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By LARRY VAUGHT
Playing in the Southeastern Conference for 3 1/2 years has taught Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson never to underestimate SEC opponents.
“Everybody is saying the rest of the schedule is going to be a let-up (compared to first six games), but it is not going to get any easier. There are a lot of good teams we still have to play, so it is going to be tough competition. We have to fight to get some good wins and finish off the season,” said Williamson as UK prepares to play at Mississippi State Thursday night.
Williamson has played in all 43 games he’s been at UK. He has 258 career tackles, including 135 in 2012 when he was second in the SEC and seventh nationally in total tackles. This year he has 26 solo stops, 38 assists and 1.5 tackles for loss. He’s also recovered two fumbles.
Even thought UK went 2-10 last year in his first season as a full-time starter and is 1-6 this year, Williamson never seems to let up on the field or lose his smile off the field.
“You have to make it an every day thing. You have to come out here and show the guys that you care. I feel like if you come out here like that, that positivity feeds off to everybody else. You have to stay positive. That’s the only way you can make it through a season and get more wins,” he said.
Teammates notice what he does, too.
“He is a great leader. Just knowing he is at the linebacker position and seeing everything and he can tell us what we didn’t do right and did wrong by filling our gaps is a huge help. He will let you know when you are not right. You have to respect him for what he does on the field,” junior defensive end Za’Darius Smith said.
“He is a good role model. He tries to lead by example as well as by verbal communication and does a great job with that. A lot of guys have got to look up to him and follow the same footsteps so we get on a winning track,” junior defensive end Bud Dupree said.
“He is one of the few people I know that genuinely tries to do everything right,” sophomore cornerback Cody Quinn said. “He is a great guy and great leader and I look forward to seeing him play on Sundays (in the NFL). He definitely will be playing. He does a lot of preparation, and not just stuff on the field. He does a lot of stuff off the field as well. That kind of character goes a long way.
“That’s what I really need to try to do now. Come along and do more preparation stuff instead of just coming out here and playing plays. That’s what my coach tells me all the time that you can’t just come out here and play plays because in the SEC it is not going to work like that. You have to have great preparation on and off the field, and Avery does that.”
Williamson admits that at times he feels like he is trying to set a tone for younger teammates to grasp for future success.
“I am trying to get these guys prepared to be leaders in the future as well and one day when I come back I can see they are making progress. I am trying to be a leader for myself and my younger teammates,” he said.
Williamson draws inspiration from former UK teammate Danny Trevathan, who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Williamson watched how Trevathan worked and did not let on-field setbacks impact his preparation.
“To see that I will have the opportunity next year to go pro like he did does motivate me. It is a dream come true for me to see a guy that played next to me has been successful in the NFL right now. It is something to look up to. I am proud of him and I am ready hopefully next year to get in there and start making some plays myself,” Williamson said. “He worked hard. He never did give up. He’s not that type to give up and I am not either.”
He still believes UK can win games this year.
“I don’t feel like we’ve laid down all year. I feel like we’ve just given up certain plays and didn’t play good at times, but I definitely feel like we’ve been continuing to fight. If we keep that mentality, we can still get some games in the second half of the season,” he said. “The bye week h helped. I feel like my wrist got a lot better and I had some good time to recuperate my body. Definitely my legs feel a lot better from the opportunity to get some rest. It’s tough coming out week to week and never having a time to recuperate at all.”
He hopes to be playing without a cast, maybe even Thursday. He has a “little plate under” a bandage on his wrist.
“Hopefully it will all work out and I won’t have to get back into it (a cast),” he said.
Williamson said the “crazy week” in the SEC last week convinces him UK can pull upsets like other SEC teams did.
“I was really worried about how the schemes would fit and things like that when we changed coaching staffs. Overall, I am impressed with these coaches. They always seem to put us in good positions to make plays and they really know what they are talking about. They are smart coaches and we can win games,” he said.
However, he knows his collegiate career could be over in six games, something he never thought about when he came from Milan, Tenn., to UK.
“It is tough. I can’t believe next month that I have to start making decisions (about my future). It definitely is crazy to think it is almost over with. Hopefully we can make a bowl game to continue the season on a bit longer, but it definitely is crazy knowing the end is near,” he said.
He was an all-state high school linebacker, but he was shunned by many Division I programs and knows even now some still doubt his ability.
“I feel like I proved a lot, but I still have a lot to prove. A lot of people still don’t think I am that type of guy to play in the next level and be drafted. I am going to keep making plays and prove people wrong. That’s the only way I know how to play,” Williamson said.