Abney an athlete unlike any other at UK

October 28, 2003|JEFF ZURCHER

It's only this.

It's only an 80-yard punt return touchdown, with the last ten or so yards gained as much with the will as with the feet.

It's only the third-quarter score that put UK up on Mississippi State 20-17, and the score put the Bulldogs down for the rest of the game. Only a momentum-changer. Only a play that significantly contributed to a 42-17 win that kept the Cats on track to become bowl-eligible.

It's only Abney's eighth career kick returned for a touchdown (six punts and two kickoffs), which only ties a 31-year-old NCAA record. The other two guys that share that record are only (four-time NFL Pro-Bowler) Cliff Branch and (former Heisman winner) Johnny Rodgers.


Yes, it's only, one can say, that Abney is one of the best return men/all-purpose players in college football.


Oh, and it's not only luck.

Because, after all, Abney doesn't believe in luck in the way most other people do. Rather, he says that he produces his own luck.

Note to all the Abney wannabes out there - luck, especially the type that pertains to success in football, is much easier to produce when you have the speed of a cheetah, the vision of an eagle, and the toughness of a jackal.

A jackal?

Abney himself made that metaphor. This past August, I asked him what type of animal he is on the field. After careful thought, he remarked, "I'd have to be a smaller, tenacious animal. Like a jackal. I'll sneak up on you a little bit."

But as far as reputation goes, Abney isn't sneaking up on anyone this year. Everyone knows about his abilities, and thus every team has schemed its punts and kickoffs to limit his opportunities. His punt-return average has been most severely affected. But his belief he will wind up in the end zone has been affected not at all.

"The biggest thing is confidence," he dished after discussing jackals. "The one thing you can control no matter what is your confidence - just give me the ball, and we'll see what we can do with it. I'll be honest with you, its a struggle at times, when the ball's punted over here and I'm running way over there. But you just keep in your mind, "I can do this; I'm the best at it.' And just go with it."

He goes with it, all right.

Last Saturday, after picking up an initial crushing block from Mike Williams, Abney juked up the middle, running through an arm tackle, kept his balance and got to the outside; from there, he sprinted largely unimpeded up UK's sideline to the 10, where he followed, about as closely as one can, the block of Earven Flowers into the east end zone.

"Scoring on a return is more exciting because it's a momentum changer, and it's so rare. [Scoring] as a receiver it feels good too. But with a punt especially, you're back there by yourself on an island, ready to do your own thing. Nobody telling you what to do, where to go."

If the football field were a chessboard, and many times, coaches strategize if it was, Abney, on punt returns, would start out as the knight piece. Upon catching the ball, he makes many L-shaped movements, as he hops over and darts around defenders. But once he gets to the sideline, he becomes the rook (castle) piece, moving straight up the field.

"There's a point you can tell you can break it: after you clear that first corner," Abney said about making a big punt return. "[After clearing the corner] I worry a little bit about getting caught from behind. And boy, if I get caught, I'd be pretty mad."

But so far on the field, when Abney gets out in front, no one has been able to nab him. And in the NCAA, SEC, and UK record books, he'll be hard to catch too.

But for the record, records aren't what Abney does this for.

"The biggest thing that motivates me, I can't deny it, is when people challenge me," he declared with his jackal's grin. "Last year, I saw an article that said another team's return man was "every bit as good as Derek Abney." And you know what I did? I tore that sucker out and put it in my car on my speedometer."

It's only a speedometer. Abney doesn't need to see it - he only motors at one speed: fast.

And, sadly, it's only a matter of time (five games tops), before he motors right out of a UK uniform.

How does he want to be remembered?

"As the most exciting returner people have seen at Kentucky," he stated simply.

It's only that.

And that's enough.

Central Kentucky News Articles