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Former star running back Pinner keeps word, returns to UK to graduate

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Artose Pinner rushed for 1,414 yards during his senior season at UK in 2002. (Ed Reinke, AP Photo) Artose Pinner rushed for 1,414 yards during his senior season at UK in 2002. (Ed Reinke, AP Photo)
Artose Pinner was the exception. The thought of playing in the NFL didn't cross his mind until the last second.

Even as he was running to first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors during a banner senior season, the Hopkinsville, Ky., native only ever had one thing on his mind.

"I didn't get to start until my senior year, but everything I did was always bigger than me as far as thinking about all my teammates who put in the same time I put in," Pinner said.

It wasn't until his final season as a Wildcat that Pinner moved into a featured role, and he excelled. In 2002, he rolled up 1,414 yards -- second most in a single season in UK history. He topped 100 yards in seven of his 12 games, totaling 13 rushing touchdowns and adding 37 catches for 264 yards.

In spite of all that, Pinner was surprised by a phone call he received not long after the season ended.

It was an agent exploring the possibility of representing the bruising running back and he began the conversation by asking Pinner about where he expected to be drafted. Since he hadn't heard anything, Pinner threw out "fifth or sixth round."

"He laughed at me," Pinner said.

The agent explained that Pinner, in fact, was projected to go in the second round. A broken ankle sustained during the preparation process hurt his stock, but Pinner was still taken in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

"It just didn't hit me," Pinner said. "I was having a great year and I was having fun doing what I was doing and the NFL was just a blessing that came from making it bigger than myself and working hard."

Pinner would go on to a five-year professional career with three teams, far exceeding his own expectations for where football would take him. He only ever wanted to help his team win games and fulfill his famiy's vision of receiving a college degree.

In that memorable senior season, he did the former. Last week, he took care of the latter as well by graduating.

"It was something that I wanted to keep my word to my mom and grandma that I was going to do it."
Pinner said. "And to myself."

Pinner returned to Lexington over the summer to restart work toward a degree in media art studies.

Pinner admits that all the changes on campus made adjusting to life as a college student challenging, but the people -- many of whom were around more than a decade ago during his playing days -- made it feel like home.

"I don't think many people can say that they can leave a place and they still treat you like family," Pinner said. "From athletics to academics, the professors, everybody is a close-knit family and that is blessing."  

With that support system in place, Pinner completed his coursework this fall and graduated in December.

"It's an overwhelming feeling," Pinner said. "It's a humbling experience because I knew realistically I couldn't do it all by myself. This is not only for me, but also the people who helped me get to this point."

He isn't exactly sure what he will do with his degree, but his immediate plan is to continue his work mentoring children through the NFL's Play 60 program and an author. He published his first children's book -- "Willville" -- earlier this year.

"It's a book about encouraging kids to believe in themselves and chase their dreams," Pinner said.

Similarly, Pinner hopes his graduation can serve as motivation for others working toward their diplomas, continuing what he believes has always been his reason for being.

"I think my whole purpose was just to inspire people," Pinner said.

He certainly did that during his UK career, persevering even as he was labeled as a blocking back in Hal Mumme's pass-happy attack. When Guy Morriss took over in 2001, Pinner almost gave up, telling his new coach of his intent to transfer.

"Coach Morriss said, 'If you stay here we are going to run the ball and run this offense around you,' " Pinner said. "I was shocked. I didn't believe it."

Pinner couldn't help but believe it when he became the main weapon for one of UK football's best teams in recent memory. With Pinner carrying the load and standouts like Jared Lorenzen, Derek Abney and Dewayne Robertson surrounding him, the Cats went 7-5 after managing just two wins the season prior.

Perhaps somewhat unjustly, the 2002 is best remembered for being ineligible for postseason play and for falling victim to the "Bluegrass Miracle" against LSU. But Pinner and his teammates -- many of whom he still calls close friends -- recall their three SEC wins and three defeats that came by a touchdown or less.

"It was bigger than us," Pinner said. "It was bigger than the individual. Everybody was just for team. When you make things bigger than yourself, good things will happen."

Now that he is a fan, Pinner can draw on his experience as a player as he gets ready to watch Mark Stoops' second season from his home in Lawrenceville, Ga.

"You are playing against top-notch competition every week and I know and have been there with Coach Morriss and those guys when we went 2-9 his first year," Pinner said. "Everybody has to buy into the system and once they buy into the system and what the coaches are saying there is going to be a big difference."

Busy with classes, Pinner didn't spend a lot of time around the Nutter Training Facility, but he did meet much of Stoops' staff and knows of the work the group is doing on the recruiting trail. Based on all he has seen, Pinner looks forward to seeing what's ahead.

"I think next year that is going to be a huge difference," Pinner said. "They are going to be reacting and playing and he is going to bring in more guys that are buying into what he is doing which is going to add to the guys who are there and who are buying into what he is doing. I am excited to see the future of UK football."

Degree in hand, Pinner feels the same way about his own future.

"It makes me a little bit more marketable, I can say that," Pinner said. "But I'm interested to see what the future holds with it."

Congratulations to the following 30 current and former student-athletes who received their degrees in December: Jessica Stiles (women's tennis); James Jasis and Katie Fretts (rifle); Cassie Ransdell, Kirsten Robinson and Alyssa Telang (women's soccer); Caitlin Satkowiak (gymnastics); Cameron Wilder (men's soccer); Jerad Grundy, Walt Wijas and Chris Bisson (baseball); Tripp Crosthwaite and Travis Green (men's swimming and diving); Kelcy Perry (women's swimming); Ashlee Rose and Ashleigh Albrecht (women's golf); Anthony Rossi and Matt Davis (men's tennis); Cally Macumber (track and field); Jordan Aumiller, Max Godby, Mister Cobble, Jonathan George, Patrick Ligon, Kory Brown, Tristian Johnson and Artose Pinner (football); Chase Parker (men's golf); Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan (volleyball)

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I am still proud that I discovered Artose early. In all honesty, it was not too difficult to see he was special. I noticed early how hard he hit his tacklers and the second effort he displayed over and over. What a wonderful football player to watch!

Early in his career there was a question on some website inviting fans to tell what quality we wanted in a quarterback? My answer was, "I want a quarterback with the intelligence to turn and hand the ball to Artose Pinner. " Don't we all love to be right about predictions?

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  • Steve in Dayton UKFBFAN: I am still proud that I discovered Artose early. In all honesty, it was not too difficult to see he read more