New CB Willis trying to get up to speed

Nate Willis hasn’t even had time to unpack his bags.

The new Kentucky cornerback, who discovered he was eligible earlier this week and then flew to Kentucky to start fall training camp late, said it’s been a whirlwind few days.

“I’m just going to work,” the 6-foot, 180-pounder told a group of reporters after practice on Friday. “I’m not really thinking about everything that’s going on. I’m just trying to do my job, just getting to work and learn everything quickly.”

Willis’ arrival couldn’t come at a better time for UK. An already thin position got even more rice paper like when sophomore starter Cody Quinn suffered an ankle injury this week.

Coach Mark Stoops did not elaborate or offer a timeline on Quinn’s return. When asked if the sophomore would be back for the season opener, position coach Derrick Ansley said he wasn’t sure.

Willis, rated the No. 3 junior college cornerback in the nation by had 19 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups last season at Arizona Western College. The season before that, he had 31 tackles and three interceptions.

He also has experience with punt and kickoff returns.

“He’s very quick and very athletic,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Willis. “He’s long, he’s tall. Not all our corners have those assets.”

When asked if Willis could make a push to start, Eliot nodded.

“Everybody’s got a chance to start,” he said. “We are a long ways until the game, so he does, but so does everybody else.”

While Willis has a lot to learn, Stoops said it might be the one defensive position that is easiest to teach.

“It’s very hard in application, but really pretty easy in theory, really,” Stoops said. “You’re not reinventing the wheel as far as assignments with cornerbacks. But if they can cover somebody they can help you.”

Willis still has lots of conditioning work to do to get up to speed and is still getting used to the tempo of the game.

For his part, Willis said he is just trying to contribute, not help save an understaffed UK unit.

“It’s really not a savior deal, because I really can’t do it by myself,” Wilis said. “It’s like as long as 11 play together everything should be good.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at
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