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By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s being counted on to help anchor the defensive line, the position Kentucky coach Joker Phillips says could be the team’s strongest unit. Yet senior Collins Ukwu is not exactly a prototypical Southeastern Conference defensive lineman.
First, he likes to cook gourmet meals.
“I just like to eat. I try new things. If it is something I cook, then it is something that I have to eat just because I cooked it. I just try to cook as much as I can and I like to do it,” said Ukwu Friday during UK’s Media Day that starts preseason practice. “If I see something in a restaurant, I will try to cook it. It’s just random. I like to eat. I cook for my roommates and they enjoy it, too.”
His favorite meal to cook is not something fancy, but rather something he says “keeps me full” when he’s finished.
“It probably is chicken corden bleu, macaroni and baked beans. Those are my favorites,” Ukwu said.
Second, he liked ballet in high school.
“I did it for a magnet school and we were kind of required to do it. It was ballet and tap dance. I thought it was corny, but me and my friends started to like it and obviously it helped football-wise with my footwork,” the UK senior said. “It is harder than people think. It was pretty funny, too, just me being in the type of slippers that you have to have.
“But it was cool and good experience. I don’t have any pictures. It was an actual class and something we just did.”
Third, he has already finished his degree in community communications and leadership development and is working on a second major in sociology. “I take academics seriously,” Ukwu said.
Collins has already played in 35 games at UK, including 24 starts. He led UK’s linemen in sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (6.5) last year despite missing three games with an injury.
He set a school record with 43 tackles for loss at La Vergne (Tenn.) High School. He played only seven games his senior season because of injury, but had 86 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven quarterback sacks, three fumbles caused, and one fumble recovery. He also played on four straight district championship basketball teams and threw the shot put and discus in track.
There was no football history in his family.
“My older brother played but he quite and didn’t like it,” Ukwu said. “I was the first one to play. All my younger brothers played. Now that’s what we do,” Ukwu said. “I started in the fourth grade when one of my coaches wanted me to come out. He knew I was one of the tallest guys in the class. He wanted me just to come out, try out.
“I was okay because my first love was basketball, so I said okay. I played wide receiver and defensive end. I wanted to play safety, but he said he saw me as defensive end. I was a pretty good catcher. My hands are kind of bad now because I have got D-line hands now. But then I could catch the ball.”
Now his only concern is helping UK’s defensive line contribute to a winning season, something the Cats have not had the last two years. He’s not afraid of the pressure being placed on him and his defensive line teammates to anchor the defense.
“I definitely agree. We are taking that responsibility as well. We feel like everybody around the SEC is looking at us and we are the focal point of the defense. That is something we take responsibility for and want to get better,” Ukwu said. “It’s not pressure. It is just something that we need to live up to and we are ready for that expectation. We actually like the high expectations.
“There are always going to be naysayers and people trying to bring you down. You try to not listen and listen to your coaches and the guys who try to motivate you and listen to each other. That’s what we try to do. We do feel like we have something to prove. We feel like last year was not us at 5-7 at all. We are ready to prove something and ready to be a great team.”
He had to rehab an injured shoulder all summer, but says he’s good to go now.
“It’s doing well. I’m just ready to get after it, ready to start practice. Everything’s going to be fun,” he said at Media Day.
“I’m really excited for this season.”
And that includes more than just the football.
“Just the fun times in camps. Being in dorms and eating in the cafeteria with the guys just dreading practice, just talking about it. Just outside of football, that’s just a good part. With this being my last year, I just want to remember something,” Ukwu said.