Until he mentioned it to me, I had forgotten that it was almost seven years ago when Landon Young gave his verbal commitment to play football at Kentucky.
Now he’s in his fourth season at UK — he missed the 2018 season with a knee injury — and has become a fixture in a UK offensive line that helped Benny Snell become UK’s all-time leading rusher and now has helped Lynn Bowden rush for almost 500 yards in the last three games going into Saturday’s match-up with Tennessee.
“It was right at the end of my freshman year (at Lafayette High School) when (John) Schlarman took over (as offensive line coach) and I committed. We were just alike on so many things,” Young said. “It’s been a long road so far and I have known him for a long, long time but he’s just as helpful today as he was seven years ago.”
Young, along with center Drake Jackson of Woodford County and linebacker Kash Daniel of Paintsville, made early verbal commitments to Kentucky to give coach Mark Stoops in-state building blocks he needed after he took over the program. All three are now starters.
“When Stoops and his coaching staff first came here and I started talking with Kash and Drake and they were on board just like I was,” said Young. “It was a dream at that point. What can we do to help the program when it was at such a low-level? That’s what we talked about and we realized making the program better could be a reality if we all jumped on board.”
They certainly have been part of a football rejuvenation at Kentucky. The Cats have been to three straight bowl games since their arrival and last year’s 10-3 mark will be remembered for a long, long time. Recruiting continues to steadily improve and Young doesn’t think that will change.
“What the program has done has been incredible,” Young said. “The coaches have recruited high-class kids. There are not any energy vampires on the team to bring us down. Just outstanding kids here to win games and get a degree. Once you get the negativity out, it’s amazing how the program can flip around.”
Young admits going 10-3 might have been even a bit more than he hoped for when he came to Kentucky believing things would get better.
“At first it was just a dream to help make the program better. Being 2-8 you don’t expect in three years to win 10 games but it happens,”
Young said. “You have to give it to everybody on the team, including coaches, who dove into this believing it could happen.”
Young still remembers Schlarman promising him that Stoops planned to make character a priority in recruiting.
“I think now a lot of coaches are looking more at the character of the kids they recruit,” Young said. “If a kid’s character is no good, he can be a team pain and drag the team down. We are a close group. There are not position groups any more. We are all one big group and mesh really well and it shows.”
Young learned the value of character early from his father who taught him that meant more than anything he would accomplish in sports or anything else. That’s why he was thrilled when he was named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team® and nominated for the Wuerffel Trophy, both awards that value character and community service as much or more than football ability.
“To be recognized for something in my sport that is about more than just my sport does reflect more on what I am to other people and how I treat others rather than just what I do on the football field,” Young said.
But that Mr. Nice Guy personality disappears on the football field.
“I do change a little bit. You don’t want to really see me on the field,” Young laughed and said. “It is a different mentality. It’s always been like a switch I can turn on. Coaches always tell you to control that aggression, and that is what I hone in on or try to.
“I am a nice guy and do not want you to think I am a mean person on the field. But I like to think that on the field I am not a guy you want to against because my personality does change when it is time to play.”
Coronado High School (Nev.) coach Jeff Kaufman got another look at Kentucky commit Devin Askew when his team faced Mater Dei (California) a few weeks ago.
Kaufman coaches another junior, wing Jaden Hardy, who is being pursued by Kentucky coach John Calipari. However, Kaufman understands why Calipari and so many other coaches were recruiting Askew before his recent verbal commitment to UK.
“I can put it this way from coach’s perspective,” Kaufman said when asked about Askew, a five-star point guard. “He is a guy you do not want to play against.
“He is talented and a great passer. He is a really tough kid and he wants to win. You need kids like that and he is one of those kids.
“He is a really nice person, but on the court he is not the friendliest guy in the world. He’s just not a guy you like to play against because whatever it takes to win, he’s going to do it.”
Kentucky will welcome back former player Walter McCarty, a part of UK’s 1996 national championship team, to Rupp Arena Nov. 12 when he brings Evansville to play John Calipari’s team. This is McCarty’s second season as head coach of the Aces and one of his first priorities was to start working on a game with Kentucky.
The Evansville Courier & Press recently obtained the game contract showing that Kentucky is paying Evansville $90,000 for the game that will be shown on the SEC Network and give the Aces some national exposure.
McCarty played at UK from 1993 to 1996 and finished his career with 946 points, 522 rebounds, 181 assists, 108 blocked shots and 91 steals in 103 games. He was a career 52 percent shooter from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range.
He was part of the greatest comeback in UK history when the Cats overcame a 31-point deficit in the final 15 minutes to win at LSU. He had 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range, in 32 minutes in the win. He also had eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
“He just kept hitting big shots for them,” former LSU coach Dale Brown said. “We just couldn’t find a way to guard him and with his size, even when we did he just shot over us. He was special.”
McCarty, an Evansville native, played 10 years in the NBA and was even on the Boston Celtics coaching staff. He went 11-21 in his first season as Evansville’s head coach but is expecting a much better season with the goal of ending a NCAA Tournament drought that goes back to 1999.
“I think we have enough to be very competitive and successful,” McCarty said at the Missouri Valley Conference Media Day. “We just have to go out there and do it. Nothing is going to be given to us. We have to go out there and earn it. But we have the type of roster that can compete now.”
Whether his team can compete against No. 2 Kentucky, though, remains to be seen.
Going into Saturday’s game against Tennessee, junior Lynn Bowden is averaging 8.1 yards per run and 12.9 yards per catch. When it comes to total offense, he has accounted for 1,387 yards including his passing (188) yards along with his return yards.
In the last three games he’s started at quarterback, he has rushed for 499 yards on 62 carries and scored two touchdowns in each game UK has won. His numbers are just crazy. He’s now ran for 598 yards and caught 37 passes for 477 yards and one touchdown.
“I thought our coaches did a nice job of putting him in position keeping them off-balance,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said after Bowden ran for 204 yards against a Missouri defense that had plenty of time to prepare to stop him. “Lynn has that ability to make one person miss.
“So you start adding up all the numbers and what we’re doing and the stress we’re putting on the defense, and then with him making somebody miss in to the hole, it puts a lot the stress on you.
“So it works with well-designed plays and Lynn’s Godgiven ability and his toughness. What’s nice about that is there are some things he’s doing and the position we’re putting him in where his vision is taking over, where he has such good vision.”
Stoops admits that even if former backup turned starter Sawyer Smith is healthy enough to start against Tennessee, it won’t be easy not to start Bowden.
“It’s pretty hard to take him out. So I don’t know. I don’t think guys we play, defensive coordinators are stupid. They’re pretty bright in this league. Next up is Tennessee with Derrick Ansley, so these guys know what’s going,” Stoops said.
Stoops knows what Bowden is doing is not because of what the UK coaches have taught him.
“There’s just some things that are God-given, like with punt returns, kick returns, the vision you have to get it in the end zone there and get big returns,” Stoops said. “You see some of that with the Q-run (quarterback) game.”
You can also see that Bowden’s teammates not only believe in him but are willing to do whatever it takes to look after him. Bowden took a late hit out-of-bounds against Missouri and receiver Allen Dailey immediately put a hit on the player who hit Bowden. It got a 15-yard penalty against Dailey, but even Stoops had trouble faulting him for protecting his quarterback.
“Allen plays hard. I respect that and I like guys that play hard. He’s nasty. We need that. But that was a valuable 15 yards at that point in time. If you notice, Lynn just took a hard hit and he was so tired and he knew what that meant. He knew that was a problem for them to help cap the game. That’s a maturity that’s hard to teach, you know what I mean?” Stoops said.
“So don’t question Lynn’s toughness or his pride. I don’t think anybody wants to get in a back alley with him. But he understands the importance of that 15 yards there. But I also understand guys like Allen and them sticking up for a guy because of the respect they have for Lynn.
“So didn’t hurt us. I’m glad that it didn’t. But it was still a teaching moment. We got to have that good pride where you suck that up and you take that 15 yards because it could help put somebody away.”
Quote of the Week: “I think, with Hagans, Maxey, Quickley and Whitney, they’re going to play faster than pretty much all of his (Calipari’s) past Wildcat teams. Perhaps the closest comp, based on those factors, would be the 2016-17 team that had De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and won 14 straight games before falling to North Carolina in the Elite Eight. I think this team will go one step further than that group did, ending the drought and making the Final Four,” ESPN’s Jeff Borzello on UK’s season.
Quote of the Week 2: “I saw him, a freak of nature. He can jump, alley-oops, post up really well. His 3-point shot is improved since college. He’s shooting it with confidence and it’s going down. He is able to handle it, push it in transition. He can do a little bit of everything out there. I’m very impressed with his game, very impressed with his progression, his mentality and his IQ out there,” NBA veteran Patrick Patterson on rookie PJ Washington, a former Wildcat just like him.