He patiently waited on his chance to play, and never complained. Now redshirt freshman offensive lineman Drake Jackson of Woodford County has worked himself into the playing rotation at center and likely will only continue to play a bigger and bigger role in the seasons ahead for the Wildcats.
“The energy is really good around here. I am enjoying everything. We are all feeling good. I am playing both center and guard. I am doing left guard, center, right guard. It’s all good,” Jackson said.
Here are a few other insights he recently shared.
Question: Was it easier to understand not being in the rotation earlier because of the players who were in front of you?
Jackson: “That is a coach’s decision. If I pouted about it, only bad things were going to happen to me. It might sting a little bit, but I had to realize I have the rest of this year and three more years. Obviously I was going to push to get out there even more. That is everybody’s goal and is the type of mentality I have. It’s the mentality I have always had. I kept in communication with coach (Mark) Stoops, coach (Eddie) Gran, coach (John) Schlarman. They all tell me the same thing. ‘Drake, the opportunity comes at different times for different people.’ They all feel like they know I will take advantage of my chance, but they needed veteran guys in there. That’s why you had those guys playing early.”
Question: Are you totally comfortable with snapping since you did not play center in high school?
Jackson: “I would not think that anybody says they have 100 percent snap rate. Just like quarterbacks sometimes miss checkdowns, pitchers sometimes throw into the backstop. Snapping is something we all do well most of the time. Sometimes it is just a technique thing and confidence thing for all us. But we will get it figured out.”
Question: What player are you learning the most from?
Jackson: “That is a tough one. There is so much experience. Luke Fortner and I are kind of in the same position and we help each other learn. Either he is at guard and I am at center or he is at center and I am at guard. We are both learning from the older guys. I don’t want to name names because there is really not one individual that you learn from. There are guys you learn technique from, guys you learn football IQ from, guys you learn attitude from. There are a bunch of different things and why our line has been so steady.”
Question: Does it mean if guys like you, Fortner and Mason Wolfe had to wait for extensive playing time that this line is going to be really good for a long time?
Jackson: “Of course. That is how I am thinking because that is the truth. That is not a conspiracy or anything. Mason is starting to get his time. He did not play a lot last year. Against South Carolina, he played 52 snaps and played his tail off and fought through some nagging injuries. He’s a big part of the offense. He is prime example of how of a redshirt sophomore getting his number called to play. Same with Bunchy (Stallings) last year. It just happens any time.
“Luke was out all fall because of mono, but he has come back and is practicing and playing really well. His third play against Missouri, Benny (Snell) breaks loose a touchdown. It was fun chasing down the field and be- ing out breath, too, just trying to congratulate Benny.”
Question: Do you remind yourself that it is normal for an offensive lineman not to play regularly until his third or fourth year in college?
Jackson: “It is a mix of reminding myself and ignoring that because you want to remind yourself to keep yourself patient, but at the same time I am not going to say I probably should not play until my redshirt sophomore year. I am not going to study film. I am not going to loaf in practice. I am not going to slack in school. That’s what will happen if you think that way about not playing for another year. You just keep treating it the same way and keep your mind ready, then you go in and you do play great. That is what I am doing. I don’t know how much I will play, but I still think that I will play a lot the rest of the year.”
Question: Will the depth in this offensive line help the team get stronger the second half of the season?
Jackson: “I can promise you when they say, ’52 (Jackson’s number) go in,’ I will be out there and will play my balls off. I love this school, I love this team, I love these coaches. Playing in that stadium is something I have always wanted to do. Whatever scenario, I stay ready. I was doing it on field goal and doing it the best I could. All I know is that when they say get in there, I am going to play the best I can and not worry about what has happened.”
Question: Does blocking on field goals for Austin MacGinnis give you a sense of pride?
Jackson: “He is such a good kicker. I know he will get it up over the line and through the uprights. Fortner and I are in the same position and we get in there and do hit some of the other guys and see we can block these guys because they are coming full speed and you are just sitting there. It is a little bit of experience. You get your jersey dirty and see what it is like to get hit, so that is always good.”
Question: Does MacGinnis ever say anything after he makes a kick?
Jackson: “No. Austin is very humble. He just does his work and that is what makes him so good. He just focuses on what he is doing.”
Question: How beat up was this team physically before the bye week?
Jackson: “That is something to ask every person. I am sore. But everybody practices. Our strength and conditioning coaches and staff have prepared us for a long season. With all the little stuff we do, it prepares us. The SEC is no joke. You have a good opponent each week. Even though Missouri had been struggling, they had good players and will put a beating on you. So I don’t think anybody would say they don’t hurt at this point of the season.”
Shooting will not be Kentucky’s forte this season. Even coach John Calipari admitted that when I asked him about it at UK’s Media Day. However, it doesn’t seem to worry him.
“My teams have always been downhill runners, fast in the break, unselfish moving the ball, lane touches. That’s what I would expect this team to be,” Calipari said. “Then shooting, some of it is going to be guys committed to really working at practice and spending extra time shooting the ball. There may be lineups we put in that will shoot better than others. That’s not been our deal. I mean, there are some teams that play, they get a bunch of shooters, they run back-cuts, curl cuts, handoffs, shoot 3s. It’s not how we play. You have got to be able to make shots. You can’t have anything mechanically wrong with your shot. But if I’m to give up something, freethrow shooting, shooting, I’ll give up a little bit of that as long as you have all those other intangibles that I think it takes.”
However, I reminded him his teams had been blessed with terrific shooters at times like Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Malik Monk and Brandon Knight.
“It’s kind of like comparing (freshman point guard) Quade (Green) to Tyler Ulis. That’s not fair. Comparing any of these kids to Devin Booker, not fair. To say will they be able to hit gamewinning shots like Aaron Harrison, it’s not fair. That kid on the biggest of big stages made daggers, absolutely threw daggers. That’s the great thing about what we do here,” Calipari said. “None of you (in the media) know how we’re going to be. Not one. Some of you guys can act like you know. You don’t. You know why I know that? Because I don’t know. This is what makes this Kentucky. They’re not promised starting position, minutes. We’re not running every play to one guy. You’re going to have to defend and rebound.”
The players insist they can have a good shooting team. Jemarl Baker, Kevin Knox and Shai Alexander all believe they can make shots. So does Green.
Maybe it’s just preseason optimism, but sophomore Tai Wynyard thinks Kentucky has solid shooters, too.
“It is patchy but we have a team full of people that can shoot. It has a lot to do with confidence I think, but we have a really strong team and should be really good shooters. I know people don’t think that, but I see these guys shoot every day,” Wynyard said.