Young defenders play huge role for Cats – UK Athletics

Kentucky entered the season with experience in multiple positions on defense. However, as the 2022 season progressed, due to injuries and opportunities, a number of young players became crucial for the Cats.

Alex Afari, Jordan Lovett and Deone Walker are three freshmen who have been among the Cats’ top tacklers this season. Lovett is second on the team with 39 saves. Walker has 23 tackles and Afari has 18.

The younger players may have had an impact, but Lovett likes to thank the older players in the UK defence, guys like Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square for leading the way.

“I have to thank the older guys,” Lovett said. “The older guys showed us the way forward.”

As for how he’s doing this season, the redshirt freshman from North Hardin (Ky.) High School is pleased.

“I’m really comfortable,” Lovett said. “Honestly, everything is fine.”

Walker, a true freshman from Detroit, has been a key cog in Britain’s defensive line this season. Standing 6-6 and weighing 330 pounds, Walker was literally a massive piece on defense for the Cats. Even his teammates and fellow defensive lineman Justin Rogers are amazed at Walker’s size.

“I look at it and I’m like, wow, I feel small,” Rogers said. “There playing with him, I know I have his back and I know he has mine.”

Rogers also knows the future is very bright for Walker.

“Man, he’s different,” Rogers said. “I’m not going to lie – he’s different. Just his size, man, he just doesn’t understand the potential he has right now. It’s crazy. I told him, the potential you have is just outstanding. You can do great things.

The Cats’ young defensemen will have a challenge this weekend when Vanderbilt comes to Kroger Field. The Commodores are 3-6, but have faced one of the toughest schedules in the country. British defensive coordinator Brad White knows Vandy’s offense can be explosive whether the ‘Dores are playing AJ Swann or Mike Wright at quarterback.

“I think the basic philosophy, the style, the pattern of play is similar,” White said of the two VU quarterbacks. “Obviously there are differences. We know Mike Wright well, we have seen him for the last two years. We have to do a good job with him.

White and his experienced defenders have faced Wright for the past two seasons, so they know what to expect from him and are preparing to deal with his ability to play with his arms and legs.

“With the number of points they can put on the board, they will be a big challenge for us,” White said. “Guys are locked in and prepared.”

And as the Cats prepare for the final three games of the season, the young defensemen will no doubt continue to make a big impact, including this weekend against Vanderbilt.