Abney's no Playboy, he's a playmaker

August 18, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Confidence was never a problem for Derek Abney, but even Abney never envisioned the type of college football career he’s had at Kentucky.

“It never crossed my mind that it would be like this,” said Abney. “I knew I had ability, but it was never like if I didn’t make All-American or get to the NFL, then I had failed. I just always thought I would do the best I could and let the chips fall where they may.”

Those chips fell often in opponents’ end zones last year when Abney returned a NCAA record six kicks — four punts and two kickoffs — for touchdowns and became the first player ever to lead the Southeastern Conference in punt returns and kickoff returns the same season.

Those accomplishments led to a number of All-American honors for Abney, including a spot on the preseason Playboy team that earned him a trip to Phoenix recently to mingle with other college stars.


"It really was a big deal to make the team. You don't always think of sports when you think of Playboy, but making the Playboy All-American team is a big deal because the team has a lot of tradition."

Abney said being part of the Playboy photo shoot and upcoming television special was a fun experience. He played pool games, including a boat relay, with other players. Another time the players got to try calf roping, bull riding and drawing a gun.

"They had a quick draw thing where they had guns with blanks. They would see how long it took you to react and shoot," Abney said. "They also had a manual bull where four guys would pull on the rope and try to buck you off. There were a calf roping thing on a ceramic horse where a calf would come out along a track and you would rope it. It was really a lot of fun and not nearly as structured as some events like that are."

However, Abney is more of a playmaker than a playboy. He averaged 15.1 yards per punt return last year and 26.8 yards per kick return. He ran back both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown at Florida.

He also had a productive season at wide receiver, catching 40 passes for 569 yards to raise his career totals to 1,723 yards and 13 touchdowns on 146 catches.

He could be third player with 2,000 receiving yards, 1,000 return yards

If he gets 277 receiving yards and 243 punt return yards this season, he'll become only the third player in NCAA history to have 2,000 receiving yards and 1,000 yards on both punts and kickoff returns.

Not bad for a 5-10, 175-pound player from Wisconsin who was not nearly as heavily recruited coming out of high school as he should have been. Yet it took then-UK offensive coordinator Tony Franklin just one look at Abney's highlight video to know that he could be a major contributor at Kentucky.

"I think the first thing other schools noticed was my size. With coach Franklin, it was different," Abney said. "Also I didn't really get my video together until I started taking unofficial visits. Kentucky was always up on my list because I had family around here (in Frankfort), it was in the SEC and I loved the offense. We actually tried to recruit Kentucky, too, but coach Franklin was on my side right from the start."

Abney didn't grow up dreaming of being a college football star. He didn't play tackle football until his seventh-grade season. He watched the Green Bay Packers play as a child and would also watch the Atlanta Braves because his mom liked that team.

"But I didn't watch a lot of sports. I didn't really follow sports that much," Abney said.

That may explain why he's not consumed by football like many other players, especially those who have had the success he has.

He's a civil engineering major

He's a civil engineering major. He lives with another engineering major and a walk-on kicker. While he would like to play in the NFL, he could be content if his first paycheck came courtesy of his education.

"If football ended today, I am at a point in my life where I would like to use my engineering," Abney said. "The relationships are the same. Engineering is like fixing a problem in football. You get some of the same hard problems and get the same sense of fulfillment by solving the problem.

"Don't get me wrong. I would miss football. Football could possibly set me financially for life if things work out at the next level. But engineering is another way to challenge myself and use different skills. In football, you can get pretty exhausted. In engineering, you can get things done and still have time to do other things. If football was over, I would be more than content to be an engineer. But even then football would help open doors for me."

That's because Abney has become a well-known commodity. Not just in Kentucky, either.

"He has to be nationally recognized now because of all the big-time returns he had last year," said college football radio and television analyst Todd Blackledge. "The kind of plays he made last year got on all the highlight reels. Not just the ones in the South, but ones all over the country. Any real college football fan has to know who Abney is.

Central Kentucky News Articles