Before beginning his journey as a college athlete, Danny Trevathan's mother gave him three things to live by as he embarked on life as a Wildcat.
Trevathan’s mother told him to always keep God first, stay humble and no matter what he did, he had to make sure he did it better each time and better than those around him.
Those messages were delivered to Kentucky’s senior linebacker yet again after he received the harsh news via text from his parents that his name wasn’t on the list of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
Trevathan, who leads the SEC with 111 tackles through nine games (he led the league with 144 last year), said there was a short moping period before he decided he could use this as fuel. Instead of throwing a pity party, he used the snub as motivation.
“It crushed me, to be honest, but it kind of made me get into the groove of things, grind it out a little more and push a little bit harder,” Trevathan said. “It made me want to prove to the world, prove to everybody, that I did deserve to be on it.
“I’m not a cocky person, but I think I deserved to be on the list at least. That’s every linebacker's dream, and not being on that list is just going to make me a better person and overall a better player.”
Trevathan isn’t arrogant by any means, but he certainly has the right to be upset by being overlooked.
Outside of his triple-digit total tackle number, he has seven tackles for loss, including two sacks, four interceptions, has defended seven passes, and has forced three fumbles. In conference games, Trevathan averages 13.6 tackles per game and recorded 17 last week against Ole Miss.
In new defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s multiple defense, he is perfect for the Will linebacker position, but has the versatility to play at each of the linebacker spots.
With Trevathan’s vision, intelligence, speed, power and awareness, Minter said it was a no-brainer to have him quarterback the defense. Despite multiple sets taking form in the 4-2-5, 3-4 and 4-3 at times, learning every aspect of this defense is nothing short of complicated, but Trevathan has it down and has it down well.
For a player who entered the season with a sparkling résumé, Minter said it would have been easy for Trevathan to challenge new teaching and go his own way.
But he came right out during his first day with a new system ready to learn and improve. Now, finding things to improve in Trevathan’s game was and remains hard for Minter, but he sees a much better leader now than he did prior to the season starting.
“He’s an outstanding football player, to say the least,” Minter said.
“He’s a team guy all the way.”
Trevathan responded to his new coaching well and it’s paying off. While he might not be getting the respect he deserves nationally, he’s been a terror in the SEC this season. He’s the backside linebacker used to constantly disrupt running games. He primarily stays in the box, but has the speed to branch out if needed, and if he does, good things usually occur.
And he’s done it despite the sluggish season for the Wildcats.
Trevathan said it’s been a rough year, but he can see things turning around with a win over Vanderbilt Saturday, putting the Wildcats a win away from being bowl eligible. The season started poorly, but this team is starting to “get into the groove of things,” Trevathan said.
“All good people, all great people have to go through something tough to get better,” he said. “This year showed us that if we don’t play our game, we’re going to lose. Guys really know how hard it is and know they have to really work now. Guys have been through that now, so we know how hard it is to get to the top and we want to take it to the next level.”
Speaking of the next level, Trevathan should find himself there soon. With his ability and his college career, there is no doubt in Minter’s mind that he’ll see Trevathan playing on Sundays next year and beyond.
Minter’s coaching experience dates back to the late 1970s, and he’s seen his fair share of good defenders, but Trevathan will go down as one of the greats and he doesn't need the Butkus Award to reinforce that.
“This is not the first good linebacker that I’ve seen,” he said, “but he is as complete a linebacker as I’ve ever had the privilege to be around and coach.”