Cats searching for new leaders

By Alex Risen

If the adage that leadership takes many forms is true, the 2007 UK football team was a prime example.

Wide receiver Keenan Burton and linebacker Wesley Woodyard were the vocal leaders on their sides of the ball. Andre Woodson was the unnatural leader that developed into a star over the course of his UK career. And then there was Jacob Tamme, the steady tight end who did whatever he could to win football games.

But with all four of those players gone to the NFL, UK is searching for new leaders. The answer on who’s going to step up — and how they will — isn’t yet clear.

“Leadership comes from a lot of positions,” head coach Rich Brooks said. “I think we have a lot of people capable and that’s good because we need more than one.”

The Cats have plenty of options.

Quarterback Mike Hartline seems like an obvious leader because of his position. But Hartline’s a sophomore and has thrown only six collegiate passes. Still, Brooks said, Hartline has shown signs of taking control of the offense.

“I think Mike’s shown some good leadership ability so far,” Brooks said.

Of course, there’s also vocal wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., one of the few main cogs left over from the last two seasons.

Lyons has been productive while in the shadow of Burton, but questions remain about his ability to handle the No. 1 receiving position and the extra responsibilities — and coverage — that comes with it.

He caught eight passes against Florida last year, proving that he can make the big plays. But for UK to find success this season, his production must increase, Lyons said.

The junior was thrust into a leadership role with the departures of Burton and receiver Steve Johnson. Lyons and junior DeMoreo Ford took on the young receivers, including freshman Aaron Boyd and sophomore Kyrus Lanxter, in fall camp, hoping to help bolster what is considered by some to be UK’s weakest unit.

But the leadership role will still likely fall to Hartline, said Lyons, if only because he’s the quarterback.

“I’m going to be somewhat of a leader, but the leader of a football team is the quarterback, and everyone knows that. I’m going to lead by following Hartline,” Lyons said. “Just make sure that everybody knows that he is the guy even though he is young. He is the guy that we have to follow and make sure that everybody knows that we need to look to him to get us out of trouble.”

Other leaders will include running backs Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith on offense and defensive stars Jeremy Jarmon and Marcus McClinton. Entering his fifth season, McClinton has been through the ups and downs of the program, and Jarmon has already proven he’s one of the elite defensive linemen in the Southeastern Conference.

Whoever decides to step up, Brooks is confident his team will find success.

“I’m excited to see who steps up,” Brooks said. “I think we can have a great season when they do.”