Cats believe they can overcome the challenge of replacing Jon Toth

Bunchy Stallings played center in high school and will likely move back to the position this season after the graduation of Jon Toth. Photo submitted by UK Athletics. 

Chris Leach

The offensive line was an integral part of UK offense’s success last season.

The group allowed the offense to produce the second most rushing yards in a single season and a tie for the most rushing touchdowns in a single season. The offensive line reached the semifinals for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nations most outstanding offensive line.

Now the Cats are training and preparing to replicate the production they made last year, but it won’t be easy.

“Every year you have challenges,” offensive line coach John Schlarman said. “Every year certain guys are graduating and moving on and new guys are coming in.”

A big challenge UK must overcome is replacing one of the best offensive linemen in UK history, Jon Toth.

Toth started the last 48 games at center for UK, where he was named to the first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press and second-team by conference coaches last season. Toth was the first offensive lineman to make the All-SEC first-team since 2003 when Antonio Hall was selected by the AP and league coaches.

“Jon was a mainstay at the center position there for four years,” Schlarman said. “That’s a guy with significant experience that we’re losing there.”

The man that will likely fill Toth’s role is Bunchy Stallings.

“Jon was a great player, but at the same time I know it’s my turn to show what I have,” Stallings said. “I feel like what I can bring to the table with me and the guys that I have on the side of me is going to be unbelievable.”

Stallings played center in high school, where he was one of the top-20 centers in Alabama ranked by Stallings made eight starts at right guard last season, right next to Toth.

Stallings played well in the right guard position, but now finds himself in a position he is more comfortable in.

“I can move faster. I know what to do, I like to be in control with things like that,” Stallings said. “With this position I feel like I could just put myself on a different level.”

Despite taking a year off from center, Schlarman feels like Stallings still has the skill set to be a good center.

“The guy just has to be comfortable snapping and stepping, and managing calls and things like that,” Schlarman said. “I think Bunchy has a natural ability to do that, so I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for him going from guard to center.”

It will be important for Bunchy to perform well in the center position, especially after Cats lost another member of last year’s offensive line when Cole Mosier tore his ACL in UK’s first scrimmage.

However, Stallings has the skills and the confidence to be a fine center in the Cats’ talented offensive line, and his coaches share the confidence that Stallings will be a good center in the post-Toth era.

“We need him (Stallings) to play very efficiently and to be honest with you, we have a lot of confidence in him that he’ll play well,” head coach Mark Stoops said.