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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky had one player in San Antonio other than Drew Barker trying to help convince defensive tackle Matt Elam to commit to Kentucky.
Seventh-grader Dominick Blaylock of Georgia, the younger brother of UK football twins Zack and Daron Blaylock, was a starting cornerback/kick returner on the winning East team in Sunday’s Eastbay Youth All-American Bowl in San Antonio. A day earlier he was the Alamodome watching the U.S. Army All-American Bowl where Elam, a 370-pound defensive tackle from John Hardin High School, and UK quarterback commit Drew Barker played.
“It was a great week, a great experience for Dominick,” said his step-father, John Woods. “I was real disappointed that Elam didn’t commit (to Kentucky during the game when he was scheduled to make his college choice before changing his mind before the game). We spent a little time with him and Dominick told him he should come to Kentucky. I don’t know what happened. There was a bunch of media covering the game and I guess he needed more time.”
Dominick, an elite baseball player as well, got to “hang out” some with Barker and got postgame pictures with both Barker and Elam.
“Drew seems like such a nice kid,” Woods said. “Elam seems like a great kid, too. Kind of a big, gentle giant. He is just a happy, go-lucky kid and was great to us. I thought Barker showed tremendous poise in the game. It looks like he has a cannon for an arm. It’s going to be an interesting spring (practice with the quarterback competition). He was out there with some great talent and more than held his own.
“Watching Elam play was amazing. He demands a double team. He comes off the ball well for his size. His first step is pretty good. He moves very well for a big guy.”
Woods said Daron and Zack Blaylock never had the opportunity to play in a national all-star game like this when they were younger because there were not any.
“They just went to combines and one-day camps,” Woods said. “Dominick had a great team and really had a good game. It was a great measuring stick for him to play with this kind of talent.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
When word got out that former NBA star Mookie Blaylock had been involved in a traffic accident in Georgia Friday that resulted in the death of a woman in another car after his SUV crossed a median and hit another car. Blaylock has been charged with driving under a suspended license, improper lane change, crossing the median and driving on the wrong side of the road.
His sons are Kentucky sophomore football players Daron and Zack Blaylock and even though they have lived with their mother and step-father the last 12 years, that didn’t keep current and former UK coaches from reaching out to the twins after the accident.
John Woods, the twins’ step-dad, said former UK head coach Joker Phillips, now an assistant at Florida, called. “He’s a good man,” Woods said.
So did former UK assistant coach Greg Nord. “The boys loved him,” Woods said.
Current UK secondary coach Bradley Dale Peveto also called along with new UK director of football operations Frank Buffano on behalf of head coach Mark Stoops “to check on the boys and how they were” after their father’s accident.
The twins have become especially fond of Peveto, who called when another UK player, Ashley Lowery, was seriously injured in a car accident in Georgia last month and the twins went to visit him.
“He called to see how their visit with Ashley went. I told my wife to answer because most coaches would rather talk to the moms,” Woods said. “He talked to her about 45 minutes, then asked for me and talked another 15 minutes or so. He’s just a super guy.
“Daron and Zack are lucky to have him as a coach. He loves them and they love him. He treats them like his sons and they think he hung the moon.”
The Blaylock twins are now back at Kentucky and Woods said their time at home was a bit more emotional than they could have ever imagined.
“They went and spent a day with Ashley in ICU and then the day before they left to go back to Kentucky they had to see their dad in ICU,” Woods said. “That’s a tough way to start and end a vacation at home.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Georgia twins Daron and Zack Blaylock both played as true freshmen for Kentucky last year and both expect to be key contributors in the secondary this season. However, they may not be as talented as their 12-year-old brother, Dominick.
The younger Blaylock won the “fastest man” competition in Cooperstown, N.Y., recently by run the 70-foot bases in 12.5 seconds. He also won the competition at age 10.
“He is Cooperstown’s only two time champion and his cleats will be displayed in the Cooperstown Youth Hall of Fame,” said John Woods, the Blaylocks stepfather.
Dominick Blaylock was in Cooperstown playing with a traveling baseball team. But that’s not his only sport.
“He also got invited to the FBU Top Gun Football Camp in July. FBU runs the Army All-American for High School and East Bay All-American for Middle School Game. Dominick got invited last year as a sixth grader to participate with the seventh graders and performed very well,” Woods said.
Woods noted that Walton High School in Marietta, Ga., has numerous players now playing Division I football as well as several Division I prospects on the team now, including cornerback D.J. Smith who has a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
“I have been told Dominick will the starting tailback as a ninth grader,” Woods said. “He will definitely be a four-star player, maybe five-star. He is definitely a special kid.
“Every time you see him, he has on a Kentucky T-shirt. He’s a big Kentucky fan. I don’t know if (UK offensive coordinator) Neal Brown will still be around in five years, but if he is Dominick is the kind of give you give the ball. I really think he is going to be even better than a kid like (UK signee Ryan) Timmons. He’s that good already.”
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
Bradley Dale Peveto hopes he can help revive the UK football program. He’s the safeties coach and special teams coordinator and likes what he has seen at Kentucky.
“I really believe we can get this going,” said Peveto after one of UK’s spring practice sessions. “We have good kids, good facilities. We just have to get more recruits and teach the guys we have how to work and get better.”
Peveto was head coach at Northwestern State in Louisiana, where he guided the team to consecutive seasons with five or more wins for the first time since 2004-05, for four years before joining Stoops. He spent 22 years as an assistant coach, including 2005-08 at LSU where he spent three years as the special teams coordinator and linebackers coach before being promoted in 2008 to co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Peveto talked about UK’s secondary play as well as coaching chemistry during a recent interview.
Question: How are the safeties doing, especially since you have such a big group of players on the depth chart?
Peveto: “It is going well. The attitude and work ethic have been great. I like their attention to detail. We still have a lot of room for improvement. I think we have some competition going with guys working to get spots. I like our effort. They have done a great job of learning the system.”
Question: Can you tell twins Zack and Daron Blaylock apart?
Peveto: “Yes because Daron is bigger than Zack. It took me a while, though. They are doing good. They are working hard. I like their effort and I like what I am seeing out of the Blaylocks. They are both players.”
Question: What about Ashley Lowery?
Peveto: “Ashley has done a good job, too. He has adjusted. We have thrown a lot at him and all the guys. We have taught this defense and he has picked it up extremely well. I am very happy with him.”
Question: Is Glenn Faulkner healthy finally and how has he looked?
Peveto: “He does look fine. He moves around good and I like his twists and like his speed. He has to continue to learn the defense better, but I like what I have seen. He has the ability to play and Glenn has a good attitude and has had great effort. He just needs to stay healthy.”
Question: When do you really get a feel for who can play?
Peveto: “I don’t think you ever really know that until you scrimmage and then the bullets fly. That is when it becomes a contact sport. That will separate the men from the boys in a hurry. I don’t doubt at all that we will be a very physical defense, but until you scrimmage you don’t know who will hit you, who will tackle, who knows the right angles and who understands leverage. That all comes out when you scrimmage.”
Question: Do you value technique or hitting/tackling more?
Peveto: “The first thing you have to do is execute. That is the number one thing in defense. I don’t care how hard you hit, if you are not on the right man, in the right gap or your eyes are not right and you are not executing your technique, they are going to make yards. Then the next thing is you have to be able to tackle. Not everybody has to be a trained killer. Know what I am saying? But you have to be able to get them on the ground and know leverage, angles and when to tackle high or low. Those are things that are very important to tackling. Not everybody is going to be a fearless hitter, but the thing you have to do is understand leverage, understand where the sideline is, understand where your help is. Those are all the things that come in to be a good technician and good tackler.
“The key to a good defense is not to give up big plays. And if you don’t tackle, you are going to give up big plays. One big thing we look at is yardage after a missed tackle. It is amazing sometimes. The first guy there, they have to get him down. That is critical to playing good defense. You look at defenses across the country that are considered great defenses and they don’t miss tackles. That is what we will find out in scrimmage. At safety, there is nobody left to tackle usually if you miss.”
Question: So do you emphasize tackling daily?
Peveto: “Yes. We work it every day. We work a lot of different types of tackles during a circuit we do. But there are several different tackle techniques we have to do like angle tackling, head up tackle, cutback tackle, sideline tackle, flare tackle. There are a lot of different type tackles you have to do to make sure you put the defense in the best position possible.”
Question: But you are not opposed to a big hitter who can tackle, right?
Peveto: “Oh no. You want everybody to be that way. But I have had several good players who were not fearless hitters but they were good tacklers. You know what I am saying. They understood the game, they understood leverage, they knew when to tackle high or low and they were tough enough. Not everybody is going to be a fearless, take you head off type of guy. But if they understand how to tackle and angles and specifics of being a good tackler, then that works, too.”
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
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 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.