Forced to the sideline with a major knee injury prior to his sophomore season, it didn’t take long for safety Darius West to make up for lost time.
Against Southern Miss West had 7 tackles, the second-most on the team, and 1.5 for loss. One tackle for loss on the quarterback forced a fumble that led to a Kentucky touchdown.
“He did the common things uncommonly well is what we’re telling him. If you do those things, most of the time you’re going to make plays,” defensive coordinator Matt House said today. “Darius did a good job. He did. He had a couple things mentally to clean up, but for the most part for the first time playing football in a long time, he did a really nice job.”
Nobody was more pleased to see West’s progress on the field than his position coach, Steve Clinkscale.
“It was amazing to see him after so many years come back to field with that much energy, that much passion, with that enthusiasm for him to go out there and do what he did,” Clinkscale said. “He was a good leader on the field. He was emotional and he came up with a few big tackles — a huge caused fumble on the quarterback, a couple tackles for loss — he did some things that I didn’t even know it was him until we watched the film.”
It’s not the first time West has had a long absence from the football field because of injury. He sat out for less than a year after injuring his knee in UK’s first preseason scrimmage of the 2016 season. His first major injury forced him to sit on the sideline for even longer. West redshirted during his first year at UK after breaking his leg during his senior season of high school.
Most might consider quitting, but not West. “There was never a time I ever thought about giving up at all,” he said.
Persevering through pain was worth it to experience that success against Southern Miss.
“It was eye-opening for me. Just that feeling of being back out there on the field, it’s nothing you can really explain, but it just carried me to want to have a good week every week. The feeling of it,” he paused, searched for words to describe the feeling until a smile streaked across his face, “just amazing.”
The @UKFootball defense is getting in on the fun.
The scoop and score puts the Wildcats up 7. pic.twitter.com/pVJUffAQ6J
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 2, 2017
It’s only the start of West’s amazing comeback. In the process of making plays, his body reminded him how difficult it is to play with focused intensity for four quarters of a college football game.
“It’s a whole different story when you play live for 60 minutes,” West said. “Whenever I get tired, I just have to stay mentally strong and continue to communicate when we get fatigued.”
West’s first performance was just a small sample of what’s to come. Clinkscale is confident that West will use live game reps to improve each week to ensure the final chapter of his story is an amazing one.
“He does a great job at practice. He’s trying to learn. He’s trying to do a better job on the field.” Clinkscale said, “It’s amazing.”