After spring football ended, Kentucky had a clear need at cornerback. The coaching staff decided to attack the transfer portal with aggressiveness to help supplement the roster for defensive backs coach Chris Collins.
The biggest addition was an SEC transfer.
After spending four years at Ole Miss, Keidron Smith will be spending his fifth and final season of college football in the SEC East. The summer enrollee played over 2,000 snaps in Oxford with 22 starting assignments in 47 career games. The super senior has yet to miss a game in his career and brings 224 tackles, 19 pass breakups, and five interceptions to defensive coordinator Brad White’s unit.
The transfer is helping raise the floor for Kentucky’s secondary.
“I think we’ve got depth there,” White told reporters on Wednesday after adding three transfers in the secondary over the summer. “Obviously, it was just the first day of practice, but I think there’s veterans that we picked up that have played a lot of football. You think of Keidron starting for four years in the SEC. Just a whole bunch of snaps. He’s smart, he’s savvy.”
Opposite of Carrington Valentine, Kentucky has a clear need for a starter at cornerback. Keidron Smith is the heavy favorite to take that starting role as the veteran competes with redshirt sophomore Andru Phillips. The chance to play cornerback at Kentucky was what helped draw the transfer to Lexington.
“That was a more important decision than where I was going to go in the transfer portal,” Smith told KSR about moving back to cornerback. “I went back to safety on my own conditions, and nobody forced me. I’m a team player, and it worked out in some instances.”
Last fall, Smith played a safety role as the Rebels transitioned into a 3-2-6 dime base that needed a bunch of defensive backs on the field. In that role, the veteran was used both at nickel and deep safety. Playing for defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, the South Florida native posted career highs in tackles (65) and interceptions (2). However, that wasn’t a natural spot for the former low three-star recruit who saw some playing time diminish. Kentucky has a blatant opening at outside cornerback, and the program’s recent history of putting transfers into the NFL was appealing to the transfer.
Yet, it was past relationships that seemed to play a big role. Smith grew up playing basketball with Kentucky EDGE Jordan Wright and was in the same recruiting class at Ole Miss with Jacquez Jones. He’s getting to reunite with both at Kentucky.
“That kind of was a factor having some people that I already knew,” Smith said. “Coach Mike Stoops recruited me out of high school, too. Coach [Mark] Stoops himself recruited me out of high school, too. So there was some familiarity between us.”
Jones played an active role in the recruiting process and is excited to be playing with Keidron Smith again in the SEC.
“I made sure that we had a chance to go get him,” Jones told KSR about recruiting Smith for Kentucky. “I knew the relationship that me and him have. It’s my old roommate. I know he’s a great player. I know he can help us out a lot…He’s a vet so he got experience, knowledge of the game. All that is big to have. Especially in this conference. He’s going to bring a lot.”
“Being at Ole Miss, not going to say anything bad about it, but to be where we want to go we needed that next step. I feel like Kentucky is providing that.”
In his first season at Kentucky, Jones became a solid starter for Kentucky at Mike linebacker recording career highs in tackles (82) and pass breakups (4). The Alabama native made some game-changing plays in wins against Florida and Missouri to get the Wildcats off to a hot start. Smith is hoping to do the same in 2022 as he could become the fifth super senior in the starting lineup on defense.
“I’m here at Kentucky and I’m ready for the season,” said the super senior.