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Starting this weekend, the world’s best professional women’s soccer players will open play in our state as Racing Louisville FC kicks off its NWSL era. Racing hosts the Orlando Pride at 7 p.m. Saturday April 10th as part of the NWSL’s Challenge Cup, a tournament leading up to the regular season starting in mid-May. As with the pro men’s club, Louisville City FC, Racing calls home the sparkling new Lynn Family Stadium just east of downtown, and the NWSL is regarded as the world’s best women’s soccer league. Household names such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd will appear in Louisville this year pending international calendars, while Racing’s roster boasts a World Cup winner of its own, forward Yuki Nagasato. KSR readers can visit this link for discounted Challenge Cup tickets, but act fast. This game is expected to sell out.
Before I get to the football on the gridiron, the football this weekend at Lynn Family Stadium will look immaculate in these kits. My God, they’re glorious.
? We're ready to bloom. ?
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) April 8, 2021
Speaking of uniforms, Kentucky should wear a non-anthracite alternate every once in a while, but that’s a conversation for another day. Today we’re talking spring football with linebackers coach and Co-DC Jon Sumrall and safety Ty Ajian.
Square Assumes Leadership
DeAndre Square has played a lot of football for the Kentucky Wildcats. The linebacker has become the leader of his meeting room, without being prompted by Sumrall.
“I don’t have to ask those guys to do extra and come in and watch more film. I walk down the hall by the meeting room and Square will have the whole position group watching practice before I even watch it with them,” he said. “That’s when coaching is fun.”
A Smart Room
Linebackers aren’t just a bunch of block heads that enjoy busting heads. In order to orchestrate the defense it requires an extraordinary amount of tact and the ability to react at a moment’s notice. These guys have the intellectual chops to make it happen.
“Knowledge equals confidence. When you have confidence you can play fast,” said Sumrall. “You have to learn it in a meeting room setting or through walk-throughs, but then you have to be able to react.”
Sumrall likes to tell his players, “They’re way smarter than their coach. If I can figure this out, then they can figure it out.”
One-Liner of the Day
“It’s like the fire took a while to get started. Now he’s started to put gasoline on it and the thing is out of control. Once it got going for him, he’s really seen a lot of success.”
Sumrall uses Jamin Davis as an example for others, noting that his success did not happen overnight. It took years of grinding daily to become the next big thing in the NFL Draft.
Jackson and Fulton
Once Davis announced his intention to depart for the NFL Draft, middle linebackers D’Eryk Jackson and Luke Fulton became very important players on Kentucky’s defense. Jackson received significant reps in his true freshman season, recording his first tackle in the opener at Auburn. He played in nine games, totaled four tackles and one interception for a five-yard return.
“D’Eryk is a kid that’s working real hard,” said Sumrall. “He loves football, likes to practice. Comes up, spends extra time studying. He’s doing some really good things. The development in the spring is so much fun because you get to see each guy individually develop. D’Eryk’s doing a nice job. Luke Fulton’s doing a nice job.”
Fulton attended Mark Stoops’ alma mater, Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. He spent two years in East Lansing before transferring from Michigan State to Kentucky.
“Luke is a big, physical, very impressive kid when you see him in person. He’s got strength. He’s got size. He likes to play the game. He’s an intelligent kid, obviously been through some college football. So he has some experience, not necessarily high level game experience but he’s at least been in a college football environment. Excited to see his continued growth. He’s a smart kid, tough. Really, really think it’s going to be fun to watch his development as he grows and continues to come on. I think he can do some productive things in this program and has a good upside.”
The key for Jackson and Fulton is to make the most of their opportunity this spring before highly-touted freshmen Martez Thrower and Trevin Wallace arrive on campus this summer.
“Those guys understand that right now is really their time to make their mark because when we get to fall practice we’ve got a couple freshmen coming in and we’re going to give them their shot for 15 practices or so and figure out what gives us the best chance to compete to win,” said Sumrall.
Two Secondary Standouts
After a breakthrough 2020 season, Ty Ajian has gotten comfortable at strong safety. Now an experienced leader on the defense, he’s seen two underclassmen take a step forward this spring, cornerback Jalen Geiger and true freshman safety Jordan Lovett.
“Each day they want to learn more,” said Ajian. “I see them not making the same mistakes over a couple of practices. They’re changing things and just improving. They’re definitely impressing me.”
Spring practice is not stale. Ajian enjoys going to practice because each day Liam Coen’s offense is throwing something new at the UK defense.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We always talk about that — just seeing such a different type of offense, seeing things that we haven’t seen before, it helps us as a defense as well,” he said.
“It’s a big difference from what we’re used to seeing from our offense. Everything’s really different: tempo, formations, the way the offense plays. Everything’s changing in a good way.”