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Redshirts Aplenty As Spring Drills Begin On UK Campus
By Nick Nicholas
In five months Jerry Claiborne's Kentucky Wildcats will be ready to entertain the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. Though, during these spring and summer months the UK gridders will be getting themselves ready for battle.
Tracing back a couple of Wednesdays ago (March 26th to be exact) the Wildcats started working toward opening day with the beginning of spring practice. This season's spring drills feature 22 redshirt freshmen who'll be gunning for spots on the first team.
Overall the atmosphere on the practice field is good. The 'Cats are coming off a dismal 5-6 slate which included a season-ending 42-0 disaster to visiting Tennessee.
"It's too early to tell," said defensive back coach Chip Garber about the promising red-shirts. "Some of them are going to be good players but they've got a lot of growing up to do this spring.
"That's what spring practice is all about — you learn your position for the fall in spring practice. That's what a lot of 'em are out here doing, they're fighting to make the team. They've been running the scout team for a year or two years and now they realize it's their turn to step in and contribute.
Learning the fundamentals are the keys for the younger players during this time. "They've just got to learn through experience," Garber said. ". . .the fundamentals are the BIG things we've got to get down with the younger guys — stepping in the right direction, hitting with the right arm, taking correct steps on stunts, and (having the) running backs and offensive linemen taking their correct steps.
"We're getting a good effort. The en thusiasm and effort that they're giving us is as good as any year we've been here. We can't ask for any more."
Spring practice will conclude with the annual Blue-White game which is set for Saturday, April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Leading up to the Blue-White showdown, where each squad is carefully divided by the coaches and the seniors, the football team will have had 20 days of practice under their belts (barring bad weather).
"They probably won't start looking forward to that until the last week," Garber said in reference to the players' anticipation of the Blue-White scrimmage. "They know they've got a lot of work to do. It's sort of a light at the end of the tunnel-type of thing.
"It's really become a real fun affair for them as far as the dinner they get. Whatever the losers eat (usually beans and wienies) is not the tough part to stomach. The verbal abuse the winners give them is the tough part."
One face Wildcat fans would love to see in the spring game, but won't, is Wildcat freshman-to-be Al Baker. He'll get his chance along with 13 other promising freshman recruits when fall practice gets underway in late August.
Listed as the No. 1 prep prospect in the South by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the future Kentucky running back and Trigg County product could make a significant impact as early as the upcoming season. Time will only tell.
Last month at the Bluegrass prep weightlif-tine competition in Louisville, Baker cap-
Garber Faced With Young Secondary
tured the 215-pound class. He bench pressed 350 pounds and lifted 565 pounds in the dead lift. "I expect Al's going to be one of the strongest players they've ever recruited," said Trigg County weightlifting coach Dixie Jones.
Overall, his 915 total was 85 pounds higher than any other competitor, including weight classes above Baker's.
Baker is listed as a Kentucky Wildcat "Promising Newcomer" on a fact sheet handed out by UK's sports information department. Others mentioned are of the freshman red-shirt variety. They are — Mike Pfeifer (offensive tackle), Oliver Barnett (defensive tackle), Tony Massey (defensive end), Ron Robinson (defensive back), Tom Smith (defensive back), Dee Smith (wide receiver) and Craig Benzinger (defensive end).
The spring session gives coaches a chance to experiment.
Two big moves have Pfeifer and Mark Logan making position adjustments.
Pfeifer, 6-foot-6, 276 pounds was listed as a defensive tackle. In order to beef up the offensive line, which lost four starters from the '85 team, the Louisville Trinty product will be featured at offensive tackle.
"We feel Pfeifer is one of the better looking physical linemen," said Claiborne. "He is not the only person who will be switched. We are going to try to get the best people at different positions."
In order to get Logan and speedster Mark Higgs in the lineup together the staff has swit ched Logan to fullback. It will also help balance a backfield which also includes Ivy Joe Hunter, Anthony Gardner, Andy Murray, John Groves , Greg Baker and probably Al Baker.
Kentucky may have one of the rare backfields in the country where its starting fullback (Logan) is quicker than the tailback (Higgs or Hunter). Last March, Logan's best time in }^^SSS>^S^iS^M^S
Higgs' was 4.55 and Hunter's 4.44.
Some other experimental moves have: Tony Massey from defensive back to defensive end, Ron Robinson from corner back to safety and Mark Sellers from wide receiver to safety.
Rebuilding the offensive line may be the biggest challenge for the coaches. However, new faces will also be aplenty in UK's defensive secondary for the 1986 season.
Gone are starters Maurice Douglass (defensive back) and Russell Hairston (safety), plus vital backups, Carmichael Caldwell (defensive back) and Gary Sexton (safety).
"Davey Johnson and Tony Mayes contributed quite a bit last season," said Garber. "Tony was a starter and we're expecting big things from him. Johnson came on at the end of the year and did a real good job for us.
"We've moved Dave over to the left hand side and Tony to the right, so we've got some experience at the corners.
Raynard Gover, is the only Wildcat with any experience at safety. Gover adds height
— 6-3 — weight — 197 pounds — and speed
— 4.6/40 yards to the safety position. Backing up the sophomore-to-be are
Robinson (6-3, 187 lbs., freshman) and Sellars (6-3, 196 lbs., sophomore-to-be), both of whom are new to the area.
"Gover has got to be the leader right now just because of his experience," Garber said. "But, Ron Robinson is coming on good and Mark Sellers is doing a good job.
"It'll be interesting. Other than Mayes everybody else is going to be a redshirt freshman or sophomore. I feel like going home at night and bringing back some of my son's diapers and give them to those kids because they are so young."
Spring practice, though, gives "those kids" needed experience and should help them grow up.
"We try to put them into situations which are the toughest type of situations they'll have to see in the Southeastern Conference."