By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s not hard for Octavious Oxendine to describe what it is like to play for Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
“I feel like it’s a blessing just cause you don’t get that many coaches that’s actually player led like he says he is. In and out of everything we do is definitely player-led from the workouts to the play calling to what we just feel comfortable in what we want to do,” said the senior defensive lineman from North Hardin High School.
“He just lets it come down to us. It trickles right down the tree. Goes to our position coaches to the DCs, OCs, then honestly just us. Whatever we want to do is definitely a lot player led.”
Kentucky hopes Oxendine will be a more vital part of its defense this year. He was emerging as a big-time player in 2021 when he started three of six games before a knee injury ended his season. Last year he lost weight to improve his mobility but had only 22 tackles in 13 games, including seven starts. He worked during the offseason to increase his weight and is back to around 285 pounds.
Oxendine wants to be a more consistent player this season but also be part of a more consistent defensive unit even though statistically Kentucky was one of the better defenses in the Southeastern Conference last year.
“That consistency is something we need to get back to,” he said at SEC Media Days in Nashville. “In past years our pass rush was definitely consistent. We had good guys like Josh Allen, Boogie Watson. JJ Weaver came back for another year. We’ve always been good at pass rushing and we need to get back to that. I feel one thing we’ve been focused on is our pass rush.”
Kentucky’s schedule is a bit more difficult this year as the Cats play at two-time defending national champion Georgia and also host Alabama. The Cats also play at Mississippi State, South Carolina and Louisville.
“You’re going to play the best all the time, so you might as well just set up a schedule like that just to get your feet wet and see what the road is going to feel like, to see what the path is going to feel like,” Oxendine said. “We’ll have a couple good games before we head into SEC play, so we’ll definitely see how we’re going to play during the SEC-type games.”
Kentucky is undefeated against in-state rival Louisville during Oxendine’s career and he wants to keep it that way.
“I definitely say it’s one of the best rivalries in college football just because red, blue, right down the street from each other. No NFL team. When you come to Kentucky, that’s one thing about my family, we’re military, so moved from Fort Polk, Louisiana., to Radcliff, Kentucky, right outside Fort Knox,” Oxendine said.
“When we first moved, it was a big thing for us to pick Louisville or Kentucky. We actually picked Louisville, which is crazy I’m at Kentucky. It’s just a big rivalry. I feel like everybody in the States knows about it. It’s a game everybody always wants to be at, and there’s a lot of energy behind it.”
Oxendine also wants to instill a business-like work ethic in teammates and be someone for younger teammates to see who understands the value of the work Stoops and his staff demand.
“Punch the clock every morning you wake up. That’s something coach Stoops is always big on us: every morning, just punch the clock. There’s nothing else for you to do. We’re there to play football and academics,” Oxendine said.
“Every morning you shouldn’t have no excuse. If you wake up ready to go, you should be okay. I feel that’s something my teammates should take from me. Just the mentality, whenever you wake up in the morning, always get better. Just get one percent better, that’s all you have to do, One percent better than the next man.”