HOOVER, Ala. — Perhaps no one is more excited to have Darius West back at full-strength than fellow defensive back Mike Edwards.
“Having him on the field makes me play better,” Edwards said. “You might not think so, but it actually does. The chemistry we have together is great.”
West missed the 2016 season after suffering a patella tendon injury in his knee. It was West’s second major injury at UK, as he broke his right tibia prior to his freshman season. But West returned to the field for spring practice and enters the season as the starter at free safety.
“I’m really excited about him,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said in March. “We all know he was going to be a player last year. He would’ve played a bunch and maybe won the job. He was right in there battling for the starting position when he got hurt. He needs the reps, he needs the experience but I also want to keep him healthy.”
West was a consensus four-star recruit in high school and considered as one of the top players in UK’s top-25 recruiting class in 2014. He made 17 tackles in 10 games his redshirt freshman season and would’ve been counted on heavily his sophomore season prior to his injury.
“I’m so happy to have D West back,” linebacker Courtney Love said. “It’s always good to have guys back that you know can contribute to the team. To have him back is just going to be phenomenal. He’s a guy that when we bring the safeties down in the box, we want D West down in the box because he’s going to bring that little thump you need from a safety. I think he’s really going to open some eyes in the SEC.”
The time away from the practice field allowed West to dive deeper into the mental part of football.
“He just became such a student of the game,” Love said. “He’s been so eager to get on the field and play. He just wants to get so much better. Our coaching staff, our strength staff have done everything they can and get him back and better than he was before.”
Edwards -- who considers West his best friend on the team -- committed to UK the same day as West in the summer of 2013. Edwards doesn't think the expectations that accompanied West back then should be lowered because of his injures.
“I think he’s gotten better, actually," Edwards said. "In high school he was really playing offense and defense and playing all over the place. He’s focusing on one position now and that’s really helping him. He’s really playing great. He’s fast and moving pretty great."