Make no mistake about it, Malcolm McDuffen says. A redshirt year is one of the most difficult things a former high school standout can go through when he makes the transition to the college level.
Malcolm McDuffen (54) bulked up with almost 20 pounds of muscle during his redshirt freshman year. (247Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond)
Especially on Saturdays in the fall.
“The toughest thing about it is you’re so anxious to play,” McDuffen said. “You’re basically taking a year off from football, even though you’re practicing. It’s hard to sit and watch when the games come around. It’s a weird feeling.”
But don’t think for a second the Wildcats’ redshirt freshman from Christian County has any regrets about the process.
“It was a good thing for me,” said McDuffen, who was named UK’s scout team player of the week three times last season and used the time to transform himself from a wiry 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete into a more chiseled 220-pound linebacker ready to test himself in the rugged SEC.
“The best thing about it is you get a chance to get bigger and stronger and learn all the plays. I spent about 10 hours a week in the film room watching film. And you build some chemistry with the upperclassmen and your teammates. I think all of those things were good for me.”
McDuffen is currently running second team at the weakside linebacker position occupied by senior Danny Trevathan, who led the SEC last season with 144 tackles en route to All-American honors.
“You couldn’t ask for a better guy to learn from,” McDuffen said. “I’m just trying to do that every day, learn from the best, and that’s Danny.”
It must be rubbing off. During the course of the last week, no fewer than three members of the UK coaching staff have paid McDuffen the ultimate compliment.
“He’s a guy who looks like a young Danny (Trevathan),” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “Whether or not he’ll develop into a Danny Trevathan, who knows? But he looks a little like Danny did when he was a freshman.”
“He’s shown some flashes that remind us of Danny,” UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith said. "... Athletically, he’s got the tools. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s explosive. He’s going to be a good one."
And this from new Wildcat defensive coordinator Rick Minter: “I wasn’t here when Danny was young. All I know is Danny now, and that’s darn good. But Malcolm’s on his way. He’s a big positive for us and the future. The best thing about him is, he’s got his whole future ahead of him.”
Getting McDuffen those crucial practice “reps” is an ongoing priority for the staff. With the recent departure of Qua Huzzie, who transferred to Murray State, McDuffen’s role on this year’s team could be magnified. The only other player at that position on the depth chart is grayshirt freshman Tim Patterson.
The early reports are encouraging.
“Malcolm’s right there,” Minter said. “If we had to list it right now, he’d be our backup to Danny. He’s done a good job. He’s a good kid, and he’s working hard to get better. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s trying very, very hard.”
He’s getting a crash course, according to Phillips.
“I want to see how much he knows of this defense,” Phillips said. “It’s a lot, and it’s an upper-level course. It’s not 101. It’s an upper-level course, and Rick’s a fast teacher… We’ve got to find out if he’s adapted to the speed at which Rick is teaching.”
Smith, who works closely with McDuffen on a daily basis, said he sees a lot of progress through the first week-plus of fall camp. Two factors have helped his young player develop: attention to detail and work ethic.
“Malcolm has really come a long ways,” Smith said. “He’s working his butt off.”
McDuffen’s hometown of Hopkinsville has produced some of the Bluegrass State’s top athletes over the years and some notable UK alumni like Jerry Claiborne and Artose Pinner. McDuffen is also the cousin of former Cats Ricky Abren and Curtis Pulley.
“Hoptown’s had some great players come out of there,” he said. “I know I have some big shoes to fill.”