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By LARRY VAUGHT
At times, adjusting to playing for Kentucky has been a bit easier than Franklin County freshman receiver Ryan Timmons thought it would be. At other times, it has been a bit harder.
“I have been able to adapt to the offense and the different speeds. It’s not much harder than high school, but there are a lot of different calls and things like that and obviously the defenses are a lot better,” said Timmons. “I don’t think anyone can be totally ready for the speed of the game and playing against such great players every day and every game. Scoring and getting open is not easy. The competition is so much better than anything you have faced before.”
Yet Timmons is more than holding his own going into Saturday’s game against No. 1 Alabama. He has even been named to the College Football performance Awards 2013 National Freshman Performer of the Year Watch List.
He has 19 receptions for 208 yards, including six against Florida, and made his first scoring catch last week at South Carolina — a 14-yard play in the corner of the end zone. He’s rushed eight times for 11 yards. He’s averaging 11 yards each time he touches the football. His only major mistake was a fumble in the opening game against Western Kentucky.
“He’s a playmaker, but we knew that when we got him,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He works and he’s just going to get better and better.”
Timmons, a five-time state track champion, was sensational in high school. He rushed for 1,306 yards and 25 touchdowns his senior season, averaging an amazing 15.7 yards per attempt, and caught 33 passes for 1,004 yards and 16 scores. He returned all three kickoffs to him for touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed 62 times for 1,382 yards and 20 touchdowns and had 38 receptions for 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I am surprised by the success I’ve had,” Timmons said. “I just want to be a player to make plays for the team when they need me.”
His success has been good for his family and high school coaches as well.
“I talk to my coaches. They are proud of me making plays at the next level and they told me if I had a good work ethic, I would have no problems making plays here,” Timmons said. “My family is very proud of me for what I’ve done. They are close to me and they are glad I am here at UK where they can see me. But they are really proud.
“It’s really good for me to have that support. If I have a bad game, I can go back home and talk to my mom and see her. She is such a positive person. I can see teammates that don’t have that close support. That’s what I try to help with. We have a lot of guys from Kentucky on the team, so if a teammate needs support, they can go with one of us to our family and talk to them.”
He’s also been pleased with his relationship with Brown, one of the primary reasons he picked UK.
“Coach Brown is a lot of fun. I knew it was very exciting what he had done in the past and he’s going to do that here. He wants us playing very fast. You can’t ever let down because he’s always on the go and wants you that way,” Timmons said. “We can move forward and improve a lot. We have a lot of room to keep getting better.”
That includes the way he feels about his play.
“My whole game has to get better. Running routes smoother and better. Quicker off the ball than I am now. Work on my blocking. Blocking is not the hardest thing, but it just takes a lot of effort,” Timmons said. “In high school, I didn’t have to put that effort into blocking.
“But the games are great. I like to play against the best. If you want to be the best. you need to play againsts them. I am really excited for games like what we are playing now (UK is playing four straight top 20 teams for the first time in school history). When I committed here, I knew these were the games we would play and I was ready then to get out there.”
Timmons says even his academic work has been fine.
“That’s not a big problem. We have tutors and study sessions to help us out. It’s not as difficult as I thought. You just have to stay organized and keep up with your work, just like in football,” he said.
After UK lost to Western Kentucky, some wondered about the direction of the UK program. However, improved play against Florida and South Carolina even in losses has shown that new coach Mark Stoops is making his team better.
“I am very confident about my decision to come here. I am glad I came to UK. I am happy where I am and would not want to be any other place,” Timmons said.
He tries to convey that same message to recruits when he can.
“When they are around, I talk to them. I don’t want to be all over their back, but if they ask me something, I tell them. They know they are free to ask me anything about Kentucky, and I will tell them straight,” Timmons said. “I try to let them have their own time, but I also get in a few comments about what a great place this is and how great we are going to be in the future.”