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Vaught's Views: Abney has no fear going into opener

August 27, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - The Derek Abney that Kentucky football fans love is the Derek Abney that plays with no fear.

It doesn't matter whether he's returning a kickoff, fielding a punt or catching a pass. He relies on his quickness and instincts to make plays that most players his size can't. However, his fearlessness also plays a huge factor in his success.

He missed two weeks of UK's preseason practice because of a pulled hamstring muscle before returning to drills Monday. Now he's hoping to be close to full speed for Sunday's season-opening game against Louisville.

"I think I will be ready. The little added incentive of it being our first home game and also being against Louisville helps you heal," said Abney Tuesday. "I should be full go."

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Even if he's not 100 percent, which he likely will not be, having him in the lineup has to enhance UK's chances of winning. He has 146 career receptions for 1,723 yards, the third-highest totals in UK history, already.

He earned All-America honors as a kick returner last year when he returned six kicks for scores. Abney already has 1,543 kickoff return yards.

Abney isn't worried about the hamstring. He says if he happens to pull it again, it won't be because it is not sufficiently healed from his preseason injury.

"A freak thing could happen, but otherwise I feel I'll be fine," Abney said. "When you sit out two weeks, sometimes conditioning can be a problem. Hopefully, by the time this week ends, I'll have my legs back under me. I think I'll be ready to jump in when needed against Louisville."

Will he have same reckless style?

When needed? Try every snap he can get on the field. But will he be able to play with the same reckless style that has endeared him to UK fans and earned respect from opponents?

"To be me and compete at this level, I have to go 100 percent," Abney said. "If you are worried about your hamstring, two things can happen. Either you get beat, or you hurt it any way. The only way I know to go is 100 percent. If I get hurt, then it was meant to be. I won't play scared."

Running straight ahead at full speed is not a major problem. It's stopping and cutting that aggravates the pulled hamstring.

"I have progressed every day, and it really has gone better than I thought it would when I first got hurt," Abney said.

He never thought he would miss the opener. That's why he stayed as involved as he could in practice the past two weeks. He would signal plays from offensive coordinator Ron Hudson to quarterbacks Jared Lorenzen and Shane Boyd during practice. He attended team meetings. He watched film.

"I could not do things physically, but at least mentally I wanted to be 100 percent. I was disappointed not to be practicing, but I took advantage of the down time to learn things about every single position on offense," Abney said. "I couldn't just sit and do nothing."

He knows Cards have won last two games at Commonwealth

He's impressed by what he's seen and knows about Louisville. He also knows the Cardinals have won the last two times they've played in Commonwealth Stadium, a streak Abney hopes to help end Sunday.

"We spoiled their home opener last year and we hope we can ruin their opening game again," Abney said. "I don't want to dwell on what it would be like if we didn't finally beat them here. Beating them would be a wonderful beginning to my last season and would give me something to remember forever."

How about giving us something to remember sooner? What has been going on in practice since coach Rich Brooks barred the media and fans from watching drills a week ago?

"It is one of those things that if I told you, I would have to kill you," Abney joked.

Seriously. Has defensive tackle Jeremy Caudill moved to fullback? Has Lorenzen spent some time in the defensive line? What kind of dramatic changes are being made since no one can watch?

"Usually stuff does not stay secret when it comes to Kentucky-Louisville," Abney said. "Coach Brooks has nothing to hide. We are going to do what we've done since spring and just see which team is better Sunday.

"But nothing really crazy has been going on. We're just fine-tuning the things we do best."

Which hopefully will include having a nearly healthy Abney to use against the Cardinals.



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