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August 23, 2013Repeatedly iced, Za'Darius Smith stayed cool.
Yes, the Kentucky defensive end - expected to make an immediate impact in his first season with the Wildcats after transferring from East Mississippi Community College - wanted to get back on the field after a high ankle sprain suffered in the first week of camp.
But he stayed patient even as the medical staff told him repeatedly he'd be forced to sit.
"I had to keep my calm," Smith said Friday after his return to practice. "I had to keep cool."
Smith stayed active even as he alternated between hot and cold treatments on his ankle. He studied film to stay ahead of the curve on Kentucky's defense. He watched practice from the sidelines.
He returned eight days before the Wildcats' season opener against Western Kentucky in Nashville.
"He looked good," UK coach Mark Stoops said. "He's been close. He did have a high-ankle sprain, and those, you all know, are very touchy. Even when you're feeling good, you get in there and start pushing on people and it's a little bit hairy. So we feel like he's made good progress and feels pretty good right now."
And Smith is a welcome sight for the Wildcats.
"I could just feel it, scheme-wise, in the blocking, the offensive linemen not just being able to send everyone my way, because they know you have other guys," said Bud Dupree, the end opposite Smith, who perhaps benefits the most from his return. "It's a lot freer, a lot better with him over there."
Smith missed two weeks of practice after rolling his ankle on an offensive guard's foot. But the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Smith still is expected to start - he had limited reps Friday, but worked with the first team - and get up to speed quickly.
"You know, (he) definitely could've developed more if he'd have practiced, but he was probably the furthest along as it was at defensive end going into camp," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said, "so I still feel good about him."
As does Stoops, who said Smith "won't be far behind."
"It makes us a lot better," Dupree said. "No one can chip, double-team, all that other stuff they were doing when he wasn't there. And big (Donte) Rumph and P.C. (Cobble) are finally back in, too, so we're just making a lot of adjustments with the whole line back."
As a recruit, Patrick Graffree was an unabashed and outspoken Big Blue fan.
Now he's taking his talents to Richmond.
The defensive tackle from Elizabethtown, Ky., posted on his Twitter account Friday that he's transferring to Eastern Kentucky, where he'll be eligible to play immediately.
Defensive line is projected to be Kentucky's strongest position, and Stoops said Friday that " Patrick would've had a hard time getting some playing time."
"I was (surprised), but we had a talk with a lot of guys when we got through camp (about) where we were at," Stoops said. "So he may not have been happy with that. I understand that. I don't want to get into detail on that, but I do wish him the best."
When asked if more transfers might result from those meetings, Stoops said, "Possibly."
Stoops announced on Friday that wide receiver Rashad Cunningham is ineligible to play this season, though he will remain with the team and participate in practice.
Kentucky also awarded a scholarship to center Max Godby.
"He looked emotional and, you know, you feel good about that," Stoops said. "He's worked awfully hard, and he deserves it. We're excited to give him one."
Godby, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior from Louisville, is working with the first team and is projected to start at center.
"I think the kids really respect him," Stoops said. "He works really hard. He's done a nice job."