One of Kentucky's least-heralded 2011 signees will be the Wildcats' lone freshman scholarship player atop the depth chart against Western Kentucky on Thursday night, and fullback Darrell Warren entered his first fall camp with that goal in mind.
"D.J." Warren, the 6-foot, 240-pound player from Alcoa High School in Tennessee, didn't receive a scholarship offer from UK until the eve of signing day in February, and the two-star prospect's only other scholarship offer was from Tennessee Chattanooga, where he was verbally committed.
But it'll be Warren, not any of UK's 24 more highly rated and closely chronicled signees who has a shot to crack Thursday's starting lineup.
It's not guaranteed that Warren will start the game because there's no assurance UK will use a fullback on its opening series or much at all against WKU.
However, coach Joker Phillips said on Monday that UK will regularly use offensive sets that include Warren.
"We're not going to shy away because we have a young guy at fullback," the coach said. "We'll play him. The reason why he's here is because he's talented enough."
Warren said at last month's UK media day - the only time freshmen were available for interviews - that he didn't expect to start this season but that it was something he'd be shooting for. He is the Cats' only scholarship fullback, and the job was vacant after the departure of senior Moncell Allen.
"That's everybody's goal to start, but you never know, so that's why you take it day by day and work hard, and if your time comes to start, that means you worked hard," Warren said.
Warren didn't receive a ton of recruiting attention despite being one of Tennessee's most highly productive, highly acclaimed players at small-school powerhouse Alcoa High. That's the school that also produced his cousin Randall Cobb, an All-American at UK who's now a rookie for the Green Bay Packers.
He was Tennessee's 2011 Class 2-A Mr. Football for linemen for his work as a defensive end. He had 84 tackles, including 26 for loss (16 sacks).
He also ran for 1,300 yards (averaging better than 9 yards per carry) and 36 touchdowns.
With a couple of open spots in its recruiting class because of Lamar Dawson and Jon Davis' late decisions to sign with USC and Illinois, respectively, UK reached out to Warren about joining the team as a fullback - a position he'd never played but one the Cats decided was worth devoting a scholarship.
"He knew what he was doing when he came here," UK running backs coach Steve Pardue said. "We made no bones about it that we were recruiting him as a fullback, and he came in wanting to be a fullback. His got a great attitude and the kind of disposition you want in a fullback. He just has to learn the position and see how well he can handle the banging at this level."
Warren went to work watching film and lifting weights, and he talked to Allen and former UK/current New York Jets fullback John Conner about how they learned to succeed at the position.
"You just have to take advice from the best, and that's what I'm doing," Warren said at UK's media day - the only time the Cats' freshmen have been available for interviews.
He quickly bulked up from 225 pounds to 240 during UK's summer conditioning program with strength coach Rock Oliver, and Warren said, it's all "good weight" that will help him go head to head with Southeastern Conference linebackers.
When he blocks this season, there's a good chance he'll be opening holes for at least one fellow freshmen.
Sophomore Raymond Sanders is the Cats' starting tailback, but Georgia freshman Josh Clemons is No. 2 on the depth chart and Marcus Caffey, another Georgia rookie, could have a shot to see the field in 2011.
"(Clemons and Caffey) are very shifty, great runners," Warren said. "After watching their highlight tapes and everything, I was very impressed with everything they did. They've got unbelievable speed, and everything like that. I'm hoping that at some point, I'll be blocking for them and getting them some touchdowns."
Caffey said he has confidence in Warren's ability to free up holes.
"I feel like D.J. is going to be a great fullback," he said. "Hopefully we've got another John Conner."
Conner and Allen were a proficient ball-carriers, themselves, and UK often called their numbers in short-yardage situations.
A star tailback in high school, Warren is ready to run when needed, but he said he understands that's not his primary role.
"If I get the ball, that's good. If I don't, that's good," he said. "I just want to help the team in any way possible, but if I do get the ball, I hope I can do something positive with it. But my main thing is to block the best I can and be consistent at it."
Alcoa, which went 44-1 during Warren's high school career, has been go-to school for the Cats in recruiting.
Cobb is arguably the most versatile and popular player in UK's history. Alcoa's Kyrus Lanxter was a former UK wide receiver who made some contributions to the Cats, and UK sophomore tight end Tyler Robinson - Warren's former high school teammate - is expected to have a significant role in the offense this year.
Pardue said it doesn't hurt to have another Alcoa kid on the roster.
"It's been really good to the University of Kentucky, so hopefully (Warren) can bring some of that same magic," he said.