D.J. Eliot says UK has to hit UL-Lafayette “thick”

We’re counting down toward Saturday. Tuesday was “defense day” for Kentucky football’s post practice interviews. Coordinator D.J. Eliot described the practice as “crisp” and said things went well for the most part. One are didn’t go as well as hoped.

Starting linebacker Ryan Flannigan was still in a red no-contact jersey because of his shoulder injury. Head coach Mark Stoops said Monday that if Flannigan can’t practice by Wednesday he probably will not play in the opener against UL-Lafayette on Saturday night.

We did talk to Flannigan’s replacement, Khalid Henderson, who said he has put on “about 15 to 20” pounds since last season and believes will be able to better hold his position against the run.

Eliot was complementary of his secondary, mentioning Chris Westry, Darius West, Derrick Baity and Mike Edwards by name. It’s obvious the coaches feel much better about the defensive backfield than last season as far as size and depth.

UL-Lafayette is more of a running team, however, with a running back in Isaiah McGuire who has been described as dynamic by Stoops. Eliot said his defensive players can’t arm tackle they have to hit the ballcarrier “thick.”

Related link: Jennifer Smith’s UK football blog

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Big Blue Links: UL-Lafayette has its plan

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Big Blue Links for Tuesday:

UL-Lafayette says it is ready. Tim Buckley of the Lafayette Advertiser reports that the Cajuns’ coaches have their plan ready for Saturday’s game at Kentucky. New defensive coordinator Melvin Smith will work from the press box. Smith came to Lafayette from Auburn.

Four true freshmen occupy the top spots at their positions on the newest Kentucky football depth chart. Those would be offensive tackle George Asafo-Adjei, cornerback Chris Westry, tight end C.J. Conrad and kick returner Sihiem King. Conrad and Asafo-Adjei were early enrollees who participated in spring practice. Westry is a rare 6-foot-4 corner. New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was recruiting King to West Virginia before coming to UK. King followed.

Matthew Mitchell has a connection to UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth. Mark Story explains the story concerning the two natives of Louisville, Miss. Hudspeth has won nine games in each of his first three seasons as the coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Lafayette will not be a pushover on Saturday, when the two teams start the season at the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium.

The Mark Stoops Monday luncheon question-and-answer. Jennifer Smith has the text on her blog. It includes the UK head coach talking about his club’s rise in talent:

“I’d be hesitant to give a percentage; I think it’s certainly better, you know, just like we’ve talked about all summer, we’re a much different football team than when we took the field that first year. And last year, I think we had some good talent and we had to rely on that talent to win us some football games that were very young. This year we are playing nine true freshmen and 10 redshirt freshmen, but the good news about those redshirt freshmen is they’re redshirt freshmen. So I think any experience we’ve got in the last couple of years has really helped us. I think there was some significant players that you know, that I mention often, certainly on the offensive side of the ball, that are going to be second-year guys and at least they’ll have that year of experience.”

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SEC: Les Miles’ coffee scare; Georgia names a quarterback

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SEC notes and links for Tuesday:

Coffee sends Les Miles to the hospital. Yes, you read that correctly. The LSU head coach drove himself to the hospital on Monday for what he said was a coffee problem. “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Miles said Monday night, altering a famous quote from author Mark Twain. “I can tell you that I did in fact have too much coffee to drink today, and I certainly did not feel real great about that.”

Georgia picked a starting quarterback. After saying he might play all three of his quarterback candidates in the Bulldogs’ opener, head coach Mark Richt announced Monday that Greyson Lambert would get the first snap Saturday against UL-Monroe. Lambert is a graduate transfer from Virginia. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Mobile, Ala., native threw for 10 touchdowns but was intercepted 11 times last year for the Cavs. He completed 59 percent of his passes.

“All this time, you probably thought I was being coy about it,” Richt said. “I really didn’t know. It was very close. Even this decision, it was a close decision to name him a starter. I think they can all get us in the right plays. I think they can all get us in the right protections. I think they can function extremely well.”

Ole Miss named Chad Kelly its starting quarterback. Sort of. Head coach Hugh Freeze named Kelly the starter but cautioned that the decision is not set in stone. Kelly is the nephew of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Chad started his college career at Clemson before transferring to a juco.

Florida middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is back from injury. Morrison has undergone two knee surgeries in the past eight months since the Birmingham Bowl. Yet Florida coach Jim McElwain said Morrison will start in the season opener against New Mexico State.

“Yeah, he is (starting),” McElwain said. “You’ve heard me throughout — it’s unbelievable what he’s done. Really proud of what he’s done. to see him recover like this. It obviously won’t be one of those deals where he’s playing 80 or 90 plays. At the same time, he’s prepared himself and he’s ready to play, and we’ll have a plan for that.

Auburn has its championship equation in place. That’s the view of former UCLA coach and current CBS Sports analyst Rick Neuheisel. “You know Will Muschamp at Florida had three top-10 defenses, and his worst defense there in his four years as head coach was 15th in the country,” Neuheisel said. “Add that to the fact you get Carl Lawson back from a knee injury, Montravius Adams up front, a good-looking secondary. I think he has the pieces to put together a really good defensive team.”

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SEC football 2015 previews: Georgia

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As season openers are almost here, our SEC previews continue with Georgia:

Record last season: Georgia finished 10-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC but repeated its history of suffering that one bad loss. Last season, it was the 38-20 loss to Florida in Jacksonville that ultimately knocked the Dawgs out of the league title game. (Florida fired its coach, Will Muschamp, at season’s end, anyway.) Missouri ended up winning the division with a 7-1 mark. Had the two teams tied, Georgia would have held the upper hand thanks to a 34-0 rout of Mizzou in Columbia. Georgia lost to arch-irval Georgia Tech 30-24 in overtime in the regular season finale. It did rebound to whip Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl.

Head coach: Mark Richt enters season 15 as the Georgia head coach. The 55-year-old former Florida State offensive coordinator is 136-48 overall and 78-34 in the SEC. His teams won the SEC in 2002 and 2005. They have either won or tied for the Eastern Division title six times. Born in Omaha, Neb., Richt played quarterback at Miami. He was offensive coordinator at East Carolina in 1989 before joining Bobby Bowden’s staff at FSU as quarterbacks coach the next season. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1994. His Georgia teams have won 10 or more games in nine of his 14 seasons as head coach.

Trend: After an eight-win dip in 2013, Georgia rebounded to go 10-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC last season. The Bulldogs haven’t made the league title game since 2012, however, when Georgia lost a heartbreaker to Alabama in Atlanta. Stoops has had just one losing season at Georgia. The Bulldogs were 6-7 in 2010, including a 3-5 SEC mark. They have been 25-7 in league play since then.

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Last year’s high point: On Oct. 11, Georgia went on the road and pitched a shutout at defending SEC East champ Missouri 34-0. The fact star running back Todd Gurley missed the game because of suspension made no difference. Quarterback Hutson Mason completed 22 of 28 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown. Nick Chubb rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries. The Bulldogs led 20-0 at the half and held Missouri to just 147 total yards. The host Tigers turned the ball over five times. Georgia intercepted four passes.

Last year’s low point: No. 11 Georgia brought a 6-1 record to Jacksonville for the renewal of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and got smashed 38-20 by the Gators. Florida rushed for a mind-boggling 418 yards in the upset win. Matt Jones rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Kelvin Taylor gained gained 192 yards and two touchdowns, also on 25 carries. Florida threw for just 27 yards, but it didn’t matter. It was the most team rushing yards given up by an SEC defense all season, and only the second 400-yard game of the year. Auburn gave up 400 rushing yards to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. After the season, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn replaced defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson with former Florida coach Will Muschamp as his defensive coordinator.

The 2014 stats: Georgia ranked 28th nationally in total offense, averaging 457.8 yards per game. That was down from 484 yards per game in 2013 and 468 in 2012. Georgia did average 41.3 points per game, which ranked sixth nationally. The Bulldogs were 17th nationally in total defense, allowing 337.2 yards per game. That was a 43-yard per game improvement over 2013. Georgia allowed just 20.7 points per game. That was much better than the 29 points per game allowed under former coordinator Todd Grantham in 2013. Grantham is now in his second season as defensive coordinator at Louisville.

Drafted by NFL: The Bulldogs had five players drafted in 2015. Running back Todd Gurley went in the first round to the St. Louis Rams with the 10th overall pick. Kansas City took wide receiver Chris Conley in the third round, then took linebacker Ramik Wilson in the fourth round. New Orleans grabbed cornerback Damian Swann in the fifth round. Indianapolis tapped linebacker Amarlo Herrera in the sixth round. Georgia had two first-round picks in 2013, when Pittsburgh took linebacker Jarvis Jones with the 17th pick and St. Louis drafted linebacker Alec Ogletree with the 30th pick. Before that, wide receiver A.J. Green went to Cincinnati with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Rivals class of 2015 ranking: Georgia’s recruiting was ranked 6th by Rivals, one spot behind Tennessee and one spot in front of Auburn. It was the second straight top-10 finish for the Bulldogs, as Rivals ranked Georgia’s 2014 class seventh. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, out of Albany, Ga., is considered the team’s top true freshman prospect. He was ranked as the seventh-best overall prospect by Rivals. Terry Godwin, an all-purpose athlete from Hogansville, was ranked 10th.

Coordinators: When longtime offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took the head coaching job at Colorado State, Richt delivered a curve ball by hiring Brian Schottenheimer. The son of former NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Brian had spent the past 14 years as an NFL assistant with Washington, San Diego, the New York Jets and St. Louis. Schottenheimer was a backup quarterback under Steve Spurrier at Florida, but he has coached college football just two years — 1999 at Syracuse and 2000 at USC. Jeremy Pruitt starts his second year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt, 41, from Rainsville, Ala., was an assistant at Alabama from 2007 through 2012 before succeeding current UK head coach Mark Stoops as Florida State’s defensive coordinator. He left Tallahassee after just one season — a national title season — to join Richt at Georgia.

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Getting Drew Barker playing time would be a smart move

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Just as we predicted (hoped?), there’s a good chance that Kentucky will play more than one quarterback in Saturday night’s opener against UL-Lafayette. At his Monday press luncheon, Mark Stoops said he wants to get backup quarterback Drew Barker a series if possbile.

“Absolutely, I’d like to,” said the head coach. “I’d like to early when the game’s on the line. But we will see about that. I’d like to.”

Barker, the highly touted redshirt freshman from Conner High School, lost out in the starting quarterback competition to junior Patrick Towles, who started all 12 Kentucky games last season. Towles is expected to take the vast majority — if not all — of the snaps on Saturday.

It would be smart, however, to get Barker’s feet wet. The SEC is an unforgiving league. Few and far between are the quarterbacks who can make it through a season without missing at least a series or two, much less a game, because of injury. No coach wants to suddenly throw an untested rookie into the fire.

Plus, Barker is obviously talented. Despite Towles having the upper hand, Barker performed well enough in spring drills to push the quarterback competition into the summer. Barker’s performance in fall camp caused Stoops and new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson to wait until 10 days into camp before naming Towles the starter.

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Uncertainty grows for UK at linebacker

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Kentucky football fans anxiously awaiting Saturday’s 2015 kickoff in the “new” Commonwealth Stadium heard some worrisome news during head coach Mark Stoops’ initial weekly Monday press luncheon.

Ryan Flannigan, expected starter at an inside linebacker spot, is not totally back from the shoulder injury he suffered during training camp. Stoops said he met with trainer Jim Madaleno on Monday morning, and the report on Flannigan was iffy at best.

“If he can’t practice by Wednesday, he probably won’t play Saturday,” Stoops said.

Those tracking the Cats during training camp know that at least three of the four linebacker spots — if you include the defensive end/outside linebacker spots — are in a tenuous position. Depth is lacking, especially experienced depth.

Jason Hatcher’s suspension doesn’t help. Expected to come into his own now that star DE/OLB Bud Dupree has moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hatcher is suspended for both the opener with UL-Lafayette and the first road game at South Carolina on Sept. 12.

If Flannigan is unable to go, senior Khalid Henderson is the likely starter at that inside spot opposite senior Josh Forrest, a holdover starter and the backbone of the linebacking corps. Henderson has experience but has never been a consistent starter. Stoops said Monday that Henderson has done some good things in camp, and with Flannigan’s absence, he has received plenty of camp reps. Stoops said he likes Henderson’s attitude, but “he needs to continue to improve.”

True freshman Eli Brown is listed as an “or” with Henderson on the depth chart behind Flannigan. A prep standout from Bowling Green, Brown was originally scheduled to redshirt this season. He needed size and strength. But Flannigan’s injury caused Brown to let the coaches know he wanted to play. He’s picked up 10 to 15 pounds over the summer. There’s a good chance he will see action Saturday.

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SEC football 2015 previews: LSU

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SEC football previews continue with LSU:

Record last season: LSU lost three of its last four games and finished 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. After a 3-0 start, the Tigers lost to visiting Mississippi State 34-29. Two weeks later, Auburn whipped LSU 41-7. Tigers righted the ship with three straight wins before losing 20-13 in overtime to visiting Alabama. The letdown from that loss led to a 17-0 blanking at Arkansas. After a 23-17 win at Texas A&M to end the regular season, LSU lost to Notre Dame 31-28 in the Music City Bowl.

Head coach: Les Miles enters his 11th season as the LSU. The 61-year-old native of Elyria, Ohio is 103-29 over his 10 seasons, including a 56-24 record in the SEC. Miles won the national title with LSU in 2007 and lost in the national title game to Alabama in 2011. His 8-5 record last season was his worst since 2008. A lineman at Michigan, Miles was an assistant at Colorado, Michigan and Oklahoma State before becoming Oklahoma State’s head coach in 2001. He was 28-21 in four seasons before leaving for LSU after Nick Saban left Baton Rouge for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Trend: The Tigers won at least 10-or-more games for four straight years before dropping to 8-5 last season. LSU went 4-4 in the SEC, its fewest number of conference wins since going 3-5 in 2008, the year after the Tigers won the national championship.

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Last year’s high point: LSU’s highlight of the year may have been its first game of the year. Down 24-13 after three quarters, the Tigers rallied with two touchdowns in the final 3:12 to pull out a 28-24 win. Quarterback Anthony Jennings hit John Diarse with a 35-yard touchdown pass to start the comeback. Jennings hit Trey Quinn for the two-point conversion which cut the lead to 24-21. Then with 1:32 left, Kenny Hillard scored on a 28-yard run for what proved to be the winning touchdown.

Last year’s low point: After the loss to Alabama, LSU laid an egg in Fayetteville, gaining just 123 yard of total offense in a 17-0 loss to the Razorbacks, who had lost 17 straight conference games. LSU managed just 36 yards rushing on 32 carries. Quarterback Anthony Jennings completed 12 of 22 passes for 87 yards. It was the first time LSU had been blanked since the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2011 national title game.

The 2014 stats: The Tigers ranked ninth in total defense, giving up 316.8 yards per game, which ramps up the importance of losing Chavis to Texas A&M. In the five years under Chavis, LSU gave up 16.2 points per game in 2009; 18.2 in 2010; 11.3 in 2011; 17.5 in 2012; 22 in 2013 and 17.5 in 2014. LSU ranked 77th in total offense, averaging 387.5 yards per game, down from 453 yards per game in 2013. The Tigers averaged 35.8 points per game in 2013. That dropped to 27.6 in 2014.

Drafted by NFL: Four Tigers were taken in the 2015 draft, but none in the first round, which broke a four-year streak of first-round draft picks. Cornerback Jalen Collins was taken in the second round with the 42nd overall pick by Atlanta. Minnesota took defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round with the 88th overall pick. Tampa Bay picked outside linebacker Kwon Alexander in the fourth round. Houston took running back Kenny Hillard in the seventh round. As for the first-round streaks, defensive back Patrick Peterson was taken by Arizona in 2011; cornerback Morris Claiborne was taken by Dallas and defensive tackle Michael Brockers was taken by St. Louis in 2012; outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo was drafted by Cleveland and free safety Eric Reid was taken by San Francisco in 2013. Wide receiver Odell Beckham was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2014.

Rivals Class of 2015 ranking: No. 8. It’s the third straight year the Tigers have ranked in the Top 10 by Rivals. LSU ranked No. 2 behind Alabama in 2014. The Tigers were No. 6 in 2013. As for the Class of 2015, Rivals ranked wide receiver Tyron Johnson out of New Orleans as the nation’s 11th-best prospect. Running back Derrius Guice out of Baton Rouge ranked 15th. Kevin Toliver II, out of Jacksonville, ranked 27th. Maea Teuhema, an offensive lineman from Keller, Texas, ranked 30th. That’s four LSU signees in the Top 30.

Coordinators: After John Chavis left Baton Rouge for Texas A&M, Miles hired veteran defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who spend the last two years at Alabama, including last year as linebackers coach. Steele has also coached at Tennessee, New Mexico State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Baylor, Florida State and Clemson, where he was last defensive coordinator in 2012. His final game was a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is back for his third season. Cameron announced last week that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer but said he is “good to go” for the season. A former Indiana quarterback, Cameron coached at Michigan and was an assistant with the NFL’s Washington Redskins before becoming IU’s head coach in 1997. He went 18-37 in five seasons, including a 1-4 record against Kentucky. He returned to the NFL as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers from 2002-06. He was head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2007 but was fired after going 1-15. He was Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator from 2008-12 until being fired three weeks before the end of the season. He was hired as OC by LSU in 2013.

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Big Blue Links: Game Week is here

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Big Blue Links for Monday:

Kentucky will go bowling: In the Herald-Leader’s College Football Preview 2015, columnist Mark Story predicts that Mark Stoops will celebrate year three as the UK coach by taking the Cats to their first bowl game since 2010.

Dorian Hendrix to Bowling Green: The former Kentucky linebacker, who left the Cats last week, is transferring to Bowling Green, reports Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader. The Ohio native redshirted last year at UK.

Stadium changes at South Carolina: Kentucky fans who travel to Columbia for the Sept. 12 game between Kentucky and the Gamecocks may notice some changes at Williams-Brice Stadium, reports David Cloninger of The State.

South Carolina loses two receivers: On the field, the Gamecocks had a tough weekend as receivers Shaq Davidson (ACL tear) and Jerad Washington (broken leg) were lost to injuries, reports Josh Kendall of The State.

Georgia is bullish on its tight ends: The Bulldogs believe they have their best tight ends group since 2011, reports Jason Butt of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Dwayne Thomas coming back: The LSU defensive back was a key contributor last season before tearing his ACL five weeks into the season. Thomas has been climbing up the depth chart this fall for the Tigers, reports Marcus Rodrigue of The Advocate.

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Big Blue Links: College Football 2015 Preview

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Big Blue Links for Sunday:

College Football Preview 2015 special section links from the Herald-Leader. Jennifer Smith penned the cover story on Kentucky’s new “Air Raid” offense with new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and Patrick Towles, the returning starter at quarterback.

Building smarter, not bigger, is the key to stadium overhauls, says my column. After Louisville’s just-announced expansion, the Cardinals will have the biggest college football stadium in Kentucky. But both U of L and UK are addressing their program needs and revenue streams with stadium renovation projects.

Matt Jones will stick with radio, predicts Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. In his Sunday basketball notebook, Tipton talks with Ralph Hacker, who like Jones was on the UK radio crew and considered a run for Congress. In the end, Hacker turned down the chance and stayed in broadcasting.

Kentucky’s cornerbacks need to make progress, reports Jon Hale of the Cats Pause.  “It’s one of the groups that needs to make a lot of progress,” said Mark Stoops. “It’s extremely important. It’s very hard in application, as I’ve talked about before. It’s not overly complicated with scheme, but you have to be able to handle your business out there and win on an island. You have to win some one-on-ones. I’m seeing us being much more competitive. So I think we’re getting better.”

Mikel Horton is finding his identity, reports Alex Forkner of Cats Illustrated. “It’s like a new person,” UK running backs coach Chad Scott said of Horton. “He understands who he is and the power he has running north and south, and also the playmaking ability it gives him being able to run north and south because guys don’t want to hit him head up. He’s a big force coming at you.”

A.J. Reed does it again, reports Herald-Leader. The Minor League Report contains more highlights from the Herald-Leader’s Sportsman of the Year.

Kyle Bolin can steal show, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. The former Lexington Catholic quarterback, who helped Louisville beat UK in a reserve role last year, is competing for the starting quarterback job at U of L.

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Randall Cobb doesn’t think shoulder injury is serious, reports AP. The ex-UK star and current Green Bay Packers receiver suffered the injury in exhibition game with Philadelphia. After losing Jordy Nelson for the season to a torn ACL, the Packers can’t afford to lose another wide receiver. Matt Ludtke of AP took the above photo of play on which Cobb was injured.

Bud Dupree suffers foot injury, reports SB Nation. The former UK defensive end and Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round draft pick left the Steelers’ exhibition game with Buffalo on Saturday.

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SEC: Nick Saban is taking his time

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SEC links for Sunday:

Nick Saban remains patient, says Guerry Clegg of the Columbus Ledge-Enquirer. The Alabama coach hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide’s opener against Wisconsin.

Josh Dobbs balances academics and athletics, reports Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “He told me he never missed a day of school, K through 12,” professor Matthew Mench said of the junior quarterback, an aerospace engineering major from Alpharetta, Ga., who has his heart set on building airplanes after his football career. “And I think he got an A-minus in one class in his life. Other than that, it was all A’s. I asked him what math he took. Most engineering students — and here they have an average ACT score of 32 — most start with Calculus 1 or Pre-Calculus. He was in Differential Equations. My jaw dropped right there. … He was already in the last math that you needed for engineering.”

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