Chuck Smith still remembers the first time former Kentucky defensive line coach Rick Petri asked him to watch videotape of Danny Trevathan, an undersized linebacker in Florida that Petri thought the Cats should recruit.
“I watched and said, ‘What’s not to like? He can run, he can hit.’ I went and watched him play in an all-star game. He played that game just like he does here at Kentucky,” said Smith, UK’s linebackers coach. “He’s just 110 percent. Even if the play was not at him, he was running the ball down. That’s the kind of attitude we need on the field.
“We need guys that would hustle just like (former UK¿linebacker/leading tackler) Wesley Woodyard did. He made a lot of tackles because of his hustle and effort, and Danny is the same way.”
Trevathan has blossomed into a star. He led UK¿with 144 tackles last season and has 231 career stops, including 21 tackles for loss.
“Danny is even better than people think.¿I know he is preseason all-SEC, but he is better than that. Danny is one of those guys he is going to come and play well and he makes you better in practice even,” Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton said. “Danny is great. He always has a positive attitude, he definitely has taken more of a leadership role on defense. He will have those guys better.
“I have only played two years of college football, so I don’t have much to compare him to, but he is as good as anybody I have seen. I love watching him play. He is a guy that makes a ton of plays and a guy you want on your team.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips agrees and wants no part of any speculation about whether Trevathan would be more highly acclaimed if he played for a traditional Southeastern Conference power.
“Danny is doing a lot here. I don’t think you can go any higher than recognizing a guy than that. He’s at Kentucky and had 144 tackles last year. We are looking for him to have a big season and we’re glad he’s here and not somewhere else because if we win, he’ll get plenty of attention here,” Phillips said.
“He’s a top-tier athlete. He is a guy that can really run and always makes plays. He would be successful anywhere he played. With that said, having coach Smith and those defensive schemes over there it is only going to help him and make him better here and able to exploit all the strengths he has. I am happy to have him on our team even though he absolutely would be better known probably if he was at a school that won more last year,” Newton said.
Trevathan’s mother, Michelle Hicks, says her son was a “humble” youngster but did have some “trying times” during his teenage years.
“He always listened. He might not have done what you wanted, but he heard. Once he got it, he got it,” she said. “What is the biggest blessing to me is that he will graduate in December. That’s what I¿try to keep him focused on. Without God, none of this would be possible. That is our base.
“Danny has always loved sports since he was 4 or 5 years old, but he did not grasp the fact that academics and sports go hand-in-hand. You can be injured any time. You need an education under your belt to fall back on for your foundation.
“I always expected great things from Danny because that is his drive. Football is his passion. I told him three things to take with him and made him look me in the eyes when I¿told him: remember to put God first, always do your best in all things and most important, remain humble. Humble is one of the things I¿am most proud of him. Me and his dad both love to see his humbleness.”
Smith has obviously seen Trevathan, who briefly contemplated leaving UK for the NFL after his junior season, grow as a player. But he’s also seen him change as a person off the field.
“He has grown up. He has come in and had to really work hard academically. He has done that. He is beginning to understand the importance of education and getting a degree,” Smith said. “When he first came, he probably came just to play football. He has had to understand football and education work hand-in-hand and how important it is for the rest of his life. He has a chance to get his degree in December. Hopefully he will and take right on to the NFL.
“He was really shy when he came here, too. He still is shy in a lot of ways. He is not a loud-mouth guy at all. But when he does say something, the players listen because he is not a player that talks all the time.”
Teammates have noticed the changes, too.
“It has taken a few years for him to grow up a little bit. He has really grown as a player. He is more mature now than he was. That is something even he will tell you he needed to do,” senior offensive guard Stuart Hines said. “I still think he has room to improve and he’s learning every day,
“Physically and athletically, he was a grown man when he got here. He was still a kid, though. He came in as the best player on his team and guys come in cocky thinking it will be easy and it’s not. You have a lot more responsibility. You don’t have anybody waking you up in the morning. You have to use your alarm clock. Just little stuff like that. Nothing big. He was shy, but then at SEC Media Days he was out in the lobby dancing for TV cameras. I never thought he would do that. But he is the leader of the defense. He is the guy that has to be and wants to be. That’s another big change for him.”
His father, Vincent Hicks, played football at Toledo. He was also a linebacker.
“He probably would never say it, but I think the fact I¿played that position did inspire him to want to play it because that’s always the position he wanted to play,” Vincent Hicks said. “Just watching him play makes me proud and brings tears to my eyes. I didn’t have his speed, but I¿did have some of the same toughness he does. I am an old school person with old school values. I was raised that way and teach my children the same way, but he truly is a great kid.”
His mother was not sports oriented other than being a cheerleader.
“His dad from the time he was little was the sports person,” she said. “I knew he was gifted athletically. He was holding a football when he was 3 or 4 years old. He wanted even then to play all day and all night.”
Trevathan now has 33 tattoos, and says his mother took him to get his first one when he was 15. She says that’s exactly correct.
“His dad had an influential part in that. He was the one that smoothed it over,” Michelle Hicks, who tries to attend every home game as well as some of the away games, said. “We both took him to get the tattoo, not just me. Now he looks like a little graffiti board to me, but when you look at each one it holds some type of special meaning to him with what it says or is. We just allowed him to be him. That’s why he has a story or meaning for every tattoo he has.”
His parents let him also make his recruiting decision without any pressure from them.
“There were a lot of schools coming at Danny. I looked at it and talked with him, but we never influenced his decision. That was totally up to him and we allowed him to make it,” she said. “It did surprise me when it was Kentucky, but he took his time. He went to visit the schools and that is where he felt he wanted to be and it was obviously a good choice.”
Smith knows Kentucky was fortunate he was slightly undersized when he was being recruited.
“He is one of those guys we projected a little bit. He didn’t look coming out of high school like he does now. He was the same height, but he weighed about 205 pounds,” Smith said. “Those bigger schools take them ready to play right now. They take them 225, 230. He didn’t have as many offers. We got him on our campus, and when you do that, you have a chance to get them. We are just lucky it all worked out.”
The Wildcats also feel lucky he returned to anchor the defense this year rather than taking his chance in the NFL draft.
“He talked to me a couple of times. I think he likes it at Kentucky and feels comfortable here,” Smith said. “He still has some things he wants to do and the fact he does have a chance to get his degree before he leaves is important to him now. All those factors played into him coming back.”
Trevathan’s mother says he values the advice Smith gives him daily.
“He has had a big influence on his success and I think very highly of him and respect him for what he’s done for my son,” Michelle Hicks said. “I think eventually getting to the NFL will give Danny a type of satisfaction he has been driving for, and I will absolutely love to see it happen for him.¿I will thank God he made it there. I think he deserves it. He worked hard and is patient. He wanted to come back and finish his schooling and be there one more year for Kentucky and the fans because last year was not as good as he wanted.”
New defensive coordinator Rick Minter believes that Trevathan made the right decision for his long-term future.
"There are reasons why kids leave, but everybody becomes better with maturity. He can set himself up so when he leaves Kentucky, he'll be a complete man because he'll have a degree and won't have to worry about coming back to finish it like so many kids who leave early have to do. Once his football career ends, he'll be ready to tackle the real world and be successful."
Trevathan’s mother is grateful for the fan support for her son and family. She still remembers stopping at a Lexington gas station when a fan complimented her husband on what a “great kid Danny was” and did not say it because of his ability on the field.
“We have his number on our shirts with mom and dad on there,” she said. “It’s a good feeling when fans see us and tell us things. It makes us all the more proud when they talk about him the way they do and to know how much they love him.”
Trevathan’s teammates tend to feel the same way and say there’s nothing out of reach for him.
“Danny would run for mayor if you let him,” Newton said. “That’s just the way he thinks. And you know what, he might just get elected, too.”