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Bonds between seniors, UK unbroken after season-ending loss

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From the very beginning, Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble were tied together.

Not only did they play the same position, but the two defensive tackles also shared a longer-than-expected journey from signing with Kentucky to finally arriving on campus. Once they gained eligibility the same offseason, that link turned into an unbreakable bond.

They became roommates and, by the description of both, brothers over their four years in Lexington, which made it fitting that they would share the final moments of their careers.

Cobble and Rumph walked into the room for their last postgame interviews arm in arm before sitting down in adjacent chairs. They weren't about to be separated.

"The best way to do it is just hanging with my brother and that's how I'm doing it," Cobble said. "That's why I'm here."

The time would have been a little sweeter had UK managed to take down Tennessee in its season finale, but a 27-14 loss undid that ambition. In spite of 13 tackles and 1.5 for loss between the two, the Wildcats couldn't overcome the Volunteers in finishing the season 2-10.

"It was an emotional game," Cobble said. "Being here five years with my ups and downs and the relationships and the bonds I made, especially with Donte. Just after the game, I told him, I stopped him and was like, 'Keep your head up. Let's just stand of the field and just enjoy it one last time.' "

Mark Stoops, as he has after each defeat during his first season, rued opportunities missed on Saturday night as he fielded questions. But in spite of his disappointment and self-critique, he couldn't overlook the contributions of Cobble, Rumph and the other 17 Wildcats who played in Commonwealth Stadium for the last time.

"It's always difficult, probably most difficult for the seniors that come in with a coaching change:  A bunch of new coaches, new schemes, new everything, and I thought those guys really handled themselves well," Stoops said. "You know, really continued to fight and tried to lead us through the end of the year, so I appreciate those guys."

Leading every step of the way for this UK team was Avery Williamson, the linebacker who closed his illustrious career just four tackles shy of 300.

"He's one of the best I've been around," Stoops said. "I love him. He's just a great person and very good football player. He cares. He's a good leader. He's going to be very successful in life."

Even though they only spent a season together, Stoops and Williamson built a relationship marked by mutual respect.

"Remarkable coach," Williamson said. "He knows what he's doing and he's a great coach, aggressive guy and he gets what he wants. He demanded perfection out of me. I wasn't perfect, but he made me into a great player and he's a great person to be around, on and off the field."

Williamson took it upon himself to Stoops' staunchest ally in this season of transition, reinforcing his coach's process-oriented approach at every turn. For that reason, he won't stop being part of the rebuilding effort going on at Kentucky even though he won't play another game in blue.

"I feel like I left my leadership and the way I play," Williamson said. "Guys are going to see that on film and I feel like I instilled the leadership qualities in a lot of guys in here. They really look up to me and I'm glad of that and I'm really hoping it's going to carry over. I know it's going to carry over and these coaches are going to make it carry over. I feel like I laid the foundation for this program. It's going to get better."

With recruiting, offseason workouts and self-evaluation, that begins immediately.

"We know that we are laying a foundation in our program and everybody in that locker room knows that we are going to get back to work here real soon, like Monday, and be ready to go and push forward for the future," Stoops said.

Williamson, Cobble and Rumph will go back to work themselves, but with a different objective in mind. All three have aspirations to play in the NFL.

"I've really got a good chance," Williamson said.

"That's a dream that I want to pursue," Rumph said. "Hopefully I get picked up and, hey, I'm just looking to play any role. I just want to be a part of it. I'm going to work my butt off and I'm going to try my best to represent the Big Blue Nation and represent Kentucky as a school, as a university 'cause Kentucky has turned me into the man I am today."

Said Cobble: "Hopefully, by the blessing of God, I get picked up as well, go to a team somewhere with Donte or somewhere I at least go against Donte because he's always going to be my brother."

Together or not, the three standout seniors and a handful of their classmates will have opportunities to continue their careers, but the realization that their time as Wildcats is done is beginning to set in.

"It was definitely tough knowing that I wasn't going to be on that field in pads anymore," Williamson said. "It still hasn't even hit me, the fact that I won't be playing for them anymore. It's tough, but I'll always bleed blue and I'll always be a part of Kentucky. I'll be back to support those guys."

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