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From the Pressbox: Through adversity, Williamson still choosing to 'be a pro'

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It was hard to find positives in Kentucky's dismal gridiron showing last Saturday against Vanderbilt, but there was one. Unfortunately, it was a performance that was overshadowed by the coverage of the turnout and coach Joker Phillips' job security (and subsequent dismissal).  But it was a performance deserving of some recognition.

Twenty tackles. That was junior linebacker Avery Williamson's total, along with a forced fumble.  That was a career-best day for the junior linebacker from Milan, Tenn., and  one of the best days in school history (the UK media guide lists the top five single-game tackling totals and the lowest is 24).

The number alone is impressive, but consider that it came on a day when the stadium was far less than half-full, the weather was awful and the Cats were getting thumped from the start.  

Williamson's showing was the epitome of his coach's message to "be a pro" in the approach to the job of being a UK football player, student, ambassador, etc.

"It's just a thing you gotta decide to do, be a pro. Just keeping working hard, even when times are bad," Williamson told reporters after the game.

It's easy to play hard from start to finish when your team is winning and the crowd is cheering, but it was in these adverse circumstances that Williamson showed his character.

To him, it was all about doing his job.

"All you can do is keep playing for your teammates. I'm just trying to play for my seniors," he said.

Coaches will tell players that they can't pay attention to anything that happens off the field but Williamson acknowledged that the turnout - or lack thereof - was impossible to ignore.
"It was a shock but whether the crowd is there or not, you gotta keep playing," he said. "It's tough. But you still got to play. We want people to support but when we're not winning games, they're not going to come out as much."
Both Phillips and Williamson's high school coach have described him as a "self-made" player.  What they're saying is that Williamson made himself into one of the SEC's leading tacklers despite not being a highly rated high school prospect.  Milan High School played in back-to-back state 4A title games in Williamson's final two years.  You could see he came out of a winning program and you could see the program won because of the work ethic of players like him.
It's the kind of mindset that Kentucky's next coach will be glad to find. And it's an approach that more players need to adopt, after the mistake-filled outing we saw last Saturday.
Williamson admits it's been anything but easy to endure this season, but he's also determined to stay strong.

"It's been stressful but that comes with the position I got, with everybody depending on you. All you can do is worry about your assignment," he said. "It's been very frustrating. I was expecting a lot (more) than this. But it's making me stronger and a lot of the (other) guys, too."

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