Max Duffy is going to have his hands full this fall. The Ray Guy Award winner and pre-season All-American will be returning to the football field to punt for the Wildcats while he finishes up his master’s degree in sport psychology. Duffy says he’ll even step into a new and exciting role with the team, telling media members that Mark Stoops has named him Kentucky’s Special Teams Coordinator. Coach Dean Hood held the position for the previous three seasons, but Hood left Lexington for the head coaching position at Murray State at the end of last season.
In reality, Coach Stoops has said his staff is already equipped to handle the coordinator position without bringing in a new coach, saying “we have quite a few guys on our staff that have been special teams coordinators and have coached on special teams, so we’ll divide that up within the group.” The responsibilities will be split between coaches Frank Buffano, Steve Clinkscale, John Schlarman, Jon Sumrall, Louie Matsakis and Eddie Gran. KSR’s Nick Roush broke down how the position has been delegated here.
The 27-year-old Aussie won’t let that stop him from running the position group. Literally, running. Duffy says he’ll be just fine sneaking in a few runs when Kentucky’s opponent isn’t expecting it. Last year, he helped solidify a win over Missouri when he faked a punt from Kentucky’s own 22-yard line. Duffy ran for 26 yards in the rain to secure the first down. A late-hit penalty on the Wildcats pushed the ball back to the 33-yard line, but the first down stood. The Cats’ offense capitalized, and the drive ended with a Lynn Bowden touchdown that all but sealed the game for Kentucky.
“There’s no doubt I proved myself against Missouri that if they let me run, I’m happy to,” Duffy said. “Give me the ball and let me go.”
The move may have been successful, but it wasn’t repeated.
“With punting this year, we’re really hoping to take advantage of more of those situations. We’re not going to shy away from that. I think last year we probably missed two or three opportunities. It’s not a selfish thing for me – obviously, it’s really fun when I get to run it – but from a team point-of-view if we can keep moving the ball, we’re going to,” Duffy said. “For me, I’m going to look for those opportunities a little bit more this year and hopefully take full advantage of them because we missed out on a few last year. Really, we had one when we should have had three or four”
Duffy’s “promotion” to Special Teams Coordinator may not come with a salary (talk to the NCAA about that one), but he says he’s still experiencing some perks.
“Unfortunately zero,” Duffy said of his pay for the position. “But I got the holder position, so [Stoops] thought that was enough of an increase to just give me a little more to do on the field. Grant McKinnis left and went to Missouri… that opened up a spot for me.”
With an extra year of eligibility now on the table for all Division-I fall sport athletes, is it possible the BBN could see Duffy suit up for another season with the Cats next year? He says that’s unlikely, even though an extra year of eligibility would mean “you might have to call me Dr. Duffy” by then.
“I don’t know if they’d announce that over the big screen when they’re announcing the teams, but I’d make sure that they do,” Duffy joked. “I think it’s time to step away probably after [this] year and let Wilson Berry take over… I know he’s really excited to be here. I think he gets here in January and I’ll have six months with him before hopefully I move on to bigger and better things.”
But for now, Duffy is focused on two things: finishing up his school work and helping Kentucky win games.
“My main priority when I come here is to finish my master’s degree. I’ve almost finished my sport psychology master’s degree, which I’m really, really proud of. I should have that pretty much done by the end of the fall. I came back to finish that up and make sure off the field I’m ready to go employment wise,” Duffy said. “And first and foremost, I want to play really well for Kentucky. Hopefully I don’t have to be out there much, but if I do, I contribute like I did last year and make sure we’re pinning the team and putting our defense in the best position.”
Still, if the NFL comes calling, that’d be a tough voicemail to ignore.
“If I get the opportunity at the end of the year, obviously I’m happy to take it. Honestly for right now, and if you’d seen me kick yesterday, I’m a long way off at the moment,” Duffy laughed. “I’m just trying to work everyday to get better and do what I can for the team.”
You can watch his recorded zoom conversation with the media here courtesy of UK Sports Video: