Vaught's Views: UK center a unique player

April 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - There's nothing ordinary about the route Matt McCutchan took to becoming No. 1 on the depth chart at center going into Kentucky's spring practice.

First, he's not played in a game since he was team captain at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., in 2000.

Second, he spent the 2001-2002 seasons at the Naval Academy. He dressed for five games in 2001, but did not play. He missed the 2002 season because of a knee injury.

Third, his father became his recruiting contact when he decided to leave Navy. Not only did he call Kentucky, but he also called Louisville. McCutchan went to Louisville's 2003 spring game before deciding that he would rather become a walk-on at Kentucky.


Fourth, he was a relative unknown last year. He did not have a single media interview request, lifted weights with the redshirt freshmen and doubts if a single UK fan even knew who he was.

Fifth, McCutchan has never been a center. He was an offensive tackle and defensive tackle and end during his prep career in Lebanon, Ohio, where his team went 35-5 his last three years and won one state title. He played right guard at Navy.

However, when the Cats hit the practice field Wednesday, there was McCutchan snapping the ball to quarterbacks Shane Boyd and Andre Woodson.

"Those were the first snaps I had ever taken in a real practice," said McCutchan. "We had seven-on-seven drills during the offseason where I would go and snap. I got to take a lot of snaps that were to Shane and Andre and got a feel for how they like to take snaps. It worked out pretty well."

A solid 6-3, 280

McCutchan always thought center might be his best position in college because of his size. He's a solid 6-3, 280-pound player, but that's not normally big enough to play guard or tackle in the Southeastern Conference.

McCutchan said the UK coaching staff decided after last season that he should move to center, a move he gladly made. He had gone against All-SEC defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns daily in practice last year and that had given him a glimpse of what life in the offensive line would be like.

"He has the quickest first step I've ever seen. That's going to help me this year because of going against Sweet Pea, but it also showed me just how fast the game is at this level," McCutchan said. "I think I'm better suited to be a center."

He improved all his lifts during winter workouts, but admits he's still not as strong as he needs to be. McCutchan also knows that UK coach Rich Brooks and line coach Paul Dunn are not only going to be evaluating numerous players in spring drills as they look for three new starters in the offensive line, but that the coaches are also going to give incoming freshmen a chance to compete for playing time in August.

"I really thought I might be here (No. 1 on the depth chart), but I don't want to be cocky," McCutchan said. "If I am No. 1 coming out of spring ball, then I will be happy. Then if I am No. 1 coming out of (preseason) camp, then I will really be happy."

"Personal decision" to leave Navy

That's a feeling he has almost every day at Kentucky. He spent a year and a half at the Naval Academy before making a "personal decision" to leave.

"Your first two years are free. You can still leave at any time during the first two years. Once you commit after two years, then you have five years to serve after you graduate," McCutchan said. "I knew my football career was over if I stayed there, so I transferred."

McCutchan, who has two years of eligibility remaining, liked Louisville and he knew the numbers were right at both Kentucky and Louisville to give him a chance to earn playing time. Each team lacked depth in the offensive line, but after visiting UK's spring practice he decided Kentucky was the "right place" for him.

"This is like being out of jail," McCutchan joked. "At the Naval Academy, football was the greatest part of your day every day. Here football is good, but everything else is good, too.

"I don't want to put those guys down at Navy because they went to a bowl last year, but there is a lot greater talent and speed here. But I still think I can help or I wouldn't be here."

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