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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Andre' Woodson transformed on Oct. 14, 2006.

His Kentucky squad had just been thrashed 49-0 by LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and there were lost souls in the locker room.

That's when Woodson, who had been benched that spring, stood up and did something he had yet to do in his college career.

He became a leader.

"Just then he gained the respect from his teammates," Wildcats linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "It was really one of the first times that people saw Andre' step outside of himself and challenge his teammates to become better. That was something that we needed to see."

If you're wondering how No. 8 Kentucky (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) has become worthy of SEC contention, look at Woodson. He is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate - especially after Saturday's 43-37 triple-overtime win against then-No. 1 LSU - and has 21 touchdowns to only four interceptions on the season.

Though Woodson says he does not worry about the Heisman hype, his coach has other intentions.

"I think he belongs in that conversation more than some of the other people that are currently in that conversation," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "He's doing more at a place that is tradition-starved for that kind of success that he's having. He has to do more and has done more than most of those people that are in that conversation."

But it hasn't been an easy journey for Woodson.

After starting and playing early on in his career, he lost that role in the spring of 2006 to the younger and more athletic Curtis Pulley.

Then, his work ethic kicked in.

"Coaches brought me in the office and told me what it was going to take to get it back," Woodson said. "It made me realize what it was going to take to be a big-time SEC quarterback and a big-time player. I spent extra hours in the film room. I had to run harder than everyone else. I had to lift harder. That really helped me grow up."

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Woodson grew up fast, but it took his teammates more time. After domination at the hands of LSU last season, he wasn't waiting for the rest of his team any longer.

"After getting beat 49-0, a lot of guys were really losing confidence," Woodson said. "I could just see it in a lot of people's eyes. For us to be a better team we have to start practicing differently. There's no more time for guys to be joking around. Guys have to be committed in everything they're doing out there."

After the loss to LSU last year, Kentucky won five of six games, including an upset of Georgia and the team's first bowl victory since 1984.

The Wildcats have continued rolling this year by downing then-No. 9 Louisville and besting the top-ranked Tigers. Their 6-1 start is Kentucky's best since 1977, and the Gators have taken notice of the Wildcats' upswing.

"You never know when they're going to try and throw a fly route or anything like that," linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "There's definitely no [freelancing]. Not on this team."

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