LEXINGTON, Ky. — Coming back from injuries is nothing new for Kentucky safety Darius West. He said it’s become natural for him.
West has logged just 10 games over a three-year span at Kentucky. The culprit has long been leg injuries.
He twice broke his leg in high school. Then more trouble in college. West redshirted his freshman year after a lower leg injury that was unrelated to his high school breaks. The Lima, Ohio, native played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman with 17 tackles.
West was poised for a bigger role in 2016, but it never happened. He suffered a patella tendon injury in his knee during fall camp and missed his whole sophomore season.
“You’ve gotta stay headstrong,” West said. “God just put me through different obstacles is how I look at it.”
The former 3-star prospect is a favorite to win the starting free safety job. Injuries have kept him from securing the role, but West is healthy as Kentucky finished its last spring practice on Thursday.
The Wildcats return starting cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry along with starting strong safety Mike Edwards. All three are juniors, and West, also a junior, could be the missing piece in the secondary.
“I feel like me and Mike got so much chemistry together,” West said.
Edwards was named second-team All-SEC last season and a healthy West beside him would only add to the strength of Kentucky’s secondary.
Redshirt freshman Tobias Gilliam has also emerged at safety. Gilliam snagged a pick-six in last Saturday’s scrimmage, and defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said he’s given Gilliam a few first-team reps.
“We gave him an opportunity to go with the ones in a scrimmage, and he didn’t do as well,” Clinkscale said. “And then last week he came back and responded. You don’t know what you’re gonna get when they don’t play in games, but he’s got a toughness about him mentally that we can rely on.”
Edwards helped host Gilliam on his recruiting trip, and the two safeties have continued that relationship.
“Even now I’m always at his house, make me come cook with him, watch film with him,” Gilliam said of Edwards. “I just try to mirror everything he does because he’s a great example on and off the field.”
Kentucky has new options at safety with the loss of Marcus McWilson and Blake McClain. Along with Gilliam, Clinkscale mentioned sophomore Marcus Walker as another young safety who’s impressed.
But the best addition for Kentucky’s secondary might be a healthy West.
“It makes me appreciate being out there between the lines,” West said. “Every second.”