During the late February national football signing period Kentucky added only one player — Pennsylvania cornerback M.J. Devonshire. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said then that Devonshire had “great size, great speed” with the versatility to play either offense or defense.
Considering the early signees Kentucky had, not a lot of attention was paid to the addition of the 5-11, 180-pound Devonshire. However, he might be a name to remember when Kentucky starts preseason practice.
During his senior season, he led his team to a state football title (he scored 24 touchdowns including eight on punt returns), got his basketball team into the playoffs (he averaged 17 points per game) and won the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the state track championships.
“He had Ohio State and a lot of good offers. When we recruited him, we knew what kind of player we were getting,” said Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow. “He’s a very smart kid, too. I think he has a very good chance to get in the rotation early at DB (defensive back). He’s an athlete. He was a point guard in basketball and could dunk the basketball. He’s the type athlete you’ve got to have in our league.”
Chris Harlan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review watched Devonshire for Aliquippa High School and says he’s one of those athletes with the physical and mental makeup to be successful.
“He’s the ultimate competitor and always seemed comfortable in big moments. In the state 100-meter finals, he outran Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming, an Ohio State recruit and the No. 1-ranked wide receiver in 2020, according to Rivals. His sprinter’s speed translates well to the football field,” Harlan said.
It certainly did when he returned punts. At any level, eight punt-return touchdowns in one season is remarkable.
“Devonshire has the quickness, the speed and the hands that great kick returner need, but it’s his anticipation that makes him exceptional,” Harlan said. “After the season I asked him which punt return touchdown was his favorite and surprisingly it was a short 35-yarder. By mid-October, teams smartly were kicking away from him, so he became a little more strategic.
“On the 35-yarder, Devonshire lined up deep on the short side of the field, forcing South Park to punt to the wide side. He believed the punter couldn’t reach the far sideline and he was right — the ball landed near the numbers. He moved slowly toward the ball, causing South Park’s kickcoverage to relax. With them flatfooted, he accelerated, scooped the football and scored. There’s no reason he couldn’t return punts as a true freshman.”
Harlan was surprised when Devonshire picked UK over Pittsburgh and West Virginia, the perceived frontrunners before UK’s late push got him.
“John Calipari is a native western Pennsylvanian, so the folks around here think of basketball when they think Kentucky. Devonshire was under a lot of social media pressure to pick his hometown Panthers, but he’s always seemed like an independent thinker,” Harlan said. “The Penn State bowl victory made an impact with him. He said that he sees last year’s 10- win season as a building block to 11 wins, 12 wins and ultimately a national championship game. Coming from Aliquippa, he insisted that he wouldn’t go there if he didn’t think he would win.”
Devonshire told Harlan after he signed with Kentucky that if the writer had told him a month earlier he was going to pick UK he would have “looked at you like you were crazy.”
Devonshire has the leadership skills that Kentucky coach Mark Stoops — or any coach — wants from potential elite players.
“He’s among the more mature and self-driven high school athletes that I’ve met. He was always willing to be a spokesman for his teams and represented his school very well. Aliquippa has a storied football tradition that includes Mike Ditka, Ty Law, Darrelle Revis and many others,” Harlan said. “Devonshire appreciates that ‘Quips’ history and talked often about how the town shares in the disappointment when the team doesn’t win championships. For that reason, kids from Aliquippa don’t like to lose.’”
Devonshire might also have an even bigger impact with recruiting. Harlan said Kentucky is a team those in the area now think about. One of his teammates, 2020 linebacker Zuriah Fisher, already has a Kentucky offer. A 2021 lineman, Aaron Gunn, from the same area got his first FBS offer from UK.
“Pulling a high-profile recruit like Devonshire certainly earned Kentucky football added respect in eyes around here,” Harlan said.
Former WKYT-TV sports anchor Rob Bromley is one of the media members who had a chance to not only watch Jared Lorenzen play in high school and at Kentucky, but he also got to interact with him in interviews.
“What I will remember most is that over the many years I can think of no one to compare him to. There are unique athletes who come along … but not like Jared… once in a lifetime chance to see someone of his size perform at quarterback the way he did,” Bromley said.
Lorenzen died recently at age 38 and his passing continues to resonate with UK fans who helped raised more than $100,000 for his family in less than a week after his death.
“Jared wasn’t just good, he was great … record setting,” Bromley said. “He goes down as one of the most popular players at UK over the last 25 years along with the likes of Tim Couch, Randall Cobb, Jacob Tamme and Benny Snell.
“But as unique and as great as he was on the field, he was every bit as good off the field, building a strong relationship with BBN.”
Bromley can’t single out a specific play, game or interview that stands out to him more than others about Lorenzen.
“I think I will just always remember the way he approached the physical challenge he faced later in his life with his weight. Playing careers tend to be short. Life goes on,” Lorenzen said. “He faced a challenge (his weight) that he understood could become life threatening.
“It always seemed like Jared lived life to the fullest and good naturedly handled questions about his weight. Very publicly he faced the situation and made a serous effort to lower his weight and improve his health.
“I’ll remember Jared as a fighter on the field and off. It’s such a loss for the BBN.”
Country music singer J.D. Shelburne paid tribute to former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen’s memory by wearing a Lorenzen No. 22 blue UK game jersey during his concert July 13 at Kentucky Speedway before the Quaker State 400. However, don’t ever doubt how big a basketball fan he also is.
“I am still not over last year. I thought we were going to win it all,” Shelburne said. “I am excited to see what Cal (John Calipari) has this year. I don’t know much about the team yet but it sure seems like we could be as good or better than last year.
“I want Kentucky to win another national championship about as bad as anybody. I hear so much grief on the road about how Cal is never going to get another one. I know it’s hard to win titles. I love football but basketball is in my heart. I can’t help it. I grew up playing basketball and basketball was all my family talked about. We get jazzed up for UK basketball.”
He’s had to make a few modifications since his marriage to accommodate his wife, Amy.
“I can watch basketball as long as I want during basketball season,” he said. “But if it is not basketball season, I end up having to watch the cooking network with her until basketball season finally gets here again.”
During the recent Atlantic Coast Conference Media Day, new Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield was described as being “laidback” by one of his players, especially when compared to former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. Satterfield said that probably was an accurate description of his demeanor. “There’s a lot of coaches that are in your face all the time. I do have a laid-back mentality. I’m even-keeled. You can say laid-back, but I’m even-keeled. I can get amped up pretty good when need to be. But I’m very competitive, too. I want to win at everything that I’m doing,” Satterfield said.
“I think our job as coaches is to get our players to lead the team, get our players to have that emotion. It’s their team. I think that’s my leadership style to really kind of guide the ship. But it’s their team. We’re trying to mold these guys to take charge and to hold each other accountable because when it’s go time, you want to win. You want to beat whatever that is, whatever that competition may be that particular day. That’s the way we’re training our guys.”
Louisville did little winning under Petrino last year when the program imploded and Petrino was fired. Satterfield, though, says he won’t let his desire to win change his demeanor.
“I’m every bit as competitive as anybody going. But you got to be who you are,” Satterfield said. “I’m more of an even-keeled type guy. Hopefully that will translate to something that’s good on the sideline when you’re getting into the battle of things.”
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher knows plenty about new Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, a transfer from Clemson that Fisher faced when he was the coach at Florida State.
Bryant, a graduate transfer, is one reason Missouri was picked to finish third in the SEC Eastern Division in a poll at SEC Media Day. Kentucky, which has four straight wins over Missouri, was picked sixth.
“First of all, the kind of team player he is because he was a starter the year before and they were subbing back and forth with him and Trevor Lawrence, and then he came back in the game and played very well and made the plays and the drives in which they were able to win that football game (against State),” Fisher said.
“I think it shows his team morale and camaraderie and the kind of guy he was and the kind of winner he was. He’s a heck of a player. I think he’ll do very well for Mizzou, that’s for sure.”
So does South Carolina coach Will Muschamp who also faced Bryant when he played for Clemson.
“I got a lot of respect for Kelly and the job he’s done at Clemson and then moving forward to Missouri. Really good football player. Accurate with the football. Dual-threat guy that can hurt you with his legs as well,” Muschamp said. “But I probably think his best attributes as a player is his intangible qualities. The guy is an outstanding leader. He positively affects people around him. He gets guys going and believing in what you need to do to be successful.
“It will be a very smooth transition for him, in my opinion, as far as that’s concerned. Just an outsider looking in, you can see the positive impact he’s already had on that program.”
Fisher also offered his analysis of South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley. He faced A&M in Fisher’s first year in 2018.
“Jake is a heck of a player. Had great arm talent. I knew Jake as a youngster in high school. I mean, can throw it. And being a coach’s son, he knows the game,” Fisher said.
“ He’s tough. He can make all the throws. He stands in the pocket. He’s a guy I think will play on Sundays (in the NFL). I think the guy is a heck of a player. I really do.”
Quote of the Week: “People tend to overlook the players we have. We have some good players. They may be young, but there’s no excuse for us to take a step back. I think the only way we’re going to go is forward. It’s going to be a great season,” UK junior receiver Lynn Bowden on the lack of preseason respect for UK.
Quote of the Week 2: “The statement it means more, I think it does. I think these schools take football extremely seriously. It’s the number one sport in this league, in almost every school in this league it’s the number one sport and it’s very important. Look at the draft picks. We set a record last year with 64 draft picks. And the atmospheres, the environments, the home stadiums, the number of people at games, the coverage, you’re under a microscope here … just the best of the best,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher on why the SEC is better than the ACC.
Quote of the Week 3: “Can’t wait to see this next chapter of his life. New York, you’re getting more than just a special player —he is a special person. What a great ambassador for this program,” John Calipari on former UK player Julius Randle signing a free agent contract with the Knicks.