By LARRY VAUGHT
While admitting he’s never had a more mentally demanding season than last year, Kentucky senior tight end Jordan Aumiller says a new coaching staff and new offense have rejuvenated him and made football fun again.
“Change has been really good for me. Just something new. Like they (the coaches) said, you got a clean slate in spring practice and come out and show what you can do every day. It is spring ball and everybody is wanting to show what they can do. It has been fun. It is tough, but I think we are getting better,” said Aumiller. “I definitely think everybody comes out here with a lot more energy and bounce in their step. Coach (Mark) Stoops is a good coach. Everybody enjoys that. (Offensive coordinator) Coach (Neal) Brown and individual position coaches are good. It is just exciting and something new. Now that we have the fans back into it, everybody is looking forward to the spring game (on April 13).”
Aumiller, one of five returning tight ends with experience, has played in 26 games and made nine starts — all but one his freshman season when he had 18 catches for 193 yards and one score. He was named to the Southeastern Conference all-freshman team by league coaches and selected as a fourth team freshman All-American by Phil Steele’s College Football.
However, he quickly got into then tight ends coach Greg Nord’s doghouse in the 2011 opener against Western Kentucky. That was the only game he started. He played in 10 games in 2011, but only got in only three games last year and had to watch UK’s offense struggle for yards and scores during the 2-10 finish that cost coach Joker Phillips his job.
Recently Brown indicated Aumiller, a two-time all-state performer at Boyle County who played five positions including quarterback, was at the top of the tight end depth chart. Aumiller tried to downplay that by noting he was “just trying to do what coach Brown and (tight ends) coach (Vince) Marrow” wanted him to do.
“I still have a lot of room to improve,” Aumiller said. “Right now the depth chart really doesn’t mean much. I just want to get out there and help the team in whatever way I can. If I happen to get the No. 1 spot, that is awesome. But I just want to get back to a bowl game for my last year.”
Still, he admits just being back in the conversation for playing time — something that never happened after the 2011 opening game — is exciting.
“Just do whatever I can to get on field. I just want a chance,” he said.
What kept him off the field the last two years?
“I don’t know. Just different reasons. This new coaching staff has brought some excitement back to football. This is my last year and I definitely want to make the most of it,” Aumiller said. “I need to get a lot better at running my routes. I think I have definitely improved on blocking this spring. I just have to get better at running routes down the field in this offense.
“We (tight ends) pretty much have to do everything in this offense. We have to be able to run down the field and clear out routes, run corner routes or line up and block the defensive end on a power play or line up and go block the cornerback on a screen play. You have to do a little bit of everything. I think there are a lot of opportunities for the tight end to make plays, though. I think we have been playing pretty well collectively as a group. The receivers are young and we are getting pretty old, so we have to make plays.”
Aumiller, who played linebacker when he first got to UK before moving to tight end after his redshirt season, said his time has “gone by super fast.” He could graduate this summer if he wanted, but plans to wait and take his final classes in the fall and graduate in December.
While this will be his fourth Blue-White Game, this is one he can’t wait for with a record crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 anticipated based on tickets given out so far.
“I know everybody keeps talking about will that many people really show up and we hope that many people come out. That just gives us something to play for. No one really sees all the time and stuff we have to do behind the scenes and it is just something that we look forward to,” he said. “For me, just to get back out and play in front of a crowd, especially being from Kentucky and this being my last spring game, is really exciting.”
Even though UK’s freshmen recruits won’t arrive on campus until June, Aumiller believes the Cats are going to be better than last year.
“From an offensive standpoint just schematically it helps out a lot. It is pretty simple and easy to run and confidence in football is so important. Football is so mental and about believing in yourself and believing in your teammates. The defense will be more simple for them also and let everybody play to their abilities,” Aumiller said. “We all now truly believe we can win.
“Last year was rough. Going 2-10 was my worst football year. I went like 5-7 or something at Boyle and that was pretty rough. But nothing like 2-10. Coaches (this spring) always tell us if someone has a bad play, that is 2-10 mentality and we have to change that. You are going to get out of it what you put into it and you have to change what you put into it.”
Even during his losing season at Boyle, Aumiller was on the field and had a chance to contribute. Last season he just watched.
“I have never done that. It was tough mentally and physically having to come out and practice every day and not seeing results that you want. We are just looking forward to this year and I know I just want a chance to get back out there and play,” Aumiller said.
He said there was nothing anyone could really do to help him last year.
“You can’t really look to anybody else for help like that. You just have to put it on yourself and do it,” Aumiller said. “These coaches are giving me a chance and now it is up to me, nobody else, to show what I can do.”