Walker the next star on UK’s defensive line

Published 9:48 am Friday, January 27, 2023

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Contributing columnist

Defensive lineman Justin Rogers transferred to Auburn in part because he was looking for a more lucrative NIL deal and maybe in part because he knew freshman Deone Walker was now the star of UK’s defensive line.

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Many thought Walker, an all-SEC pick by the coaches as a true freshman, might consider transferring to a school that might also offer him a bigger money deal through NIL. However, the Michigan native — a five-star recruit just like Rogers was — never budged.

“Deone is an awesome kid. He is the type of kid who never gets too high or too low,” UK defensive line coach Anwar Stewart said.  “Deone will come and have lunch with you. He will sit down with the strength staff, sit down with the medical trainers. He is just a really good guy and he loves ball.”

Stewart says as good as Walker was this season, he will be even better in the future because of his work habits.

“He is in the gym shedding pounds, working hard, getting everybody else in the weight room with him and that’s what it takes,” Stewart said. “We need to continue to develop leadership and young men like Deone help us get to the next level.

“He’s good but knows he can be better. He wants to be better and is not afraid to do the work to get better. That’s just the kind of attitude he has and the kind of kid he is.”

Coen tougher after year with Rams

Returning Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen admits going back to the NFL for a year as offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Ram after spending the 2021 season as UK’s coordinator did change him.

Coen said he learned how to handle adversity because of personnel issues the Rams had due to injuries.

“You scheme up all these great plays, but, at the end of the day, it truly is about the players and having to pivot and adjust to the type of players that we were playing with throughout the season,” Coen said. “They weren’t our starters. They didn’t know all of our offensive scheme from A to Z, so we needed to pivot at times.”

Coen said he learned to enjoy and trust the process to prepare a “clean” game plan each week despite injuries.

“These guys came to practice and meetings every single day with the right enthusiasm, right mindset, because the culture is strong, because everything we tried to do on a week-to-week basis was about leading, confidence (and) how can we give these guys our best effort as coaches each week?” Coen said.

“The results weren’t always clean or what we wanted, but I think, when you go through some of these things, it gives you the perspective that it’s truly always about the players. When you have great ones, usually good things happen. When you have injuries, typically great things don’t happen.”

Coen was part of a 10-3 season with UK in 2021 when the offense featured quarterback Will Levis, running back Chris Rodriguez, receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and center Luke Fortner, a starter in the NFL this season. None of those players will be on the 2023 offense for Coen but he still quickly accepted a chance to return to Lexington.

“Being a part of the Kentucky culture again, coming back to a place that I truly, really didn’t want to leave. We truly did not want to leave Lexington,” Coen said. “The opportunity to come back and coach for coach Stoops and be around these players and have an impact on young people’s lives (is why he came back).”