UK football: Two freshmen most likely to start for the Wildcats

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Mark Stoops of the Kentucky Wildcats coaches during a time out in the first half of a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Mark Stoops of the Kentucky Wildcats coaches during a time out in the first half of a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

The UK football team is returning a lot of starters for the 2018 season. However, there’s always a player or two who find a way into the starting lineup. Let’s take a look at who that might be this upcoming season.

The Wildcats have a lot of returning starters for the 2018 football season. In fact, the UK football will have 8 of their 11 starters on defense returning next season. However, it never fails that a couple of freshmen find their way onto the field. Which freshmen will make a splash this season?

If we take a look at the offensive side of the ball, a lot may depend on who is playing quarterback for the Cats in 2018. Stephen Johnson led the UK offense the past two seasons, but this upcoming season is up for grabs. Both redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak and JuCo transfer Terry Wilson will be vying for the starting role.

Benny Snell, who burst onto the scene as a freshman, will obviously be the bell cow in the Wildcats’ backfield. Wide receivers Garret Johnson, Blake Bone and Charles Walker all graduated. Kayaune Ross moved on. That means the most likely position to see a youth movement in 2018 will be the receiving corp.

Wide Receiver

Dorian Baker will be back, Tavin Richardson will look to build on a solid 2017 campaign, and the UK football coaches will be looking to get the ball into Lynn Bowden‘s hands next season. While Josh Ali, Cleven Thomas and Isaiah Epps will no doubt look to assert themselves as well, the Wildcats receiver room is ripe with talent.

Marvin Alexander Jr. has the size and talent to compete for a starting spot. Alexander is 6’2″ and a Top 100 wide receiver in the class of 2018 according to Rivals. Alexander’s size should help him in the redzone. As a bigger receiver, however, his route running is likely to be questioned.

If Alexander can showcase his talents over the summer, there’s a good chance he can gain some traction and also some playing time. Of all the incoming freshmen receivers, Alexander has the most likely opportunity to start

Next: Will Kentucky use two QBs

Finding a freshman on the defensive side of the ball proves a bit more difficult. The UK football is returning a ton of its starters on defense. The Wildcat’s secondary is set. Derrick Baitey, Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry are sure to be Kentucky’s starters at cornerback. Mike Edwards has the safety spot on lock down, as does fellow senior Darius West.

Looking along the defensive line, it’s hard to see an opening for a freshman, even one as talented as Marquan McCall. McCall was a highly rated offensive guard, but the transition to defensive tackle will likely take some time. Josh Paschal is getting his shot at defensive end, and T.J. Carter is looking to build off a solid sophomore season.


That makes linebacker the most likely destination to see a freshman climb up to No. 1 on the depth chart. Denzil Ware and Eli Brown decided to leave the program. That’s two of UK’s starters from last season.

Paschal started for Ware in last year’s bowl game, but the logical promotion of Paschal is void with his move to the defensive line. Josh Allen has one of the outside spots locked up, but the with Ware now gone, the spot opposite Allen is up for grabs. Look for several players, none of them freshmen, to battle for that starting position during camp.

Jordan Jones, when he returns from injury will be starting on the inside for Kentucky’s defense. Courtney Love graduated after last season, and Brown transferred. So, there’s an opening at inside linebacker. Who wants it?

Kentucky has a plethora of players, including Kash Daniel, Jamin Davis and two freshmen, that could snag that spot. Both Chris Oats and DeAndre Square seem primed to take this defense to the next level.

Next: Denzil Ware's transfer opens the door for young LBs

Oats, a 4-star recruit according to 247 Sports, turned down Ohio State to come play for Mark Stoops at Kentucky. At 6’4″, Oats projects as more of an outside rushing linebacker, but don’t be surprised to to see the UK football coaches find a way to get Oats on the field.

Look for DeAndre Square to receive a chance to show his stuff as well. Square enrolled early, and his extra time in Lexington is already paying off. Coach Stoops, via 247 Sports, talked about the freshman’s ability.

"“I always get asked that question at some point in the spring on a guy that jumps out at you or is surprising us, and I’d say (Square) is definitely that guy. When the bullets are flying and we’re playing full tempo or a full scrimmage, he really makes some plays. You can tell he has a lot of natural instincts. I like the way he’s playing.”"

Square, at 6’1″, is more suited to play the inside linebacker position than fellow freshman Chris Oats. His teammates already have high praise for him as well. If Square plays up to his potential, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.