Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Kentucky was the big winner last week when the deadline to declare for the NFL draft came and went and all three players considering turning pro decided to return for their senior seasons.
All three of those players were on defense, too, which gives Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon faith that the Wildcats will be able to finish in 2009 what they started last season.
"The next step for this program and what we're working toward right now is a chance to win the SEC East," said Jarmon, who along with cornerback Trevard Lindley and middle linebacker Micah Johnson bypassed the chance to turn pro.
"By winning the East, that gives us a chance to win the SEC and go to a BCS bowl game. That's why we're back. We're back to better ourselves individually as players, but also to better the program and take the program to the next step. That's something we want to do. That's something we want to give back to this program."
In this age of take the money and run, it's refreshing to hear a player talk so eloquently about his school and the desire to give back. Granted, Jarmon, Lindley nor Johnson projected to go in the first round, but they all would have been drafted.
"We talked about it among ourselves, how we can be better on both sides of the ball if we all came back, and I have a strong feeling that we will be better," said Jarmon, who ranks third in school history with 17.5 sacks during his career.
In particular, the Wildcats should again be as good as they've been defensively under Rich Brooks. They started out on fire last season, but fell off as the injuries began to mount. Having the extra time to get some people healthy before the bowl game, they returned to form in the postseason and dominated in the second half defensively to rally past East Carolina 25-19 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
It was Kentucky's third consecutive bowl victory, a first for the Wildcats.
"I smile when I walk into my room and see the plaques on the wall," Jarmon said. "Now, I have three on the wall and have a third bowl ring coming in April. The thing about it is that we're still hungry. We want more. We want more respect, because we still feel as a program that we don't have national respect. That's what pushes us."
Jarmon said Kentucky fans are going to like what they see out of some of the younger players on defense next season. He had a better chance to see some of those guys in action during the bowl practices.
He said redshirt freshman defensive end Collins Ukwu is destined for a big spring and has the quickness and burst to be a marquee pass-rusher. He also likes what he's seen out of sophomore defensive tackle Chandler Burden.
"I wouldn't be going out on the limb if I said he's got a chance to be one of the strongest (sophomores) in the country," Jarmon said of Burden. "He's powerful and explosive."
At linebacker, Jarmon said sophomore Danny Trevathan has just scratched the surface of what he's capable of and that senior Sam Maxwell was good enough to be a starter last season.
Throw in the return of starting defensive tackle Corey Peters, and it's easy to see why Jarmon is so enthusiastic about this defense.
"The progress of some of these young guys gives us a chance to keep this thing rolling," Jarmon said.
Nearing the completion of his political science degree, Jarmon has more than just football to keep him busy.
He's a budding actor and has already participated in a few theatrical presentations on campus. He's taking a ballroom dancing course this semester and has applied for a study-abroad program this summer and could end up spending five or six weeks in France.
"I had too much to do here to leave," Jarmon said. "We're going to finish this thing out the right way."