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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s lack of depth and experience in the secondary made getting junior college signee Nate Willis on campus a priority for Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. The Florida native finally got to UK Wednesday and began practice Thursday. However, Willis warned Friday not to expect miracles from him.
“It’s not really a savior deal. I’m just here to do my part. It’s really a team matter. It’s 10 other guys, so everyone has to do their part and the defense come together,” said Willis. “It’s really not a savior deal because I really can’t do it by myself. As long as 11 play together, everything should be good.”
Willis had been waiting for word he passed two online courses this summer to finish his degree at Arizona Western College. Once he did, he headed to UK immediately.
“I really haven’t unpacked,” Willis said. “I was fired up. I was just ready to get here and go to work.”
Stoops liked what he saw from Willis immediately.
“I did see some good things from Nate,” Stoops said. “I do. I think he’s got some good ability. It’s good to see.”
Kentucky is low on depth at cornerback after J.D. Harmon was dismissed from the team for academic reasons and expected starter Cody Quinn went down with what has been described as a minor ankle injury. That has left sophomore Fred Tiller and true freshmen Blake McClain and Jaleel Hytchye getting first-team work.
Stoops, the former Florida State defensive coordinator, says Willis can catch up despite not being on campus all summer.
“That’s the good thing about corner,” Stoops said. “It’s very hard in application, but really pretty easy in theory really. You’re not reinventing the wheel as far as assignments with cornerbacks. But if they can cover somebody, they can help us.”
Willis thinks he can do that. He worked out on his own and his junior college coaches kept in contact with him during the summer. He said Friday he was in “fair shape” when he got to UK.
“You can never (duplicate) what’s going to go on out here in practice,” Willis said. “That’s my job: come here and cover, play my part in the defense and just try to help the defense get better at what we do. And that’s stopping people.”
The 6-0, 180-pound Willis had six interceptions the last two seasons. He was rated the No. 3 junior college cornerback nationally by 247Sports.com and the No. 54 overall junior college prospect by Rivals.com.
“He’s got good length. He’s got good ball skills. Very quick in and out of his breaks,” cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. “He’s very instinctive, meaning that he can anticipate routes, he understands leverages and he’s got ball skills once the ball’s in the air.”
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot was also impressed.
“He’s very quick and very athletic. He’s long, he’s tall. Not all our corners have those assets.”