LEXINGTON (AP) — Avery Williamson will make his final start feeling confident that Kentucky is on the path to respectability.
That might sound strange considering the Wildcats are 2-9 overall and 0-7 in the Southeastern Conference entering Saturday night’s season finale against border rival Tennessee, but the senior middle linebacker believes he has been around the program long enough to know progress when he sees it.
“I feel like I was a part of the building process here,” Williamson said. “I know these coaches will get things turned around. We really focused on having a lot more leadership and accountability this year and I think that will help the program in the future.”
The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder has certainly left his mark on the program. He leads Kentucky again with 96 tackles, which ranks third in the SEC. But the Milan, Tenn., native would really like to end his college career with a victory over the Volunteers (4-7, 1-6).
“I know people on the (Volunteers) and everyone back home is a Tennessee fan, so it really would be great to beat them again, like I did my sophomore year,” Williamson added.
Kentucky’s 10-7 victory in 2011 broke a 26-game losing streak against the rival Volunteers. The Wildcats forced three turnovers in that meeting, including a key one during a third quarter goal-line stand.
Any success Kentucky hopes to have on Saturday will require a similar defensive effort, and that all starts with Williamson. That’s not a problem considering he has been the face of the Wildcats’ defense, if not the program, for a while now.
Williamson’s 290 career tackles include 135 as a junior — which was second in the SEC and seventh nationally. Though he won’t match that total this season, another 100-stop season is easily within reach since he always seems to be around the ball.
His per-game average of 8.7 tackles rank third in the league and 48th nationally. Williamson has led the Wildcats in tackles in five games this season including four double-digit performances.
If anybody is going to help motivate the Wildcats to end a 15-game conference losing streak, coach Mark Stoops believes Williamson is the player to lead the charge.