LEXINGTON — Zach West knows he's going to be excited this afternoon when Kentucky opens the season at Louisville. After all, the Kentucky offensive guard has not played in a game since the end of his 2010 high school season at Lexington Christian because he was redshirted last season.
“It’s going to be the first time I have played since high school. I have just been basically practicing for a year and a half. That’s a long time not to play, and I know this is definitely a big opportunity for me and one I can’t wait for,” said West. “It’s a huge deal to finally get to play a game. The game atmosphere is always different everywhere you go. It’s a lot different than practice, a lot faster. I am excited to get back out there and play.”
“Every day I try to focus on pass rushing skills and learning the player in front of me and what his skills are and how to counteract each one of those,” West said.
He gets help from sophomore tackle Darrian Miller, a Lexington native who also played as a true freshman.
“It is awesome that we are both starting against Louisville. From being right here in Lexington and kind of being friends the last year and a half and living together, it is a huge opportunity for us,” West said.
The two didn’t really know each other well before playing together in the National Guard Border Bowl in Williamsburg against a Tennessee all-star team after their high school senior seasons.
“That’s the first time we really spent time together. We had met a few times and talked once or twice, but that was the first time we had spent more than five or 10 minutes with each other. That definitely was a huge turning point for us,” West said.
Now they hope to help Kentucky pull a season-opening upset against Louisville.
“That would be a great way to start my collegiate career,” West said.
He’s not sure if he benefitted more by redshirting last year or if Miller did by playing a limited role.
“Darrian likes to say he was thrown into the fire last year. He was thrown in and says he didn’t know what he was doing even though he looked good doing what he said he didn’t know,” West said. “He got to learn from the game experience a lot quicker. He caught on to the plays really quick.
“Me redshirting, I got to learn behind Stuart Hines and Larry Warford and that was also a huge opportunity to learn from both of those guys.”
West said preseason camp went “really well” for him.
“I felt like I got better, but now we will see against Louisville. That’s when you can tell,” he said. “It is a big responsibility you have as a starter in this game and you have to be humble with it. A lot of people have come before you and you have to take it day by day and just recognize all the talent that has come before you and learn from it and do your very best to help this team win.”
West didn’t want to make any predictions about the game’s outcome.
“We are not big talkers or want to say what will happen. We just work hard, bring our lunch pails and do what we have to do for the team,” West said.
He spent part of his summer doing lawn care work with his younger brother, something he did for various reasons.
“We just tried to do little things we could here and there. We did a lot of landscaping stuff. We are both Eagle Scouts, so that is something we have kind of done for a really long time. Just any time somebody asks us something, we want to help if we can,” West said. “I didn’t really get to see little brother a lot during the year. It is really nice to kind of hang out with him and do something together, but I also made a little money.
“There was the occasional football talk. He still talks about his high school and I¿talk about it up here, but it is personal time we don’t get to have very often and that means a lot to me.”
He didn’t mind working in the heat, something that might have helped his football conditioning, because he always has.
“My dad has always brought me and my little brother up to work outside. Every weekend we were working outside most of the day. It is just something me and him grew up doing and we are used to it at this point,” West said. “We hunt and fish. Me and my little brother have always enjoyed being outdoors and working hard is not something that comes new to us.”
Rivalry: Former UK All-American receiver Derek Abney says it was not hard for him to know the importance of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry immediately.
“You knew it from the start. You were immersed in the fact it was more than just an in-state rivalry. Fans made sure you knew, but the upperclassmen also made sure you knew it was a game you had to win,” Abney said. “I played in the very first one, but even as a freshman playing in the first UK-Louisville game (when the series resumed) I knew how big it was.”
Abney knows the game opens the season for both teams today, but he prefers to have the game the third week of the season like it is when UK¿hosts the rivalry.
“I think if both teams were honest, they would both say they would rather it be the third game,” Abney said. “Then you can put your best foot forward. It’s exciting to have it the first game, but that really favors the veteran team. Of course, having it the first game is a great chance for the underdog to set the tone for the rest of the season by winning like Kentucky could do this time by knocking off a top 25 team.
“Actually, most players like being the underdog and having a chance to prove the naysayers wrong.”