Camp start: Aug. 6
Opener: Sept. 4 at Louisville (3:30 EDT, ABC)
Fun fact: New head coach Joker Phillips already had spent six seasons coaching Wildcats receivers by the time he was named to the same post at Notre Dame in 2001. Phillips was hired in South Bend to replace Urban Meyer.
Kentucky senior tailback Derrick Locke has provided plenty of good memories in his three seasons with the Wildcats.
Last year alone, he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the win over Louisville, rushed 25 times for 144 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Vanderbilt and had scoring receptions of 20 and 60 yards in the upset win at Georgia. While he enjoyed those outings, Locke has yet to surpass the euphoria he felt in 2007 when Kentucky stunned No.1 LSU, 43-37, in three overtimes at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I was just a little puppy out there, and playing against the guys they had and the team they had is something I will never forget,” he said. “I scored a touchdown on them. We beat the No. 1 team, and that’s something that doesn’t really happen at Kentucky.”
Bowl games had not happened too often, either, but the Wildcats are harboring hopes for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. Kentucky attained a record fourth straight bowl invitation last December under Rich Brooks, who stepped aside several days later for coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips.
Phillips had been Kentucky’s offensive coordinator since 2005, and he recognizes the value of Locke continuing forward.
“We’re expecting big things from Derrick,” Phillips said. “He had a really good year last year, and we’re expecting him to be a 1,000-yard rusher and one of the leading rushers in the SEC. We feel good about our offensive line and our ability to run the football. It’s what we were last year, and we expect to build on that.”
Locke was overshadowed in the SEC last season by five 1,000-yard rushers — Mark Ingram (Alabama), Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State), Ben Tate (Auburn), Montario Hardesty (Tennessee) and Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss). Only Ingram returns, leaving Locke as the league’s second-leading returning rusher following his 907-yard season.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder from Hugo, Okla., came to Kentucky as a track athlete who asked to play football.
“They’ve got me preseason All-SEC running back in the coaches’ poll, and you can’t be that if you don’t have 1,000 yards,” Locke said. “I just feel like with the playmakers who are going to be around us this year, I don’t feel that will be very hard to get.”
Phillips didn’t put a number on how many carries Locke needs a game but said “he and Randall Cobb have got to touch the football.” Cobb, a 5-11, 186-pound junior jack-of-all-trades, had 573 rushing yards, 447 receiving yards and 89 passing yards last season.
Senior quarterback Mike Hartline returns after a knee injury sidelined him for more than half of last season.
“It won’t be a Randall Cobb-Derrick Locke show,” Locke said. “I’m going to make plays, because that’s what I do, and Randall Cobb is going to make plays, because that’s what he does, but we’ve got to get other people involved. If you want to take it to that next level, you can’t win with just two guys in the SEC.
“We’ve got to have a passing attack to open it up for me. If we can do that, I feel like we can be as good as we were in ’07.”
Topping the win three years ago over LSU will be difficult, but there will be opportunities for new notable triumphs. The Wildcats won at Georgia last year for the first time since 1977 and beat Auburn for the first time anywhere since 1966.
Kentucky enters this season having last defeated South Carolina in 1999, last defeated Florida in 1986 and last defeated Tennessee in 1984.
“To win the SEC East would put the icing on the cake,” Locke said. “If you beat Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida, those would be games you would never forget.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...