Senior defenders leave legacy of consistency, passion


Kentucky Wildcats safety Mike Edwards (7) hugging head coach Mark Stoops during the Senior Day ceremony before the game. University of Kentucky football defeated Middle Tennessee State University 34-23 at Kroger Field on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Over the summer of 2018, the UK football fan base waited with bated breath to see if two of their most productive seniors would be returning. Linebacker/defensive end hybrid Josh Allen and safety Mike Edwards had a potential NFL future in front of them, and a draft decision that took serious consideration.

The pair of junior defenders decided that another year at UK was for them, and they and followed the decision by terrorizing opposing defenses.

Now as seniors, having wrapped up their final home schedule wearing Kentucky blue, that decision has paid back tenfold for the Cats. Allen has cemented himself as one of the best defenders in the country, breaking the single-season and career sack record for UK, and Mike Edwards has been a leader on one of the better defenses in the nation.

That was never evident as much as it was on Senior Day, as the pair put up career-high numbers in tackles, running all over Middle Tennessee’s explosive offense when they got the opportunity. The duo combined for 27 tackles (four for a loss), two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a touchdown.

Before their 34-23 home-closing win against Middle Tennessee, however, the pair that chose to come back were celebrated for their careers on Senior Day, along with several of their teammates.

Edwards stood in the tunnel waiting for his name to be called and began to weep.

“It hit me when the first guy came out,” Edwards said. “And then I walked out there, and then they start playing that sad music and I’m like ‘why are you playing that sad music?’ and it hit me right there.”

The “sad music” played over the PA system in Kroger Field as each senior was being honored was “My Old Kentucky Home.” The on-field camera showed Edwards with tears falling as he stood and basked in his final moments before taking Kroger Field as a Wildcat one final time.

Allen’s demeanor was nearly the opposite, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t sad.

“All of my sisters were there, and they were making me laugh,” Allen said. “It was really more of like, joking [atmosphere], but I’m just so glad all my family got to be there, and I got to share that moment with them.”

Though Edwards’ emotions were high, wiping tears from his face as he prepared to go onto the field for his first defensive possession, his focus wasn’t hindered. If anything, he was as sharp as he’s been all season.

Four plays into the game, Edwards took a bobbled pass from a Middle Tennessee receiver and took it to the house, 66 yards in the other direction.

“Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me with Mike [Edwards],” head coach Mark Stoops said. “I mean, he is just absolutely consistent for years. One of the better players in the [SEC].”

Interceptions are hard to follow up with something of that level, to maintain that “consistency”, but Edwards managed it. Four plays later, he batted the ball out of a runner’s hands and forced a fumble that UK jumped on. Thanks to the senior safety, UK was up 14-0 in a blink.

Allen wasn’t much of a slouch, either. He took his final home game to break the sack records held by Oliver Barnett, who played for the Cats in the late 1980s. Both sacks were absolutely critical and let Allen change the game by himself. One forced a turnover on downs, and another got MTSU away from its goal line before being followed up by another sack from Jamar “Boogie” Watson to seal the game.

The two senior defenders leave a legacy of consistency and dominance behind them, two words not often used to describe Kentucky football. Stoops calls Allen the best defender he’s ever coached.

“Just the way he impacts the game being a big guy, he’s really remarkable. And he’s so unselfish. You see players so often in situations like that and he won’t blink an eye if we’re not rushing him,” Stoops said after the game.

Their head coach also commended them on them being “leaders” and having “a great work ethic” after coming back for their senior seasons.

“They have been very unselfish and really about the team and far from perfect, but… they really have great hearts and their minds are in the right place and they really want to lead and set a great example and set the precedent for the future,” Stoops said.

They’ll have one last chance at a strong regular season game against Louisville next week. For the Cardinals’ sake, they may want to look at limiting the sad music played.