November 22, 2011

Roark has designs to end on high note

When Kentucky's seniors take the field for the final time Saturday against Tennessee, the class will be remember for four years of ups-and-downs.

But no senior has had more of a roller-coaster career than wide receiver Matt Roark.

Roark committed to UK in December of 2007 with the idea of competing for the quarterback position while playing some wide receiver. As his freshman season wore on he found himself playing in every game, but not at quarterback and rarely as wide receiver.
The 6-foot-5 athlete was making an impact blocking kicks, a recurring theme during his time as a Wildcat. To date, Roark has blocked seven kicks.

Roark knows his class saw a four-game winning streak against archrival Louisville end and a five-year bowl streak end in their senior year. But he believes his class will be remembered for ending another streak - the kind of streak Kentucky wants to end.

"(We'll be remembered) as the team that beat Tennessee, because that's what were about to do, what we are planning on doing," Roark said. "I hope that's how they remember us."
It's unclear however how fans will remember Roark.

The high points of his career have been impressive - he blocked an extra point at Mississippi State as a freshman in 2008 that preserved a 14-13 UK win. But he's had several rough spots as well. He was arrested for DUI in October 2010, earning him a one-game suspension.

Roark's senior season was the year he thought he'd finally make an big impact at receiver. With UK losing both starting receivers from the previous year, there figured to be plenty of playing time available. But to Roark's dismay, the season didn't start as he expected.

Roark dropped several passes in the season opener against Western Kentucky. Things got worse the next week when he was benched after dropping a touchdown pass the following week vs. Central Michigan.

"At first it was demoralizing but I didn't let it get to me for too long," Roark said. "I didn't focus on the negative I just focused on the positives, building that up and turning the negatives into positives," Roark said.

Roark sat out UK's loss to Louisville with an injury and still couldn't get it going in a blowout loss to Florida where he tied a career-high with three receptions, though he had only seven yards. He had modest performances in the weeks following until the Cats made a change at quarterback.

Freshman Maxwell Smith took over the offense when Morgan Newton was injured against Mississippi State. Suddenly, Roark was a featured part of the offense.

Roark caught more passes against the Bulldogs than he had all season. He finished with 13 catches for 116 yards. He consistently caught short passes and turned them into big gains, keeping UK in the game. He kept it going in the next game, catching seven passes for 113 yards and his first career touchdown.

Roark's success even surprised himself after his poor start.

"It surprised me, after how I performed in the first part of the season, it surprised me how it ended up," Roark said. "But I always expected to become that guy."

Roark hasn't performed at that level since those two games. He had one catch against Vanderbilt, and struggled to get open after catching a 46-yard bomb on Kentucky's first drive against Georgia.

The Cats will need the Roark that emerged against the Mississippi schools if they want to end a 26-year losing streak to the Volunteers.

"A win would mean a lot, because my team would go down as the team that would beat Tennessee after all these years," Roark said. "It would mean a lot, it'd be crazy."

And Roark believes he'll be able to have a big game, hopefully ending in what he calls his "dream scenario."

"I want to catch the game winning touchdown, with no time on the clock and punt the ball into the stands," Roark said.

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