You may or may not have noticed that the SEC Defensive Player of the Week named on Monday was Kentucky linebacker Sam Maxwell. It should be further noted that the Wildcats’ senior is from Hartwell.
Maxwell had the game of his career against Georgia. The senior finished with 11 tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception as the Wildcats knocked off the Bulldogs in Athens for the first time in 32 years.
It wasn’t just that Maxwell was making plays but when he was making them. His interception came with the game hanging in the balance with 1:45 to go. His tackle-for-loss came on a third-and-one for Georgia. His last recorded tackle of the contest when he stopped Branden Smith inside their 1. The Bulldogs’ fumbled the ball away on the next play.
It should also be noted that another Georgia native made a significant play for Kentucky. Defensive tackle Shane McCord intercepted a Joe Cox screen pass and returned it 21 yards to the Bulldogs’ 8 to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
In all there were 16 players from Georgia on the Kentucky roster, many of them playing critical roles, such as All-SEC senior cornerback Trevard Lindley of Hiram. Next to their own state, the Wildcats sign more players from Georgia than anywhere else.
The person most singularly responsible for that is Kentucky’s assistant head coach — and head coach in waiting — Joker Phillips, whose recruiting base is Georgia and Atlanta. The Wildcats currently have five players committed from the Peach State, including three from Stephenson High alone: TE Ronnie Shields, LB Jabari Johnson and RB Raymond Sanders. Also committed are CB Eric Simmons of Westlake and PK Joe Mansour of LaGrange. Kentucky has long benefited from what it calls the “LaGrange pipeline.”
Phillips said heading into the Georgia game last week that recruiting the state had made them more competitive with the Bulldogs.
“We’ve played them tough over the years,” Phillips told the Lexington-Herald Leader. “One of the reasons I think we’ve played them tough is because we’ve got so many Georgia kids on the team and it’s an emotional game for them.”
That has been noticed back in the Bluegrass state, which does not traditionally produce as many football prospects per capita. Steve Kragthorpe is expected to get fired after three losing seasons at Louisville and Eric Crawford, a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, noted that is at least in part because the Cardinals haven’t recruited the fertile state of Georgia as well as the Cats.
While many Georgians have found success at Kentucky, it has been rare if ever that the Bulldogs went head-to-head with it on a player. In most cases Georgia simply has passed over their targets in favor of other recruits. In the case of Maxwell, he did not start until his senior season at Hart County and then did not qualify academically for admission as a true freshman. He was, it seems, never on Georgia’s radar screen.
Except for this past Saturday. Maxwell was hard to miss.