Mr. Kentucky

Feb. 27, 2007

By Chris Huston

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Chris Huston

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When people talked about the top quarterbacks in the SEC last season, the names JaMarcus Russell, Chris Leak and Erik Ainge tended to dominate the conversation.


One name - that of the player who just so happened to lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns -was invariably missing.


But don't expect Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson to be overlooked in 2007. The 6-foot-5, 232-pound senior-to-be is on the verge of stardom after leading the Wildcats to their first bowl win since 1984. 


"It was a great feeling, winning that bowl," said Woodson. "Ours is a program that hasn't been used to much success. Now we are heading in the right direction."


He steered the team well as a junior, throwing for 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns with only seven interceptions in 419 attempts as the Wildcats won eight games for the first time since that '84 season.  Woodson's numbers could attract some Heisman chatter if he can do it again next year - and if the Wildcats increase their win total.


"The Heisman is not really in my mind right now," said Woodson. "It's a great honor, but for us to have another great year like last year would be even bigger."


Success was a long time coming for Woodson, who went through a lot of growing pains in his first couple seasons at Kentucky. 


"My sophomore year was tough," said Woodson, who struggled as UK went just 3-8 in 2005.  "I didn't prepare well. But last year I improved my film study and learned how to change plays more. Our offensive coordinator Joker Phillips has an offense that is easier to understand than our previous one under Ron Hudson. He made it really easy for me."


The turning point in Woodson's development - and Kentucky's season - might have come a week after a 49-0 drubbing at the hands of LSU. The Wildcats held off Mississippi State, 34-31, a kick-start to winning five of their last six, including momentous victories over Georgia and Clemson.


"We knew we had a good team," said Woodson of last season's first half.  "We just weren't clicking like we should've been.  But then we got Rafael Little back and our running game got in a groove with Tony Dixon and that opened up the passing game."


Woodson took advantage. He was on fire the last six games, throwing for 1,878 yards with 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Heading into spring ball, he feels the program has a lot of momentum left in it.


"We got a taste of victory and now the sky is the limit," said Woodson.  "I think the guys feel like there is some pressure now.  We lost some close games last year and now our thought is `Let's go win those this year.'  I think people are looking at last year as something to push them.  Going 8-5 isn't good enough."

It suits some Kentucky fans just fine for now.  The hoops-happy campus embraced the football team in the fall and, for once, a lot of the attention is being diverted away from Rupp Arena.


"We've been taken care of pretty well," said Woodson. "We've gotten a lot of love and respect, which hasn't happened in a while around here. It feels great. People just love us.


"But we can't get too carried away."


Woodson showed how grounded he was when he passed up the chance to take his talents to the NFL following last season's success. With his size, arm strength and athleticism, he could have been an early-round selection. Instead, he embraced the idea of continuing to build the Kentucky program.


"I didn't want to leave the program after one good season," said Woodson. "A lot of people could have said I was a one-hit wonder. Besides, something very special is happening here and I want to help make things better."


And the goal this year?

"We want to compete for the SEC title," said Woodson. "I think we have a chance, with all the guys we have back, to pull off some upsets."


If that happens, look for Woodson to pull of some upsets of his own in the Heisman race.


Andre' Woodson in 2006

264 for 419, 63%, 3,515 yards, 31 TDs, 7 INTs, 154.55 efficiency rating

Best Game: Went 29 for 42 for 450 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs against Vanderbilt

Had at least three TD passes in 8 of 13 games

Has an active streak of 162 passes without an interception



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