There are three things in life you can still count on with absolute certainty–death, taxes, and a Senior Day victory over Austin Peay. Barring an upset of historic proportions rivaling the likes of Chaminade, Buster Douglas, or the Miracle on Ice, a Wildcat win over the hapless Governors was all but guaranteed. Fortunately, after sleepwalking through the first quarter and falling behind 13-0, UK didn’t make history, rallying back to crush the Governors 49-13 and sending the overmatched OVC visitors back home on the last train to Clarksville. I’ll let others nitpick the negatives on this one. A win is a win and the Cats are 6-5 and bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
I’m a sucker for Senior Day sendoffs. Prior to kickoff, fourteen upperclassmen and their families were honored one final time in an emotional ceremony before the homefolks at Commonwealth Stadium. It’s easy for fans to view these players as nothing more than chess pieces on the gridiron—just necessary cogs to be manipulated, cheered and jeered. The reality, however, is that behind every nameless facemask and random jersey is a real live human being–someone with genuine feelings and emotions, an individual with friends and family who support them regardless of performance, and a person passionately pursuing their football dreams and chasing their life aspirations.
Wins and losses define a football team but a football program is defined by the character of its players. This year, the Kentucky football team has been mediocre at best, but its senior class* has been exemplary by nature. Just four short years ago, these fourteen student athletes signed on to make Kentucky Football great again and I’m proud to have covered them all.
I’m especially proud of someone like Ryan Timmons. Most everyone remembers that Ryan was an All World player at Franklin County High School and was heavily recruited by all the big-name schools. Yet, he wanted to come to Kentucky. “I was a Kentucky fan growing up. All my family were UK fans. I grew up watching UK games, wearing UK gear all the time. I came here to change the program and be part of something special.” Throughout his tenure at UK, the program did change to the tune of three different offensive coordinators in a four-year span. Times were tough, and yet Ryan persevered.
Head coach Mark Stoops frequently singled out the speedy wide receiver for his positive attitude and leadership skills during times of adversity. When asked where he learned those qualities, Ryan stressed the importance of his family’s influence. “The positive attitude comes from my mom. My twin sister comes over to my house every Friday to leave me a note of inspiration and motivation. That helps me a lot.”
While other star players often think “me-first”, Ryan’s humble team-first attitude is refreshing and contagious. “I’m part of this team,” he said. “If this team does good, then at the end of the day, it’s going to make me look good because I’m part of this team and part of this program. And I want to make guys around me better because it’s only going to make me better and allow me to get better opportunities. This is the team, the University of Kentucky. I can’t do this by myself and I need others to help.”
Now that’s the kind of young man I want representing my university. The guy oozes class, humility and respect for his coaches, his teammates and for the entire UK program. The Wildcats may only have six wins on the football field this season, but in Ryan Timmons, they’ve had a bon-a-fide champion for the past four years.
“It’s crazy to think my last game in Commonwealth Stadium will be this week. It’s gone by so fast. The highlight of my career will be for us to get a win and to become bowl eligible—something this program hasn’t done in a while. I want that to be the standard.”
My hopes for Ryan are much more grandiose. Next week the Wildcats travel to Papa John’s Stadium attempting to upset the once high and mighty Louisville Cardinals. Bobby Petrino will no doubt be looking to put a million points on the board in an effort to erase the recent embarrassment in Houston. Lamar Jackson will most likely be looking to score fifteen touchdowns in his quest for the Heisman. The Cat’s only real chance to win is for the offense to keep pace and post huge numbers. I’m predicting that the football gods will finally reward Ryan Timmons and teammates with a true career performance worthy of his #1 jersey number. In a shocker, UK 42-UL 40. Now that’s a real Senior Day sendoff that all of BBN will treasure forever.
*Will Thomas Collins, Tanner Fink, J.D. Harmon, Jojo Kemp, Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson, Courtney Miggins, Zach Myers, Ryan Timmons, Jon Toth, Zane Williams, (Alex Montgomery, Dylan Greenberg, and Ramsey Meyers—juniors forgoing their senior season)
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Football Column for Nolan Group Media publications.