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By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore defensive backs Daron and Zach Blaylock made about a one-hour trip to a Gainesville, Ga., hospital to see injured UK teammate Ashely Lowery. He was hurt in an early Saturday morning traffic accident near his hometown of Cleveland, Ga., when he lost control of his car, it flipped several times and he was ejected. Lowery was scheduled to be moved out of intensive care Wednesday night.
“People are flocking to the hospital to see him,” said John Woods, the Blaylock twins’ stepfather. “They had been calling his cell phone and not getting an answer. Finally (UK assistant) coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto called and talked to them and we got his mom’s cell phone number. They went and spent time with him in ICU. They said he could hardly walk, his neck was stiff and he had cuts all over him. But he sat up and talked to them.
“Things are looking better. I don’t know when he will be ready to play football, but he’s lucky to be alive. But he’s going to make it. They said he hopes to be out of the hospital Thursday or Friday. He was happy to see them. They are going to the beach for a couple of days and he told them, ‘I wish you could take me with you.’ I think he is getting cabin fever and climbing the walls just a bit.”
Woods said his sons had told him often that Lowery “is just a great kid” that everyone likes.
By LARRY VAUGHT
One reason John Woods was glad his sons, Daron and Zack Blaylock, came to Kentucky was to play for coach Joker Phillips. However, the Georgia twins and their family could not be happier with the way things have worked out since Phillips’ dismissal and the arrival of coach Mark Stoops and his staff.
“Daron and Zack call quite a bit and seem to love the new coaching staff,” Woods said. “They are very excited. They like (defensive coordinator) D.J. Elliot. They like their position coach. They said Stoops is really involved in the defense. Joker was a great man, but he was not involved in the coaching like Stoops is.
“I’ll admit I was very apprehensive when Joker left. I have a lot of friends and family members who have gone through coaching changes and it was not good for them. Kids transfer or get unhappy. You just hope it will turn out to be a positive thing, but this move seems really positive for the players.”
He said the Blaylocks, both safeties, enjoyed the winter workouts to get ready for spring practice and were “extremely happy” with the team’s attitude and performance during the offseason.
“We’ve got some good reports from people on a lot of things,” Woods said. “One (UK assistant) coach talked to their high school coach and said their grades were both good, which is always good to know. They seem to be having fun and they both are in position to get to play a lot.”
He noted that several other Georgia players could also be starting for UK in the fall based on what he’s heard.
“You could maybe have eight to 10 guys from Georgia starting,” Woods said. “In a couple of years, with the way Stoops is recruiting Ohio, you could see that happen there. You want players from states where football is important and it is important in Ohio and Georgia.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He made a big impression with his play as a true freshman, but now Kentucky sophomore safety Daron Blaylock says he is even better because he is picking up a new system even faster than he anticipated.
“The scheme is great. I am picking it up real fast, so I am better prepared now,” said Blaylock. “I didn’t really understand as much last year as I do now. The more I understand now, the better I play.”
He’s moved to the top of the depth chart at safety where coach Bradley Dale Peveto is taking a look at about 10 players this spring.
“I like competition and everything. I am starting right now, so that is pretty good,” he said. “Coach (Peveto) is cool. He is a funny guy. When it comes to working hard, he is serious and gets us ready and everything.
“He is trying to get us prepared for offenses that want to do no huddle and have us ready and not freaking out and lined up and ready to play. He gets us playing smart and fast.”
Blaylock says there is one major difference between the position he played in 2012 and the one he will this season.
“The difference is there is not as much you need think about when you are trying to play,” Blaylock said. “You key your quarterback and man you need to key instead of looking at three or four different guys. It is a big difference
“The system this year is more where you just go play. It is not too simple. You have to think but it is a big jump from what it was last year. It’s not like high school, but lot better. It helps, too, to go against our offense. It makes you want to think fast and get the tempo down.”
One thing that is different this year is that he is competing with his brother, Zack, at safety.
“We are playing the same position. We have a competition going on. We have always been the opposite side of each other. It is kind of weird actually to be playing the same spot,” Blaylock said. “I am starting right now, but he is good, too. We’ll just have to see how it all works out.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky really beat Tennessee twice in a row in football? Could it really happen in years when Kentucky football has not been that god?
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter says for that to happen, UK will have to slow down what he thinks might be the best offensive team that Kentucky has played this season. The Volunteers rank 13th nationally in passing offense,averaging 317.6 yards a game and are 23rd in total offense nationally with 477.6 yards per contest.
However, he says Kentucky’s players continue to prepare well and not be distracted by the firing of coach Joker Phillips two weeks ago.
“Kids are always bounce back, no matter what happens in life,” Minter said. “They are much more resilient than adults because they don’t think about it too much, they just do it. We will wish them well and pull for them always. Kentucky will always have a special place in your heart because whenever you work somewhere for a while you give it everything you have. Therefore when you leave, you leave some of yourself behind.”
Whoever the next Kentucky coach is, Minter said the future is bright with talented underclassmen on defense.
“All the kids on the back end that have played and contributed this year, some in a mighty role, others in a minor role, are all going to be good players,” Minter said. “You just mark it down — the Blaylocks (Daron and Zack) are going to be good players, the young corners all three of them (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon) are going to be good players, (Khalid) Henderson is going to be a good player, (Pancho) Thomas is going to be a good player. There are three defensive linemen that you have never seen because they are being redshirted but they are going to be good solid guys, whether it be (Patrick) Graffree, (Thomas) Chapman, (Langston) Newton.
“There are others, I don’t want to be remiss (in not mentioning them), but it is a bright future. How bright, who knows? But it is a much brighter future than it was a few years ago looking down the road of guys finally getting into this program.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s not hard for Kentucky coach Joker Phillips to note what he likes best about the five true freshmen defensive backs the Wildcats have been forced to play this season because of injuries in the secondary.
“They are doing a really good job competing. They are showing up every day and competing really hard,” said Phillips as UK (1-7) prepares to play at Missouri (3-4) Saturday.
Cornerback Cody Quinn and Zack Blaylock both played 72 plays against Georgia. Cornerback Fred Tiller logged 60 plays. Safety Daron Blaylock and cornerback J.D. Harmon also played.
“With young guys, sometimes you worry about conditioning and being able to hold up against a team as physical as Georgia,” Phillips said. “But they all came up and made tackles.”
Tiller had eight tackles against Georgia, Zack Blaylock seven and Quinn four.
“They delivered the blows. That is the thing I am most proud of,” Phillips said. “Those guys will compete. Don’t back down from anything.
“You don’t see those guys change when they get beat and they will get beat. They’re young kids that still try to find their way, but their demeanor doesn’t change when they give up a play. Cody Quinn gave up a big pass and then a touchdown on the slant, and when he came off, I grabbed him and just wanted to look him in his eyes and see what I saw, and I saw still a confident guy but really didn’t believe that the guy had beat him, had signaled touchdown.
“He was one of those guys you feel good about that you have to play that way if you’re playing corner. It’s not every position. But you have to play that way when you’re playing corner and the thing I’m most proud about is those guys, their demeanor just never changes. And Harmon is the same way, both Blaylocks are the same way. All five of those guys playing in the secondary, it’s unusual for you to have five freshmen that have the confidence level that those guys have.”
Phillips also likes the way the freshmen seldom miss tackles.
“That’s the thing we want to improve being a better tackling team. And you saw Fred Tiller get cut two times on a screen pass, jumps over the cut block, falls down, misses the tackle but then makes it for a 2‑yard gain. So those guys, Cody Quinn does not miss a lot of tackles,” Phillips said. “A lot has to do with being better athletes starting to be better understand how to run their feet. Come from good programs. Cody Quinn is one of our strongest guys in this freshman class. So we’re starting to get guys that are physically and athletic enough to run through and understand balance. That’s what you have to have when you’re tackling, you have to be balanced when you come up to make a tackle.”
Kentucky has allowed almost 800 yards passing the last two games, but will apparently not have to face Missouri quarterback James Franklin. He’s listed as doubtful again with a knee injury as the Tigers will go with backup Corbin Berstresser at quarterback.
The Wildcats will again start freshman Jalen Whitlow at quarterback, but freshman Patrick Towles apparently will play. He played briefly against Mississippi State — and led one touchdown drive — before injuring his ankle and missing the last two games.
“I thought he did a good job this week of moving around better than I ever would’ve thought. He has continued to tell us how fast of a healer he is, and he is. He looked good today — all week, really, moving around. Especially once he took the air cast off,” Phillips said Thursday.
By LARRY VAUGHT
They neither one like losing, but they both are enjoying the opportunity to play — even in somewhat limited roles at this point of the season. Twins Daron and Zack Blaylock of Georgia were two of only six healthy defensive backs left when UK ended Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State. That’s why Zack got his first playing time in the secondary and made four tackles in 23 plays while Daron, who has played in every game except the opener, added another tackle when he was in the secondary.
“It’s tough losing, but nothing I can’t handle,” Zack said. “You just have to keep working and going forward.”
“It is frustrating. I don’t like losing. We just have to play better,” Daron said. “You can’t get mad about what has happened in the past. You just have to move forward and find ways to win.”
The brothers both thought they could play this year after superb careers at Walton High School in Marietta. Their team was 14-1 and Class AAAAA runner-up in 2011. Daron was ranked as one of the nation’s top 100 linebackers by Scout.com and Zack was rated as the nation’s 34th best safety by Rivals.com.
“These two Blaylock kids, those guys, I’m excited to watch those guys play. They come up and strike people. So you get excited to watch them play,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.
However, Zack was scheduled to be redshirted until injuries continued to mount for UK in the secondary. When safety Martavius Neloms went out with a hamstring pull and safety Ashley Lowery was already out with a concussion, he got his chance to play.
I wasn’t expecting it to begin with. I was going to redshirt. Injuries just caused me to be ready to go and I was ready cause the coaches told me to be ready,” Zack said. “I learned the calls and stuff because I knew if something happened I might have to go in and play. And it was fun to be out there playing with my brother.”
Daron estimated the two were on the field “six or seven plays” together.
“That was pretty cool, just like high school,” Daron said. “It was a good experience. He didn’t really expect to be playing this year, but things happen and he was out there and ready to play. We wanted to play. It is not bad at all. The hard thing is getting adjusted to the defense. Once you started learning the defense and everything, it was fairly smooth. The speed hasn’t shocked me or anything. I feel like I am in there able to make plays and so does he.”
Senior linebacker Avery Williamson says the twins are both good teammates and good players. “One is more quiet than other, but they are good guys. They are more the quiet type and don’t talk much. But I like them. They are both really good players, too,” Williamson said.
But they are different. Phillips quickly learned that during the recruiting process.
“Zack was really not the talkative guy, he’s more the shy one. And Daron’s the talker,” the Kentucky coach said. “And so one of the things we did throughout this recruiting process is we wouldn’t call Zack, we would call Daron’s phone, because Zach didn’t always answer his phone. And it wasn’t us, it was just he just didn’t … you know how that goes.
“So he just doesn’t want to talk. But the thing we did do is we called Daron, Daron would answer every time and we’d say, ‘Is Zack there? Yeah. Put him on the phone.’ So now he’s got no choice but to talk to you. But that was one of the differences. Usually twins are close enough that you know that they want to go to the same place. So we were creative and understanding who we needed to talk to. And the one we needed to talk to was Daron. He could sell Zack. And that’s what happened.”
The Blaylocks are two of the 14 true freshmen to play this year. That’s one of the highest total of true freshmen players any team in the country has used.
“I think it is good. It gives us experience and stuff. It better be good,” Zack laughed and said.
“It is a great experience, I guess. We are kind of young. We just want to go out and get better for the next game,” Daron said. “We don’t really talk separate as freshmen about what we are doing or our future. We talk as a whole team. We just say next man up and all be ready to go. We’ve had some injuries, so we just have to toughen up and play young.”
Zack will get his first Southeastern Conference road experience this Saturday night when UK plays at Arkansas.
“I will probably get more reps on special teams and see if I can play more there and just keep practicing with the team and learning,” he said. “It does feel good to play. It was hard not to play, especially watching my brother go out there and get playing time. This is all different here. I wasn’t ready for all this, but it just happens and you go with the flow. I felt I played okay (last week), but I have to get better and work more to learn all the calls and stuff this week.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s secondary will have three true freshmen and one player who left the team for personal reasons last season at the backup spots for the four starters for the season-opening game at Louisville Saturday.
I asked UK coach Joker Phillips today to evaluate the strength of those backup players today since he had not talked about the true freshmen during the preseason. Here’s what he had to say:
“Daron Blaylock is the number two guy at safety. He’s a guy that’s really smart, really physical. He was a guy we originally penciled in when we signed him to be a Sam back, the hybrid guy. He’s more athletic than we thought. Smart kid. Comes from a really good background at Walton High School in Marietta (Ga.). So we moved him to safety. We actually had to do it one day when we had a bunch of safeties out. You come out of the lineup, somebody goes in. This guy goes in, was able to get lined up, was able to come down here and make plays for us. Therefore, he will be the backup,” Phillips said.
“Fred Tiller is another guy. I won’t talk about these guys until they play, but he’s a guy that is a really smooth athlete, he’s long. He looks lean, but he’s thicker than he looks. He doesn’t look like a fifth‑year senior. Sixth‑year senior, Trevard Lindley, he’s even thicker than him. He’s a guy that got into our two‑deep.
“Dakotah Tyler, he was really battling for the starting position with Mikie Benton. I think a lot that hurt him, he wasn’t here in the spring and missed a lot of reps. But he’s a guy that’s capable of being a starter before the season is over. Excited about getting him back.
“J.D. Harmon, he was originally a receiver. Our strength and conditioning coaches saw him this summer, saw his athletic ability. When we get down in numbers at the corner position, the one guy that we thought could go over there and line up would be J.D. He’s done an unbelievable job. He’s a real physical guy. He’s a real long guy. Stronger than most freshmen that come in here in the secondary. Therefore, he’ll be one of the backup corners also. Be probably our first guy to go in in our nickel situation. I’m not saying he’ll play nickel, but he’ll be the fifth to go in the game.”
By MIKE MARSEE
They were always going to be a package deal.
From the time they began hearing from college coaches, there was never any question that Daron and Zack Blaylock were going to the same school. The twins have too tight a bond with each other, too many shared experiences, too much in common to go their separate ways just yet.
So long before the two freshman safeties knew they were coming to Kentucky, they came to the realization that wherever they were going, they were going together.
“We had the question, but we kind of knew we were going to,” Daron Blaylock said. “We’ve done everything together.”
They are two peas in a pod, but they are not quite alike. Daron, who is 12 minutes older, is also bigger (6-1, 215 pounds vs. 6-0, 188) and has bulked up a bit more since their arrival at Kentucky earlier this summer. On the other hand, Zack is the one college recruiters wanted most.
“I’ve got the same speed, but I’ve gotten a whole lot bigger than I was when I first came here,” said Daron, who played both safety and linebacker at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga.
“He’s, like, the roll-down safety, the strong safety. I’m the back, the free safety,” Zack said.
Daron is the most talkative of the two, typically taking the lead in conversation. But it was apparently Zack who took the lead when it came to taking a hard look at Kentucky.
Daron said he had been enthralled by a visit to Wake Forest last fall before the two gave Kentucky a look.
“Before we came to Kentucky or talked to anybody from here … I was like, ‘Oh, I love this place,’ but Zack was like, ‘No, let’s visit Kentucky before we make our decision,” he said.
So they did, taking the visit together as they had done with all their recruiting trips.
“I came up here for a visit, and I was like, ‘This is where I want to be,’ Zack said.
“And that’s when I fell in love with Kentucky,” Daron added.
The two committed to Kentucky in September, then went on to lead their high school team to a 14-1 season and a trip to the state finals. Zack had 11 interceptions and returned five of them for touchdowns and was voted to the all-state first team by the Georgia Sports Writers Association; Daron had 95 tackles and was named to the second team.
Now they say they are prepared for the fact that their collegiate careers may not follow identical tracks.
“We don’t really think about it. We don’t really know what’s going to happen right now,” Daron said. “We like to compete, but it wouldn’t really affect us,” Daron said of the possibility of one of them rising up the depth chart faster than the other.
They come by their competitive nature honestly. Their father is Mookie Blaylock, who starred for the 1988 national runner-up basketball team at Oklahoma and enjoyed a 13-year career in the National Basketball Association. Their mother, Janelle Woods, who remarried when the twins were 9 years old after she and Blaylock divorced, was an all-conference volleyball player at Oklahoma.
Since their days in middle school, the twins’ game has been football, and they’re looking forward to raising their game at Kentucky.
“We’ve been working hard, but we’ve got to come out in fall camp and compete, and we’ll see what happens,” Zack said.
Football isn’t the only thing that stokes their competitive fires, however.
“We’re competitive at a lot of things: video games, girls, what not,” Daron said.
The two are seldom seen apart, and when they came to UK, they naturally chose to room together.
“Why not? We like the same things anyway,” Daron said. “We both like the same video games and everything. We have the same group of friends. It’s very rare we do something separate.”
Their video game battles are legendary, with each claiming to be the best before Daron grudgingly gave an inch.
“When it comes to ‘Call of Duty,’ he’s better. At ‘Halo,’ I’m better,” he said.
Their competitions even extend to fishing, a sport the two got serious about in high school.
“We used to fish when we were little with our dad and our grandfather, but we didn’t get serious until our freshman year of high school,” Zack said.
“One of our (teammates) in high school who transferred in, he’s a big fisherman, and we tried fishing with him and just started liking it,” Daron added.
So who’s better with a rod and reel?
“Me,” Zack piped up.
“He gets lucky. I’m a better fisherman,” Daron answered.
They got to try their luck recently in the pond behind coach Joker Phillips’ Lakewood home, but only one of them caught a fish.
“We went to coach Phillips’ house the other day and I caught a carp,” Zack said.
“Carp are easy to catch,” Daron shot back. “It’s the bass and the trout that count.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
It didn’t take Kentucky coach Joker Phillips to find a way to make the most of his own Big Blue fish story after he recently had the incoming freshmen football players over to his house and some went fishing in a pond out back.
“You saw one of the other freshmen in the boat paddling so he could have his hands free. You saw Zack Blaylock — he was the one who snagged it — and saw his brother (Daron Blaylock), one guy holding the other one so he could try to hold on and not fall in the pond. That right there showed me that these guys really like each other, they like working together.”
Good story. But was it true.
ABSOLUTELY because this picture Phillips took on his cell phone shows Zack Blaylock with his trophy fish — and the start of freshman class teamwork.
By ASHLEY SCOBY
For the rest of the football offseason, I’m going to be doing some previews here on vaughtsviews.com for the UK football season – incoming players, position battles, etc. Want to learn more about a particular signee or want a preview of the long snappers next year? Shoot me an email with any ideas/suggestions at email@example.com. Until then…
Two twins with a family history in basketball come to Kentucky for … football?
That is indeed the story of Zack and Daron Blaylock, two of UK’s 2012 commitments for the football team. Former NBA All-Star and 13-year veteran in the league, Mookie Blaylock, is the twins’ father. Basketball blood or not, football is very clearly the sport these brothers are the most talented in.
Both are safeties (Daron at 6-1, 215 and Zack at 5-11, 183) and they led their high school in Georgia (Walton) to the Class AAAAA state finals, finishing as runners-up.
Zack, the more light on his feet of the two, intercepted 11 passes during his senior year, returning five of those for touchdowns. Daron, who is more of a safety/linebacker hybrid (think Winston Guy) had 95 tackles (6 TFL) in his last season at Walton. Not so shabby for a pair of guys who were “supposed” to be basketball players.
The personalities of these two brothers will surely bring some fun to the team, as well. As avid fishermen and snowboarders, Zack and Daron are reportedly never apart. They have said (in separate interviews) that their last fight was in middle school over a sandwich. They told schools they weren’t going to be a package deal, but each knew all along that they would be playing together somewhere.
At safety, the freshmen will most likely be behind guys like Martavius Neloms, Mikie Benton, etc. If Daron ends up moving to linebacker, as it’s suspected that he will, he’ll be behind Avery Williamson, Alvin Dupree, etc. Most would say that Daron needs to gain a little weight before he’ll be successful as an SEC linebacker, but take a look at Winston Guy. Heading into his senior year, he was 6-1, 216 pounds – almost exactly what Daron is now. As long as Daron takes on that hybrid linebacker/safety role that Rick Minter is so famous for, I see him being pretty successful.
As for Zack, he’s a good coverage guy and can make some punishing tackles when he needs to – exactly what Kentucky wants from its safety corps.
With not as much talent coming back on the defensive side of the ball this year for the Cats, it’s possible these guys make a move or two up the depth chart before the season is over. A lot of the offensive spots are pretty much set in stone, but Joker & Minter will be looking for all the talent they can get when it’s time for the defense to step on the field.