Have to admit, I’m not much of a Major League Baseball, NHL, or NBA fan. Too many teams have led to watered down competition with a socialistic playoff system that seems to drag out for at least eight months. After watching the recent Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays fight punch out, I started to ponder just who would be considered as the 2016 Kentucky Wildcat “Enforcer”? You know, the one dude on the team that acts as an on-the-field, court, or ice bouncer. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to identify a UK tough guy in quite some time. That’s not a knock on modern day players as the patty-cake manner in which contact rules are imposed prevent post-whistle, overenthusiastic play. Looking back, I can easily identify more than a few that fit in this category. Let’s take a look at some of Commonwealth Stadium’s resident business handlers:
In the history of Kentucky Football, I cannot be convinced that there’s been a harder hitter than Melvin Johnson. In modern game, due to excessive contact suspensions Melvin would probably be eligible to play a grand total of four games per season. Highlight films don’t accurately describe the level of ferocity in which he tackled. Johnson struck fear in a fearless league. For you young bucks out there that may not remember him, I’d describe Johnson as a spleen buster that played with a deep and sincere hatred for opponents. In other words; a prototypical, throwback safety.
If Randy Holleran would have grown up in Covington instead of Pittsburg, his Kentucky career would be that of folk lore. In 1990, he racked up 29 bone crushing tackles in a single game against LSU. When he tackled, it just sounded different. Weekly playing with a bloody cut on the bridge of his nose, Holleran looked and acted the part of a leather helmeted fist fighter.
Wesley Woodyard is an outstanding community and family man. A true professional both on and off the field, Woodyard is now the gold standard for aspiring Cats. But, he played with a fierce disposition that matched his on-field doggedness. He tenaciously pursued the football from sideline to sideline while unapologetically motivating his peers that didn’t follow suit.
Quarterback turned linebacker, Snedegar had zero regard for his own body as he didn’t hesitate to use it as a human missile by launching head-first into opposing ball carriers. Often playing with a shoulder that was attached by a shoestring while tackling and talking beyond the whistle, Jeff would often call his shot and later back it up between or outside the white lines.
Affectionately known as the “Goat”, the Louisville DeSales product was not offended to take cheap shots nor was he shy about protectively reminding opponents that they shouldn’t block his fellow defensive line mates below the knees. He absolutely hated quarterbacks, Bell’s crushing hit on Emmitt Smith remains legendary. The 6’5 310 pound, incessantly ticked off, and boisterous red headed defender was regularly flagged for extra-curricular activity.
The five foot something, one hundred and nothing pounder was an in-your-face yet beloved coach. Legend has it that he was even more fiery as a player. Even throughout an unremarkable start and advanced age, Rich Brooks was a stone-cold fighter. Don’t let the tomatoes and trout fool you. Upon discussing his college coach’s selection to this prestigious list, former UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon added, “One of the many things about Coach Brooks I loved was that he was a no-nonsense guy. Lot of times we started games slow, at halftime he’d make his rounds to have words or make eye contact to motivate his guys to take it up a level. There’d be practices when he wouldn’t say anything while watching from the end zone. He would literally come out of nowhere as if he was lurking in the shadows to make a highly vocal coaching point. He’d scare us to death”.
Will there ever be another UK Enforcer? Probably not, you know the whole rules thing and all. But, Mark Stoops was a close honorable mention.