By the time he completed a stellar career at UK, Derek Abney held seven NCAA records, 11 Southeastern Conference records and 14 school records for kick returns and all-purpose yards. For his efforts, the Wisconsin native was named first-team All-American by the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America and several other groups.
Abney is back in the Bluegrass this week, to help former teammate Anthony “Champ” Kelly with his football camp, which is being held at Bryan Station High School on Thursday and Friday.
“This is the first camp I’ve done, the first football camp,” Abney said. “When I heard that Champ was putting it on, coupled with the fact that we’re going to be focusing on life values, as well as football, it was a no-brainer.”
Abney now lives in Charleston, S.C., where he is a civil engineer. He says he’ll fondly remember his playing days at UK.
“The Big Blue Nation is everywhere. Even in Charleston, where I’m at now, I still see UK fans. It was great then and still is.”
He left UK as the school’s second leading receiver all-time and one of the most popular offensive players ever.
“Being in the competition and the drive, just being able to change the game on one play, like a punt return or a kickoff return, was fantastic,” he said.
Listed at 5-foot-10, Abney relied upon quickness and technique to become one of the most decorated Wildcats in history.
“Being a little guy, I always had to prove myself. So it was a blessing, in some ways, because I never quit. I had to show everybody what I was made of.”
His favorite game? A three touchdown effort in the Swamp in 2002, when Abney scored on a 100-yard kickoff return, a 49-yard punt return and caught a touchdown pass from Jared Lorenzen in a loss to Florida.
His favorite moment? Celebrating his NCAA record-tying return against Mississippi State with Earvin Flowers, who was the lead blocker on the play that allowed Abney to score.
“I’m following Andrew Hopewell,” he recalled, “blocking two guys. And then Earvin Flowers finishing it up. As we’re in the pile, I remember taking Earvin’s helmet and going, ‘Yes!’”
Abney was drafted by the Ravens, but injuries forced him to give up the game he loved.
“It was tough getting hurt early on, but to say I was an All-American and got drafted, it was a nice accomplishment.”