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By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — It’s not hard for freshman linebacker Khalid Henderson to describe his playing style that has Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and defensive coordinator Rick Minter so excited.
“Lights out. Always on go. I like to use the term, ‘Straight gas. No brakes.’ Like pedal to the metal. We are always going fast and hard every play,” said the 6-1, 220-pound player from Georgia.
He made 74 tackles and had two interceptions at Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, Ga., last season and was ranked as the nation’s No. 19 outside linebacker by ESPN.
“He’s a very focused, very determined, willing to learn. He came for spring practice, and all he did was follow Rick Minter. He’s a Rick Minter type of guy. He’s a ball coach is what he is on the field, and you better have that at the linebacker position,” Phillips said Friday during UK’s Media Day.
Kentucky does not have a returning starting linebacker, one reason Minter expects to give Henderson a long look in preseason practice.
“I know what the older guys can do. I have to find out what he can do, and I think he can do plenty,” Minter said.
Henderson hopes so.
“I feel like the opportunity to play this year is there. I just have to put in the work to reflect that and then my coaches will tell me if my time and work are there,” Henderson said.
Here are other thoughts he shared during Media Day.
Question: Did you have a scholarship offer from Air Force?
Henderson: “That was my first offer. It kind of did intrigue me. First, I was honored to be offered by Air Force. That is a prestigious school, very prestigious. I was doing backflips in the middle of the street and everything when I got that first offer and I felt proud it was them and got that first offer.”
Question: Did you consider going to Air Force?
Henderson: “I actually did consider them because one of my high school teammates was committed there and went there. I did consider them.”
Question: If you were being recruited by Air Force, is it fair to assume academics are important to you and your family?
Henderson: “I am good in academics. My mom does not play about academics. She never let me get lackadaisical about that. She would get on me if needed. She instilled those values in me at a young age to come home, do your homework and stuff.”
Question: How fast are you?
Henderson: “I am very fast. My fastest recorded time in high school was a 4.47 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) but probably now about a 4.51 one. That is my speed right now.”
Question: How big a part of your play is determined by your speed?
Henderson: “What gets me to the ball is my instinct for the game. I know my opponent than they know themselves. I promise.”
Question: So do you just love studying film?
Henderson: “Yes. I am a coach Minter guy. I want to learn all I can and take advantage of every opportunity to learn.”
Question: How big a role has his your family played in your football career?
Henderson: “I have a great family. I love them to death. They will be here for Fan Day and it will be great to see them. I haven’t seen them in a while. They are going to be wherever I am.
“My mother has been the backbone for my whole life. She has always been there for me. She never ran out on me. She is always there to protect me and give me support any time I need it. She was happy when I picked Kentucky, too. She loved it. She never wanted me to be to close to home. She always felt that if I stayed at home, it would never give me room to grow. Being here in Lexington is not too far from home, but it is not too close, either.”
Question: Did you realize UK and linebackers coach Chuck Smith have had at least one linebacker named all-SEC for six straight years?
Henderson: “Yeah, that had a big impact on me coming here. I just felt like timing was there. I felt like I could come in, make an impact and keep that ball rolling with great SEC linebackers.”
Question: Did you know Wesley Woodyard or Braxton Kelley, two Georgia players who came here and became all-SEC linebackers?
Henderson: “I knew Wesley. I knew Kelley. Most of the whole team here is Georgia, too. It’s a great place for Georgia guys, but I knew those two (Woodyard and Kelley) had great careers here.”
Question: What have you thought of the talent on the team?
Henderson: “The freshman class is outstanding and I also have been surprised by the talent on the field, too, that has already been established. I feel like the talent is here. It is a great opportunity for us this season.”
Question: What freshman offensive players have impressed you?
Henderson: “I would say (running back) Dyshawn Mobley, (quarterback) Jalen Whitlow, (running back) Justin Taylor and (receiver) A.J. Legree. I have been highly impressed by those four guys.”
Question: Could you tackle Mobley and Taylor?
Henderson: “It would be no problem. No problem at all.”