UK Notebook: Miller's start a surprise

September 24, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It was not a huge surprise that Kentucky started a true freshman offensive lineman in its win over Indiana.

What was surprising, though, was that it was Carter County's Aaron Miller, not the more highly-touted Micah Jones of Mayfield.

"I probably would not have been the first name most fans would have guessed (about which freshman would start)," said Miller. "But that's why we practice."

Just being on the roster was not a given for Miller only a few months ago. He was one of the first players to verbally commit to UK's 2004 recruiting class, but the Kentucky coach staff thought of having him wait until January to enroll because they weren't sure he was physically ready to compete in the Southeastern Conference.

When a roster spot became available, Miller still seemed a likely redshirt candidate this season. He did not play against Louisville in UK's season-opening 28-0 loss, but he elevated himself to the No. 1 tackle during two weeks of practice before the Indiana game.


"I just wanted to see what would happen this year," Miller said. "If I played, fine. If I was redshirted, that would have been fine. It felt good just to get a shot at having some playing time. I thought a redshirt year was the more likely possibility, but I also thought deep down that I could play."

Still, it seemed a longshot. East Carter is not known as a high school football power. He's only the second Division I signee, and first in 30 years, from his school.

Jones was considered the state's premier offensive lineman last year. Other freshmen linemen were considered more likely candidates to help the Cats this year. But it was Miller who helped UK score 51 points and amass 560 yards against Indiana.

"I thought what he did in his first start was phenomenal," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.

Miller said he called his high school coach from the team hotel Friday night for advice. That helped him sleep well. "They have some nice beds in that hotel. I like that," Miller said.

He liked what happened the next day even more.

"It was definitely exciting coming out in Commonwealth Stadium and having a game like that," Miller said. "I made a couple of mistakes and was a little nervous starting out, but the first play settled me down. Once the game started, I realized it was just football and we were doing the same things we had since camp."

His biggest mistake was a false start when Kentucky drove inside the 20-yard line.

"We had a check and I was thinking about getting to my guy and blowing him up. I was going to come off the ball quick, but I lost my focus," Miller said.

That's something he's not done often since arriving at Kentucky.

"All through camp he showed himself to be a pretty solid player," UK senior lineman Matt Huff said. "It was a little bit of a shock to me when the coaches told him he was going to get a shot at starting, but obviously he worked hard and made the most of his chance. He proved to the coaches he was ready and he did a darn good job. He sure didn't look like a freshman. I was pretty impressed."

Huff isn't worried about Miller losing his composure or being overmatched at No. 16 Florida Saturday night, either.

"He's a real mature kid. He knows the game well," Huff said. "After watching film of the Indiana game, there's not a doubt in my mind that he can play."

Miller might not be that confident, but he's optimistic he can do the job.

"I am ready to see what it will be like," Miller said. "I know they have a lot of rowdy fans. I have watched games on TV and heard a lot about what it is like to play at Florida. I'm just excited to have the chance."

Miller knows most fans in Carter County will be watching the game on ESPN2 pulling for him to do well again.

"For a small town boy to come out and start his second college game, I would say they are pretty excited," Miller said. "A lot of them are going to be watching. They'll support me. I know I can count on that."

Cook working: Injured senior receiver Tommy Cook has not given up on playing this season.

He tore knee ligaments in UK's spring game in April. He could be eligible for a medical hardship year that would give him a sixth year of eligibility in 2005. However, he also knows receiving that sixth year is not a given.

"We are trying to gauge what the NCAA might do right now," Cook said. "If it looks like they'll grant me another year, then I won't play. But if they act like I won't get the year, then I will play even if it is just a game or two. I am working as hard as I can right now to get ready just in case it looks like I won't get the sixth year.

"I still have a long way to go. I'm not ready yet, but I'm at least getting closer."

Supporting Begley: Fourteen Promisekeepers from Calvary Baptist Church in Danville left today to attend Saturday's game at Florida to support junior placekicker Taylor Begley, a Calvary member.

Begley will be a game captain after tying his career high with three field goals last week against Indiana. He also made all six extra points and had 15 points, the second most ever by a UK kicker.

Hurting: Receiver Keenan Burton (wrist) and cornerback Warren Wilson (knee) both had surgery Thursday. Burton is expected to miss the rest of the season, but Wilson could be back in two to three weeks.

With Wilson out, Kentucky is expected to play true freshman Jarrell Williams. If he plays, he will be the 10th true freshman to play this season.

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