Former Kentucky linebacker coach Chuck Smith couldn’t help laughing when he heard one of his former players, Bud Dupree, had signed a contract worth almost $16 million for the 2020 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He has done good,” Smith laughed and said.
The Steelers picked Dupree with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft after his all-SEC career ended at UK. He had 247 career tackles, including 37 tackles for loss. As a senior he had 74 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Not only did he play in 47 games, but he also graduated with a degree in community and leadership development just a few weeks after the draft.
Not bad for a player that came to UK from Georgia to play for coach Joker Phillips thinking he would be a tight end after having over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns his final high school season. But before game one at UK he was moved to linebacker and became a star.
“He was a freak of an athlete,” Smith, who coached Dupree his first two years at UK, said. “He was a really smart player, too. He had that athletic intelligence all the great ones have.
“But more than anything, he was just an incredible athlete as far as movement, speed, agility, strength. He had the total package. ”
Dupree ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical jump at UK’s Pro Day in 2015 before the Steelers picked him.
“He was a really, really good person, too,” Smith said. “Put that with his athleticism and those are the ones who do really well in the NFL. I am not a bit surprised he’s done what he has.”
He signed a $9 million, four-year contract in 2015 and the Steelers picked up the fifth-year option for 2019 at another $9 million. They offered Dupree a contract extension but he gambled his play in 2019 would earn him a bigger payday and it did. He goes into the 2020 season with 200 tackles, 31.5 quarterback sacks, nine pass deflections, six forced fumbles and one interception in his five-year NFL career.
“He was always a real humble person and part of that is just his personality but he also had confidence in his ability,” Smith said. “He knew I can run faster than most and I am stronger than most. He knew he could play. So for him to bet on himself like he did in 2019 did not surprise me. Bud knew what he was doing.”
Now that Kentucky failed to land Purdue graduate transfer Matt Haarms to fill the void at center it has on the 2020-21 roster, one name that keeps being mentioned as a possible solution is 6-11 Moussa Cisse of Lausanne Collegiate School of Memphis.
He’s currently a top 10 player in the 2021 recruiting class but several national recruiting analysts keep anticipating he will reclassify. His coach, Marvin Davis, still doesn’t expect that to happen even though his star player averaged 22.5 points, 14 rebounds and 8.6 blocks per game last year and had 16 triple-doubles to earn Mr. Basketball honors in Tennessee.
Davis readily admits Cisse made dramatic improvement in his first year with Lausanne Collegiate.
“As the year went on his confidence started thriving. When he first got to us most people thought of him just as a defensive player and a guy who could maybe get a dunk or two,” Davis said. “He did make a significant impact on defense but offensively he got so much better and so much more polished.
“He also plays with such passion and heart. He plays hard, too. He wants to get better. He is a super competitor and wants to win everything he does. That is what drives him daily.”
Cisse did recently cut his college list to 10 schools — Kentucky, Memphis, LSU, Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, USC, Alabama, Georgetown and Illinois. LSU is the perceived leader by some recruiting analysts but Kentucky coach John Calipari came to watch Cisse play at the Marshall County Hoopfest in December to make sure he knew he was wanted at UK either this year or next year.
Cisse has indicated he may trim his list to six schools some time this week.
“Cal likes him a lot,” Davis said. “His footwork around the rim got so much better as our season went on. Early on some moves he tried to make he would travel. He was always light on his feet but he was just not sure when to make moves and turns and how to finish them. Now his footwork is better and he can make all the moves.
“He can shoot the 3. If you are on him, he can shoot over you. If you sag off and let him have the 3-pointer, he can make it. His free throws got a lot better, too. He ended up above 70 percent (at the foul line) and for him to hit that percentage bodes well for the future because he’ll get fouled a lot. This way teams can’t just hack him and send him to the line.”
Cisse benefitted from a similar practice approach at Lausanne Collegiate to what colleges do with a lot of individual work daily because Davis has enough assistant coaches to do that.
“We do an individual period each day of 20 minutes or more just working on specific stuff a player needs to improve,” Davis said. “Moussa would go with our bigs coach and work on his individual needs. Now while we legitimately work on a lot of stuff each day, he still also put in a lot of time in the gym by himself. He’s a gym rat and that’s why you know he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Davis says as driven as Cisse is, he maintains the proper perspective.
“Some guys play with too much of a chip on their shoulder and can get out of control,” Davis said. “He is not like that. He plays so hard and is so passionate, but he’s under control and he will still have fun playing. He just has a great overall attitude.”
Davis believes social media speculation has fueled rumors about Cisse reclassifying and playing college basketball next season.
“I sincerely doubt he will be going to college next year. I obviously talk to him and his family a lot and they are not saying that to me,” Davis said. “I think it is kind of late in the game for Moussa to be jumping to the 2020 class. If he was going to do it, he probably should have already done it. You can’t wait until the last-minute to get everything done. I could be wrong but I just don’t see him playing in college next year.”
Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington just keeps turning out Division I football prospects.
Six players off its 2019 team that finished 14-1 and lost to Covington Catholic in the Class 5A state title game had Kentucky scholarship offers and five of them will be back this season — if there is a season.
Kentucky made offers last week to 6-3, 175-pound freshman tight end Thomas Howard and 5-9, 150-pound freshman defensive back Isaiah Kenney.
The Cats already had extended scholarship offers to Frederick Douglass junior offensive lineman Jager Burton, sophomore athlete Dane Key and sophomore defensive back Ty Bryant. Burton is the top-rated player in Kentucky in the 2021 recruiting class and Bryant and Key both had fathers play at UK. Senior offensive lineman Walker Parks also had a UK offer but signed with Clemson.
Howard gave a verbal commitment to Louisville baseball before the start of his 2019 football season. He had eight catches for 101 yards last season but five of his receptions went for touchdowns. Kentucky was his first Division I football offer but coach Nathan McPeek says Louisville also has shown considerable interest.
“He’s a really good pitcher. I know baseball is important to him but he’s a really good football player, too,” McPeek said. “I would never tell a kid what to do other than to play all the sports he wants. He’s blessed to be good in all of them, including basketball.
“He started every game for us as a true freshman. His role will evolve this year. He was a pretty good blocker last year but he needs to get bigger and stronger. But with him being a pitcher, he’s not going to get real big.”
Kenney did not play as much as a freshman because of the players — Baylor signee Devin Neal and Bryant — in front of him.
Kentucky secondary coach Steve Clinkscale first saw Kenney play in middle school because he had a son at the same school. He had 24 tackles in 15 games last year in his limited duty and returned his one interception 40 yards.
“He was really a good special teams players for us last year,” McPeek said. “He played a lot in the state semifinals against Owensboro because Devin had some cramping issues. He played pretty much all year, just not at safety like he will this year. But he’s a playmaker and had a lot of big plays and tackles in the return game.”
Kentucky sophomore Rhyne Howard will be the nation’s leading returning scorer at 24.1 points per game next season, one reason ESPN has rated her as the top player going into the 2020-21 season.
“She is clearly one of the elite players in the country and now the goal is to become the absolute best player in the entire country,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Howard also averaged 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game last season. She shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range and made 84 3-pointers. She even blocked 29 shots.
Mitchell said Howard has to “pay attention to even the smallest details and stay committed to even more hard work” going into next season. Mitchell says she could raise her shooting percentage, cut down turnovers or add a few more rebounds per game.
“The good thing is Rhyne is never satisfied. That’s why she is great and among the top players in the nation coming back next year and rightfully a leading candidate for player of the year,” Mitchell said.
“I love that she wants to keep getting better. She wants to help us win SEC and national championships because she is very team driven. She knows when you have team success, individual success has a way of working itself out.”
Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes admits he’s already “excited” about next season and the type of team he will have.
“I know the players are excited, they’re all chomping at the bit to get back,” Barnes said on The Aaron Torres Podcast last week. “The coaches are, too. We think we have a chance to possibly have the best defensive team we’ve had since we’ve been here.
“We know we’ve got some good returning players that, this year they got put into the fire. They got to learn a lot in high level, competitive games.
“What we added, we know this recruiting class is going to make an impact. And like I said we think we have a chance to be as good defensively as maybe any team we’ve had.”
Remember Tennessee won at Rupp Arena thanks to a dramatic second-half comeback in what turned out to be UK’s next to last game of the 2019-20 season.
Quote of the Week: “We can’t be selfish at this time. We’ve got to do the things that we are responsible to do, the things that our leaders are telling us to do, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Mark Stoops on what it would be like if there is no college football in 2020 because of COVID-19.
Quote of the Week 2: “It is far too early to place an absolute planned schedule of dates out there. We remain optimistic about the fall season, even if it isn’t exactly per normal, but we will adhere to the guidance of both federal and state health officials, as well as our own Department of Education and the Governor’s office in planning our next steps,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett on high school fall sports schedules.
Quote of the Week 3: “I spent the weekend on my parents’ farm in Tennessee. We have Charolais cattle. We have a herd of 40 of them, and they sit on about 150 acres in south Tennessee. That’s what my father does now. We’ve been up here kind of isolated, just watching the picks and waiting for my name to be called. I couldn’t be happier to be going to Detroit,” UK offensive lineman Logan Stenberg on how he spent last weekend before the Detroit Lions drafted him in the fourth round.