The 290-pound Lumpkin is being counted on to help shore up UK's run defense. He was signed out of Tennessee to play defensive end after earning Class AAAA Mr. Football honors. However, Kentucky moved him inside last season to take advantage of his strength and size.
Lumpkin knows the redshirt year will help him. But he readily admits there was a time last season he wasn't so sure.
"It was long. Really long and strange," Lumpkin said. "You know it is going to pay off in the end, but you just have to wait. I am happy we won and played in a bowl, but it was so different just sitting and watching on game day rather than being out on the field helping."
Game day was no fun, even when the Wildcats won. Lumpkin watched some home games from the stands, but other times he let family members have his tickets and he watched the game on TV. "I was going to see the game any way, even if it was just on film. Plus, I wanted my family used to seeing us win," Lumpkin said.
At other times, Lumpkin was probably the perfect teammate because he would encourage his family to stay home so other players who were playing could use his complimentary tickets for their families.
"Some seniors needed some for their last game, and giving them my tickets was the right thing to do. I should respect them and give them my tickets. I will want someone to do that for me when I become a senior," he said. "A couple of other times guys just needed the tickets more than I did."
When Kentucky was on the road, Lumpkin was often miserable.
"I didn't know what to do when the team was gone. I would just sit around," Lumpkin said. "Sometimes I could catch a ride home (to Clarksville, Tenn.), but usually I just would mope around my room with nothing to do. The campus is quiet, so I would just usually go to sleep."
He does respect the UK coaching staff for treating him like the other players at practice and making sure he stayed involved in every drill.
"The coaches don't forget you. They stayed right on top of you just like you were getting ready to play and help the team," Lumpkin said. "I got better with my technique. I really needed to work on using my hands and a lot of little things. But I know am better now, and I got a lot stronger in the weight room."
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks says Lumpkin is one of several players he wants to watch closely the next three weeks.
"He has all the tools to help us in a big way," Brooks said. "We could have easily played him midway of last season when we had so many players hurt. But that would not have been fair to him. To his credit, he seems to have used the redshirt year the right way and we think it will really pay off for us and him the next four years."
Lumpkin had plenty of second thoughts before signing with UK. He committed to UK, changed his mind and decided to go to Louisville, and then signed with Kentucky after another change of heart.
"I made the right decision. I get a lot of criticism from friends and family at home, but I don't care. I am happy with my decision. I love it here," Lumpkin said. "The people are good. The fans are great. I love being in the SEC with Kentucky and proving everybody wrong. I love being the underdog. I have no second thoughts at all about my decision, especially now that my redshirt year is over and I know I am going to get a chance to play."