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By LARRY VAUGHT
He was considered a “tackling machine” at Godby High School in Tallahassee, Fla., when he ranked sixth in the state with 143 tackles as a junior and followed that with 142 stops as a senior to earn him a spot among the nation’s top 40 high school linebackers in several recruiting rankings, including ESPN.
However, Kadeem “Pancho” Thomas says there is no big secret to why he made so many plays and hopes to do the same at Kentucky. “That is the way I am. You can’t let it come to you. You have to go get it. I am not fast at all. I just have a nose for the ball. I love contact. I love to be there every time. I like to hit,” said the UK freshman linebacker.
Here’s what else he had to say at the team’s recent media day (freshmen are off limits to the media now until after UK plays at Louisville Sept. 2).
Question: How is your health? Are you back to 100 percent after some issues during the summer?
Thomas: “I am good. I strained my hamstring earlier this summer, but it was nothing major. I was back in about two weeks and I am good now. I am back running. It was nothing that really set me back.”
Question: What has the summer in Lexington been like for you?
Thomas: “It was very different than back home in Florida. The weather is different. I just came in and the weight program was different than what I was used to. I was used to working, but this is different, harder. (Strength) Coach (Rock) Oliver is not always fun. He is no joke when it is time to work.”
Question: Have academics always been a big part of your life/family?
Thomas: “My mom wouldn’t let us do anything until our homework was done. You couldn’t go outside without doing your homework first. She would not even let us play some games without doing our homework. There were times I didn’t get to play in Pop Warner (football) growing up. I realized if I wanted to play ball, I had to get my work done. She made sure of that. I appreciate that a lot more now. I know what I have to do now to be successful.”
Question: How good is your brother, a highly-touted running back who has made his verbal commitment to UK?
Thomas: “He is pretty good. I don’t want to speak too highly of him, but he’s pretty good.”
Question: Did you have a lot of one-on-one battles with him growing up?
Thomas: “Yes we did. We go back and forth all the time in practice. I would get him, he would get me. Sometimes I would be slacking and he would try to run me over like, ‘I am here. Wake up.’”
Question: Did it surprise you when he committed to Kentucky?
Thomas: “It really didn’t. He was always talking about it when we would just be sitting around the house and chillin’ and stuff. He called me up and one night and said he was ready to make his decision and I asked him where he was going. He said, ‘Kentucky.’ I didn’t believe him until I saw it all over Twitter.
“I didn’t pressure him. I just left that up to him. I wouldn’t want anyone to pressure me to go anywhere or somewhere I didn’t want to go. He was always talking to me about how I would feel and told him wherever he was happy, I would be happy for him. Even if I had to play against him at Florida or something, I would be happy. I told him, ‘Just know that I will try to take your head off.’”
Question: What is one thing UK fans probably don’t know about you that might surprise them?
Thomas: “Everything speaks for itself. What you see is what you get with me.”
Question: What do you think of freshman linebacker Khalid Henderson?
Thomas: “I think that we are going to do something, me and him. I am pretty excited to play next to him. Kentucky has had great linebackers here. If you want to be the best, you have to play for the best and (linebackers) coach (Chuck) Smith has had great success with his linebackers here. I know how good they have been.”
Question: Is your goal to play this year?
Thomas: “That is my goal. I am going to try my best in camp and whatever the coaches decide, that is what they decide and will be fine with me. But I would like to play.”