By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky was outscored 31-0 in the second half by South Carolina and had less than 50,000 fans at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night, but that didn’t keep Atlanta tight end Darnell Dowdell from enjoying the game-night atmosphere.
“It was already in the back of my mind to maybe commit to Kentucky when we came up, but just the whole atmosphere made me want to go ahead and do it,” said Dowdell.
That’s why Dowdell became the 13th player to verbally commit to UK’s 2013 recruiting class. He also had scholarship offers from North Carolina State, Louisville, Indiana, Wake Forest, Maryland, Middle Tennessee and Georgia Tech.
“They have been recruiting me for a long time,” the 6-4, 230-pound tight end who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds said. “The coaches have been very good recruiting me.”
Marcus Caffey, his former teammate at Grady High School, also told him good things about the program even though he’s academically ineligible this season and recently was cited for marijuana possession. He also got to talk to sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree.
“They told me good things about Kentucky and that the program could get me where I want to be,” Dowdell, who has a 3.4 grade-point average and plans to major in sports medicine or mathematics, said.
He has played in only two games this year because of a hairline fracture in his lower leg. He’s able to run, but has not been back in the lineup because of a chance he could break his leg. He’s scheduled to have the leg examined again later this week.
Kentucky’s tight ends have not been reliable playmakers the last two seasons, something Dowdell believes he could change.
“I describe myself as a playmaker. I will make plays when no one else will. I put the team on my back every game I play,” Dowdell said. “I do play defense also. I like defense. A couple of schools have mentioned me playing defense, but most want me at receiver or tight end.”
Dowdell recently saw hometown Georgia Tech lose in overtime to Miami (Fla.) and says he was “serious” about playing for Tech.
“But they run the option offense, not an offense like Kentucky where I would fit in better and be able to use my receiving skills,” he said.
Dowdell said UK’s 1-4 record didn’t worry him, either.
“I feel like they have a young team and have time to progress in the future,” he said. “I went to camp there in July and really liked it then. I feel like I can change the program, that I can make plays when they need it. A team’s record doesn’t change my opinion too much about the future. The program can be good and I want to be part of that.”
That’s due in large part to coach Joker Phillips even if he is under fire from many Kentucky fans.
“He’s always told me I was a guy that could make plays and be a real threat for defenses to worry about,” Dowdell said. “He is one of the big reasons I want to play at Kentucky. He is a cool guy. I talk to him pretty often. He always has something good to say to me, especially during camp. You can tell guys like playing for him.”