Part three of an eight part series previewing the 2007 Kentucky Wildcats.
Since the origination of the printed word, one of the most frequently repeated literary storylines has been that of the mismatched pair that overcomes their personal differences in order to achieve some great goal. Knowing nothing about printed words that do not involve football, I will turn to movies and television to illustrate. The work most cited as the epitome of the genre is undoubtedly The Odd Couple, featuring the slob Oscar Madison paired with the neurotic Felix Unger. Other classic examples include Virgil Tibbs and Bill Gillespie (no relation) in the acclaimed film In the Heat of the Knight, and, it goes without saying, Balki Bartokomous and Larry Appleton in the wildly mediocre Perfect Strangers. (Standing tall indeed, Mark Linn-Baker.) Like the great works of art listed above, Kentucky’s football team features two dynamic and successful performers who depend on each other for success despite being polar opposites in nearly every regard. That duo, Kentucky’s Odd Couple, is Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons, Jr.
From the moment he set foot on campus, Keenan Burton was a coach’s dream. Coaches and teammates alike marveled at his athleticism, work ethic, intelligence, leadership and humility. To quote a former prominent University of Kentucky employee, Keenan was, and is, “serious-minded.” Dicky, on the other hand, evoked a slightly different reaction. An early indication of Dicky’s general frame of mind came from his signing day press conference, when Dicky pointed out that Derek Abney had taken his father’s records, and that Dicky was going up to Kentucky to take them back. So much for humility. During his first two years in Lexington, Dicky seemed to wear that cockiness like a suit of armor. Of course, there is nothing unusual about an athlete being confident in his abilities. Unfortunately, Lyons combined confidence with a spirited night life and an apparent indifference to, in your best Iverson voice, practice. All of this, as well as his general free spirited goofiness, led even Joker Phillips, world’s most likable human being, to bash Lyons in the media last spring. Now, with another year’s maturity, and possibly more importantly, some on-the-field success to back up the brash attitude, Kentucky’s coaches, fans, and teammates are down with Lyons’ act. No one more so than Keenan Burton, who actually began to find some single coverage after Dicky’s early season touchdown barrage. Together, despite their differences on and off the field, Dicky and Keenan combined to form the most dynamic duo in the conference in 2007 and will look to duplicate the feat in 2008.
Keenan Burton 6-2, 195 Sr., Louisville, KY (duPont Manual)
Made 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2006, which was good for 2nd in the SEC in receptions and 1st in touchdown catches. Also finished 2nd in the SEC and 9th nationally in all-purpose yards per game at 141.9. Great size and 40+ inch vertical leap make Burton possibly the best deep threat in the country. Projected as a first day NFL draft selection in 2008.
Dicky Lyons, Jr. 5-11, 190 Jr., New Orleans, LA (Holy Cross)
Hauled in 50 catches for 822 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2006. 16.4 yard per catch average led team. If he can continue to stay out of the dog house, most notably by avoiding the temptation of releasing A Country Boy Can Survive II on You-Tube, he should match those numbers in 2007.
Steve Johnson 6-3, 198 Sr., San Francisco, CA (Rodriguez)
Like nearly every other junior college wide receiver before him (Chris Bernard, Aaron Boone, etc.), Johnson struggled for the first half of 2006 before putting it together late. Finished with only 12 catches for 159 yards but was a significant factor in the Music City Bowl victory over Clemson, and has had a very impressive off-season by all accounts.
DeMoreo Ford 5-10, 186 Jr., LaGrange, GA (LaGrange)
Figures to be the Cats 4th receiver. Outstanding blocker from the wide receiver position despite limited size. Started four games in 2006. Registered 11 catches for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. Scored 70 yard touchdown in Music City Bowl.
Sean Murphy 6-4, 190 Sr., Big Stone Gap, VA (Powell Valley)
Walk on wide receiver who has seen mostly special teams duty since his arrival. Could factor into the receiver rotation based on his size and experience. Blocked an extra point attempt at Florida in 2006.
Andre Henderson 6-6, 214 RS Fr., Lexington, KY (Lexington Christian)
Walk on receiver impressed coaches in redshirt season with size and athleticism. Twice scout team player of the week.
Terrence Jones 6-2, 192 RS Fr., Atlanta, GA (Douglas)
Redshirt freshman appeared on the way to seeing significant action as a reserve in 2007 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in fall camp. Should be ready for camp in 2008.
Kyrus Lanxter 6-3, 180 Fr., Alcoa, TN (Alcoa)
Highly regarded receiver prospect made last minute switch on signing day to cast his lot with the Cats. First team all state as a junior and senior. Senior numbers include 27 catches for 888 yards and 16 touchdowns. (32.9 yards per catch)
Anthony Mosley 6-0, 170 Fr., Ellenwood, GA (Tucker)
Blazing fast prospect has been timed at 4.36. Senior season saw him make 20 catches for 354 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Taiedo Smith 6-0, 175 Fr., Dunnellon, FL (Dunnellon)
May play wide receiver or defensive back at Kentucky. Likely redshirt.
Antonio Thomas 6-2, 195 Fr., Cawpens, SC (Broome)
May play wide receiver or defensive back at Kentucky. Likely redshirt.
* Cat fans will once again have to wait on diminutive South Carolina star Marckus Boswell as the NCAA has just this week ruled him ineligible to participate. Kentucky will appeal, but don’t expect to see him on the field anytime soon.
Jacob Tamme 6-5, 240 Sr., Danville, KY (Boyle County)
It’s hard to imagine that Jacob Tamme was almost not offered a scholarship by the University of Kentucky. In fact, had Rich Brooks not been hired, Tamme, who was first team all conference both by the coaches and the AP in 2006, likely would have gone elsewhere. Caught 32 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns in 2006 despite coming off shoulder surgery. Fully healthy for the first time in several years, Tamme should put up career numbers in 2007.
T.C. Drake 6-6, 230 So., Bardstown, KY (Nelson County)
Played in 12 games during freshman campaign as a backup to Tamme, including one start. Developed into a major prospect during prep season at football factory Hargrave Academy.
Ross Bogue 6-5, 240 So., Suwanee, GA (North Gwinnett)
Saw special teams action in all 13 games of 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
Tyler Sexton 6-2, 242 So., Somerset, KY (Pulaski County)
Walk on who played the first four games of 2006 before sustaining a knee injury. Does not have the frame of the other tight ends, but coaches think he will be a contributor.
Chris Goode 6-4, 230 RS-Fr., Tucker, GA (Dunwoody)
Will battle Drake, Bogue and Sexton for backup time in 2006.
With front line talent like Burton, Lyons, Johnson and Tamme, Kentucky’s primary pass catchers compare favorably with any team in the conference. Phil Fulmer, the Great Pumpkin himself, said as much at SEC Media Days in referring to Kentucky’s skill position players as possibly the best in the conference. One hope for 2007 is that some younger players provide some indication of hope for 2008 and beyond, as all but Lyons among the primary targets will exhaust their eligibility this fall. Despite this concern, Kentucky fans should avoid the traditional gnashing of teeth about the future. Instead, Cat fans need to savor the rare combination a stellar quarterback and a number of great receiving options who struck with sufficient frequency in 2006 to give Kentucky the conference’s premiere passing attack. Based on just over 100 years of Kentucky football, such experiences are often fleeting.