Junior reserve offensive linemen Dave Ulinski has been forced to give up football due to complications with concussions, coach Joker Phillips announced on Friday, and sophomore defensive tackle Mister Cobble will miss four months after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
Ulinski, a 6-foot-5, 324-pound player from Louisville's Manual High School, appeared in four games last season and has been practicing as a second-team guard this season.
"It's definitely disappointing because I never really got a lot of playing time, but I felt like I started (the spring) off well and I definitely ended the season well after talking to coach (Mike) Summers, and he was pleased with the improvement I've made," Ulinski said. "I was looking forward to getting some playing time definitely."
Phillips said Ulinski, whose late grandfather Harry Ulinski was an All-American at UK in the 1940s, will become a student assistant coach working with Rock Oliver's strength and conditioning staff.
"We love Dave, and we'll miss him," Phillips said. "That was one of the places where we were trying to develop some depth because next year we've got a mass exodus of about three or four guys. It's just like somebody graduating early (in terms of coping with it), similar to Randall Cobb coming out early. We've got to move on. The show doesn't stop, and Dave will be a big asset to us in the weight room."
Ulinski is the second UK player in two years to give up the sport because of concussions, following safety Matt Lentz, who also became a student assistant.
Phillips said concussions are taken much more seriously now than they were when he was a player and there is a greater awareness in diagnosing them.
"If I'd have played now, I'd maybe have had to give it up because I guarantee I've had a lot of concussions myself," he said. "It's just more awareness, more concern. Back then it was considered a headache."
Ulinski said he's unsure how many concussions he's suffered but that the most recent one occurred about two weeks ago.
"Such a sad situation and a real concern for these guys who go out here every day and expose their bodies to the type of punishment that's involved in practice and playing," Summers said. "When a situation like that develops, my heart goes out to him.
"... These guys play this game because they love it, and it's a part of their personality and how they are, and when they have to give it up, it cuts deep emotionally, and certainly we're going to miss Dave because he had a really good future in front of him."
Meanwhile, Phillips is optimistic that Cobble, a 6-foot, 338-pound Louisville Central product, will be back and ready by the start of the season after having shoulder surgery on Thursday.
The coach said offensive lineman Chandler Burden and defensive end Tristian Johnson had similar labrum surgeries after the regular season and before the BBVA Compass Bowl and appear to be recovering well.
Burden is back practicing this spring, Phillips said, and Johnson is still rehabbing.
"We wanted to make sure (Cobble) got that done in time to get him ready to play in the season," said. "... We feel good about Cobble coming back. ... He should be back first of August."
Philips said Cobble's injury will present an opportunity in the short term for redshirt freshman Brice Laughlin to get more practice reps.
"(Cobble) was the second-team guy who was battling for the first team," the coach said. "The first-team guy will be Luke McDermott. All that does is give Brice Laughlin a lot more reps. A few years ago, we had 30-something surgeries, and it gave us a chance to get some depth at a lot of positions. And that's how we're looking at it, seeing that he'll be back in the fall."