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July 26, 2011

Five undrafted Cats find NFL homes

There had been so much waiting. And then, just like that, Chris Matthews was out of time.

The former Kentucky wide receiver had been waiting since the NFL Draft to determine his football future, forced like all undrafted college stars to bide his time during the league's lockout.

Then, on Monday night, Matthews was flooded with options.

The Baltimore Ravens wanted him badly, he said. The New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs all showed interest.

"My agent told me last night, 'We're going to have to make a decision by 10 o'clock,'" Matthews said Tuesday. "I was like, 'I don't even wake up until 11. I've got to think about this.'"

A mostly sleepless Monday followed, but Matthews ultimately elected to try his luck with the Cleveland Browns. He was one of five undrafted former Wildcats to agree to terms with NFL clubs on Tuesday. Undrafted free agents can sign contracts on Friday.

Quarterback Mike Hartline (Indianapolis Colts), running back Derrick Locke (Minnesota Vikings) and defensive linemen Ricky Lumpkin (Arizona Cardinals) and DeQuin Evans (Cincinnati Bengals) all found football homes Monday.

Lumpkin will shift from defensive tackle to nose tackle. Evans is moving from defensive end to strongside linebacker.

The lockout, Matthews said, "has been really hard on a lot of players," but the waiting was the hardest part. Matthews and Evans attended classes and worked out at UK, sometimes three times a day.

Lumpkin said he felt hardly any stress during his downtime.

"I did what I was supposed to do, what I had learned: I got myself a job," Lumpkin said. "Had to still pay bills and rent and wasn't on scholarship anymore. I worked my way to pay for my rent, and I would train on my lunch break."

Lumpkin worked at UK's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS), assisting athletes in scheduling tutoring hours and making sure they showed up on time for sessions. That's the kind of work he hopes to do when his football career ends.

For now, it's just beginning.

Lumpkin said the Cardinals have asked that he put on about seven pounds to reach 320 in order to play nose tackle, a move he said he's comfortable with.

"It was one of the main things I was better at was taking double-teams here and holding the point of attack," Lumpkin said. "I wasn't that good at pass-rushing. I'm that dumb. It was wishy-washy. Sometimes it would be good, sometimes it was straight horrible."

Evans, too, said he's ready for a move. He was leaning toward signing with Cleveland, he said, before a late call from Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald swayed him to Cincinnati.

UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver previously worked for the Bengals. He put in a good word for Evans, who said he's aware he faces a challenge in changing positions while entering NFL camp as a rookie.

"I feel like nothing came easy for me," Evans said. "Everything that has come has been a little difficult and hard. I deal real good with adversity. When I get in there, I know I've got to work. I know I've got to latch on to one of my D-coordinators. I know I've got to stay living in that film room."

Lumpkin compared this whirlwind week after the lockout layoff to a protracted version of college recruiting. But there's a significant difference, he noted.

"You're not guaranteed a year," he said. "You're guaranteed a week, and you get guaranteed another week if you do good."

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