Kentucky Wildcats Football: The 20 Most Beloved Figures in Team History
Overshadowed by arguably the most storied basketball program in the country, the University of Kentucky's football team has often been placed on the back burner throughout the years.
With head coach Joker Phillips entering his second year at the helm, this young team is on the upswing, and optimism has spread throughout the Bluegrass.
However, let's set the future aside and focus on 20 of the most memorable players, both past and present, in school history who have built a foundation on the gridiron for the Wildcats for years to come.
One could make the argument that former Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson put Wildcat football back on the map in recent years.
Before Woodson's emergence, Kentucky was considered the doormat of the SEC East.
When it appeared Woodson would lose his starting position to Curtis Pulley in 2006 spring workouts, he hit the weight room and focused his attention to becoming a leader both on and off of the field.
The result? A breakout season in which Woodson led the Wildcats to their first bowl game in 22 years. Throwing for more than 3,500 yards, Woodson became the only UK quarterback to throw 30 or more touchdowns in a single season, with 31 TD tosses.
Woodson followed his stellar 2006 season with a record-breaking 2007 campaign. Woodson broke Trent Dilfer's all-time NCAA record of 271 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, broke Danny Wuerrfel's SEC record for passing touchdowns in one season with 40 and broke Jared Lorenzen's UK record of 78 career touchdown passes with 81.
Woodson led the Wildcats to back-to-back Music City Bowls in 2006 and 2007, earning MVP honors in each of those games.
After stints with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in the NFL, Woodson elected to forgo surgery to operate on a calcium build-up in his throwing hand and return to Big Blue Nation in a different role. He now works as a student coach with the Wildcats football team and will be in the ear of quarterback Morgan Newton during the 2011 season.
There has never been a more versatile weapon in school history than former Wildcat Randall Cobb.
During his tenure at Kentucky, Cobb was the perennial "do-it-all" man, operating as a wide receiver, return specialist, quarterback and place kick holder.
Cobb was named to SEC All-Freshman team at quarterback, throwing for two touchdowns, receiving two touchdowns and rushing for seven during his freshman season.
Cobb began to see more time at wide receiver during his sophomore season and was instrumental in Kentucky's "WildCobb" package—the team's version of the Wildcat offense in which Cobb assumed the quarterback role with the option of running or throwing the football.
In his junior—and final—season, Cobb became the all-time leader at Kentucky for total touchdowns with 37. On October 9, 2010, Cobb scored four touchdowns against undefeated Auburn, making him the first Wildcat to score a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game since Shane Boyd in 2003.
Head coach Joker Phillips said of Cobb, "He's one of the best leaders I've ever been around."
Cobb will now provide quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his powerful Green Bay Packers offense with yet another dangerous target.
Former Kentucky defensive tackle Myron Pryor was one of the more memorable players on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats in recent memory.
During his sophomore season, he started 10 games and forced 10 fumbles.
Pryor started 11 of 12 games for the Wildcats during his junior year, recording 27 tackles.
Pryor earned second-team All-SEC honors his senior year, starting 10 games and registering four-and-a-half sacks.
Perhaps his most memorable moment as a Wildcat came during a 72-yard fumble return against the in-state rival Louisville Cardinals during his senior year.
Long before "Mr. Why So Serious" came out of nowhere with a spectacular 2010 season with the Buffalo Bills, Stevie Johnson made some of the biggest plays in UK football history with the Wildcats.
Johnson had a knack for making plays in key moments for the Cats, with three game-winning touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Johnson became an in-state legend in 2007, when he caught a game-winning TD toss from Andre' Woodson late in the fourth quarter against the Louisville Cardinals. He came up big later in the season when he caught a touchdown in the third overtime to defeat the then-top-ranked LSU Tigers at Commonwealth Stadium. Johnson also hauled in a key touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2007 Music City Bowl.
Following the 2007 season, Johnson was named to College Football News' All-SEC first-team.
Forget bourbon, basketball and horse racing.
During the 2010 NFL season, Kentucky became known for fantasy football gems with former UK standouts wide receiver Stevie Johnson and tight end Jacob Tamme posting breakout seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
Before his NFL days, however, Tamme finished his career as Kentucky's all-time pass-catching tight end and second in SEC history for a tight end with 133 catches for 1,417 yards.
When he announced he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft in 1998, former Wildcats quarterback Tim Couch left the University of Kentucky as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in school history.
Couch would go on to be selected first overall by the Cleveland Browns, and although his NFL career didn't go as many envisioned, his body of work at UK certainly deemed him worthy of the pick.
Couch left Kentucky with a 67-percent career completion percentage, 8,435 passing yards and 74 touchdowns.
Couch still holds the NCAA record for completion percentage in one game, when he connected on 83 percent of his passes against Vanderbilt in 1998, which is astonishing considering he attempted 53 passes in the game. He also still holds the NCAA record for completions per game in that same season with an average of 36.4 completions per game.
Following Couch's career at Kentucky, he held NCAA records for most completions in a season (400 in 1998), most completions in a two-year period (763 in 1997-1998), most completions per game in a two-year period (34.7, 1997–1998) and career completion percentage (67.1 percent).
Though Couch will largely be remembered as an NFL bust given his top-pick status, his impeccable career at Kentucky will not soon be forgotten in or outside of the Bluegrass State among college football fans.
Following the Tim Couch era at UK, the "Hefty Lefty," Jared Lorenzen, led the Wildcats offense for several seasons.
Lorenzen's career at Kentucky was marked largely by a number of coaching changes. Hal Mumme departed due to NCAA violations and Guy Morris left to become the head coach at Baylor University. Rich Brooks would eventually replace Morris.
Despite the coaching carousel, however, Lorenzen set school records in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, eclipsing many marks set by former UK quarterback and top-overall NFL draft pick Tim Couch.
Former Wildcats wide receiver Keenan Burton, much like college teammate and quarterback Andre' Woodson, had a breakout season in 2006, hauling in 77 passes for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns.
in 2006, Burton became just the third player in school history to surpass the 1,000 yard mark in a single season, and his 12 touchdown receptions rank second all-time for any Wildcat.
Also a return threat for the Cats, Burton averaged 24.7 yards per kick return, good enough for second in the SEC, including one kickoff return for a touchdown against arch-rival Louisville.
Despite a limited senior season due to flu-like symptoms and knee and ankle sprains, Burton still managed to lead the Wildcats in receiving yards with 685 and touchdown receptions with nine.
By the end of Burton's senior season, he ranked fourth in school history in receptions, third in receiving yards, second in touchdowns and ranks third in all-purpose yards. He was just the fifth Wildcat to amass over 4,000 all purpose yards.
Dicky Lyons Jr.
Former wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. was a tough and reliable slot receiver for the Wildcats.
With good hands, adequate speed and the ability to create yardage after the catch, Lyons was a quality all-around receiver for the Wildcats, often playing the "Wes Welker role" for quarterback Andre' Wooson.
However, Lyons' senior season was cut short when he suffered two torn ligaments in his knee, ending his career in blue and white.
Former Kentucky linebacker Wesley Woodyard was quite the defensive presence during his tenure with the Wildcats.
Woodyard was named to the Freshman All-SEC team during his freshman year, earned second-team All-American and All-SEC Honorable mention honors his sophomore year, earned Defensive MVP honors in the 2006 Music City Bowl during his junior year and led the Wildcats with 139 during his senior year.
Furthermore, Woodyard was an emotional leader on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats during his career.
An electrifying, but oft-injured, game-breaker, Derrick Locke was one of the more underrated players in Kentucky history.
Locke came on to the scene early for the Cats a freshman runner, earning the team's Most Outstanding First-Year Player award. Locke rushed for 521 yards and five touchdowns while backing up Rafael Little that year.
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury during his sophomore season, Locke rushed for 303 yards on just 63 carries for one touchdown.
Missing four games during his senior season, Locke still managed to rack up 887 rushing yards and 10 scores, including five games with over 100 yards rushing and one 100-yard receiving effort.
During his UK career, Locke rushed for 2,618 yards and 22 touchdowns and caught 95 passes for 883 yards and three TDs. He also holds the school career record for kickoff return average at 27.1 yards per return, including a pair of 100-yard touchdowns.
Despite a mid-round grade in the 2011 NFL Draft, Locke surprisingly went undrafted and will look for opportunities as an undrafted free agent once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
One of the bright spots on a young Wildcats team this fall will be senior linebacker Danny Trevathan.
After earning the Most Improved Defensive Player award by UK coaches in 2009, Travathan experienced quite a breakout season in 2010.
Trevathan led the SEC in tackles with 144, becoming the first linebacker in UK history to earn first-team All-America honors.
Over the winter, Travathan went through the NFL draft evaluation process, but ultimately decided to return to Kentucky for his senior season to gain the maturity he feels he needs to be success in the NFL.
Travathan will enter the 2011 season with a streak of nine straight games with double-figure tackles.
Rafael Little was a durable, highly-regarded running back for the Wildcats for four years.
Doubling as a return specialist during his career at Kentucky, Little amassed 5,343 career all-purpose yards, which ranked eighth in SEC history.
Little also became just the third player in conference history to reach 2,500 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards with 2,996 and 1,324, respectively.
Blessed with excellent quickness and anticipation, if cornerback Trevard Lindley wasn't a shut-down cornerback for the Kentucky Wildcats, he was the closest thing the team has had to one in quite some time.
One of the premiere cover corners in the SEC, Lindley considered entering the NFL draft following his junior season, but returned for his senior year despite head coach Rich Brooks encouraging him to go pro.
In hindsight, it may have not been the best decision for Lindley, as he was hampered with an ankle injury, missing four games.
Voted Kentucky's Mr. Football as a high-school senior in 2005, Johnson chose to attend the University of Kentucky as one of the top prep linebacker prospects in the nation.
As a true freshman in 2006, Johnson recorded 29 tackles and a forced fumble on his way to SEC All-Freshman honors.
Johnson saw action in 12 games as a sophomore in 2007, totaling 58 tackles and two interceptions, including one against FAU returned 21 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson finished second on the team in tackles as a junior in 2008 with 93 stops while also adding two sacks and a forced fumble.
During his senior season for the Wildcats in 2009, Johnson recorded a career-high and team-leading 105 tackles and one sack in 13 games.
The only Kentucky Wildcat to eventually be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former quarterback and place kicker George Blanda left his mark at both the collegiate and pro level.
Blanda played an astonishing 26 seasons of professional football, the most in the sport's history. Also, he scored more points than anyone in history at the time of his retirement in 1976. He still holds the record for most extra points kicked.
At his career at Kentucky, though, Blanda witnessed the arrival of head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who would go on to become a coaching legend and set numerous records at conference rival Alabama.
Returning to the University of Kentucky years later and asked to recall his first impression of Bryant, Blanda said "I thought 'this must be what God looks like'".
The starting quarterback for the Wildcats during his final two seasons at Kentucky, Bryant completed 120 passes for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Before missing his senior year at Kentucky due to an NCAA violation of a using a banned substance, Jeremy Jarmon was quickly becoming one of the most feared defensive players in the nation.
In just his first three seasons as a Wildcat, Jarmon ranked third all-time in school history with 17.5 sacks.
Rather than returning to Kentucky for a promising senior year, Jarmon was taken in the third round of the 2009 supplemental draft by the Washington Redskins.
Nicknamed "The Terminator" because he shares the name of the main character of the popular American movie franchise and the devastating blocks he lays on defenders, former Kentucky fullback John Conner gained immense popularity during his tenure with the Wildcats.
Before his senior season, Conner was named the "best blocking back" in the SEC in the Birmingham News 2009 preseason edition. Following the season, he earned All-American honors by Pro Football Weekly.
Conner was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
Now a defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, former Wildcat Corey Peters started two games as a freshman and 12 games as a sophomore.
As a junior, he tallied 36 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks.
As a senior, Peters had four sacks and 12 tackles for losses.
Peters was also named second-team All-SEC as a senior
The current head coach for the Wildcats after replacing Rich Brooks following his retirement, many forget the Joker Phillips was once a highly-regarded wide receiver at UK.
During his playing career at Kentucky, Phillips hauled in 75 passes for 935 yards and nine touchdowns.
When Phillips left the program, he stood fifth on the school's all-time receiving list.
Dr. Jim Kovach, a linebacker for the Wildcats from 1974-76 and 1978, remains the leading tackler in school history.
He was a three-time All-SEC linebacker while helping lead the Wildcats to the 1976 SEC championship.
He earned Academic All-America honors, and his 521 career tackles still rank No. 1 in school UK history.
Kovach played in the National Football League with the New Orleans Saints and was chosen to the All-Saints' 20th Anniversary Team. During the NFL offseasons, he earned his medical degree at UK, and he added a law degree from Stanford University.