.

"The numbers. We have great numbers," said Henderson. "Guys are putting up outstanding numbers in the weight room, on the field, even in the classroom. Just the freshman class as a whole, we're ready to make an impact."

This class couldn't have shown up at a better time. After UK struggled in the 2011 season and failed to reach a bowl game for the first time in five seasons, this class has eyes on restoring a proud recent tradition while building a new legacy.

Though they may only be freshmen, having not yet played a single college snap, they don't lack for knowledge and appreciation of Kentucky football history. Some of the primary goals of this class are to come in, make an impact and leave a long-lasting legacy that they themselves and Kentucky fans can be proud of for years to come. 

"I'm really excited," said freshman wide receiver A.J. Legree. "I think this freshman class is going to be the class that turns things around. We're looking to do great things. You know, the coaches brought us in for a reason, so I think it's going to be one of the classes."

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