- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.
Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?
But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. Usually it takes some time to make a transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.
With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen, but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.
Next up: Kentucky
Class recap: The Kentucky job has never been thought of as a dream job because it’s a basketball school, not a football school. The Wildcats signed only four four-stars from 2010 to 2012, and the 2013 class was headed down the same path. That was until Mark Stoops arrived. Stoops didn’t buy that ‘basketball school’ talk, and it didn’t take long for him to rejuvenate the program. He signed 23 players in his first class, including six four-stars. He flipped in-state star Jason Hatcher from his USC commitment and landed defensive end Za'Darius Smith, the No. 13 junior college player in the nation. When the ink was dry, the class was ranked No. 36.
Second-year star: WR Ryan Timmons (5-foot-10, 193 pounds)
Recruiting stock: Timmons, a Kentucky native, was one of two ESPN 300 signees in the 2013 class. The four-star athlete had offers from Arkansas, Florida and Ohio State, among others, but chose to stay home and play for the Wildcats.
2013 in review: Timmons did a little bit of everything for Kentucky in 2013. He played in all 12 games, making six starts. He was second on the team in receiving with 32 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries. He finished with a career-high six catches against Florida, but his best game came in October against Mississippi State, when he had five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
2014 potential: It came as no surprise that Timmons made the impact that he did last season. He was the first major recruit to jump on board after Stoops was hired, and he was one of the best all-around players in the class. But even more will be expected of him in 2014 as was evident in April’s spring game, where he caught five passes for 47 yards, rushed once for eight yards and served as the team’s No. 1 punt returner. He and Javess Blue, a junior college transfer from the 2013 class, are the top two wide receivers, and how they perform will be vital to the Wildcats’ passing game, regardless of who’s throwing them the ball.
Also watch out for: Running back Jojo Kemp was the star of the spring game with 131 total yards of offense. He and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard are expected to form a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield. Hatcher is stuck behind Smith and All-SEC star Alvin Dupree on the defensive line, but he’s too good to keep off the field. He finished with 20 tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks last season. As a freshman, Blake McClain was third on the team with 59 tackles. He’s in line to start again this fall and will be a key piece in the secondary. Redshirt freshman Reese Phillips is still in the mix for the starting quarterback job, though he’s currently behind Patrick Towles and Drew Barker, and cornerback Jaleel Hytchye is moving up the depth chart after a solid spring. He had 4.5 tackles and two pass break-ups in the spring game.
17hSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf