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UK Legend Derek Abney Enjoys Watching Lynn Bowden Return Punts

Photos | UK Athletics


Kentucky junior wide receiver/returner Lynn Bowden is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the SEC and college football.


During his freshman season in 2017, the Big Blue Nation could see the potential in the former four-star product from Youngstown, Ohio. A year later, he led the Wildcats in receptions (67), receiving yards (745) and touchdown catches (5).


Bowden contributed in other ways for Kentucky in 2018 and if not for his explosive playmaking ability, the Wildcats 10-3 campaign would’ve gone differently.


It was Bowden’s 67-yard punt return touchdown, the first of his career, that sparked a comeback win at Missouri. Bowden, knowing he had to make a play for his team to have a chance to steal a victory in Columbia, inserted himself into the game on special teams to return the punt.


Mark Stoops didn’t waste any time in the Citrus Bowl, as Bowden was back to return the first Penn State punt. He took the punt 57-yards to the house to give the Wildcats a 10-0 advantage they would never surrender.



In all, Bowden returned five punts for the Wildcats last season with two of them ending in the opponents end zone. That success led to him taking over punt return duties this season and rightfully so after having so much success in limited opportunities.


Kentucky fans know a good specialist when they see one. Former Wildcats Randall Cobb and Derek Abney electrified Kroger Field (then Commonwealth Stadium) on multiple occasions with their return ability. Abney, known as the greatest returner in Kentucky football history and arguably the best in college football history, spoke with Go Big Blue Country about what makes Bowden explosive in space.


“What’s special about Lynn is he has some really good vision. That was my thing, I could really anticipate where they were going to be and set them up. For example, if I knew that I was going to the sideline and he did not have an angle on me, I wouldn’t run to the sideline. I would run towards him enough so that if I made my turn to the sideline he could not get me. That way if other things happened, I still had room on the sideline. If I just run to the sideline, he may not have an angle but it has reduced my options. Lynn does the same thing.”


During Abney’s time at Kentucky, the UK Hall of Famer and former All-American set seven NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records for kick returns and all-purpose yards. In all, he returned six punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns, while finishing his Kentucky career with 197 receptions, 2,339 receiving yards and 18 touchdown catches.


Abney watched various angles of Bowden’s returns vs. Missouri and Penn State to break down the similarities and differences.


“We both coast and I had some moves, but his are a little different. I’m going fast and can’t slow down to get a quick move, but he can. Not because he isn’t going fast but he’s just got that ability. He has some shake and bake. Like for me, I was just so fast and could cut at a high speed. I could cut at a really high speed and that’s what made me special, in addition to my vision. Lynn has pretty good speed, very good vision and he has some juke in him.”



When Abney watched the tape he noticed Bowden’s teammates had some extra energy when he fielded punts. He saw the same thing when he reflects on his time at that position.


“I think what also made us special was people believed, meaning the guys on the field. You have to score for that to happen but they really believed. I think you can see that with their blocking that they believe he is going to score. That is so critical if they believe he can score a touchdown. I always told myself before every punt that we were going to score and I know Lynn believes the same.”


As for some advice, Abney only saw one thing on tape he would like to see Lynn do.


“I learned this and it didn’t come until after college. You have to have a lot of confidence in your game and a little bit of who you are, if that makes sense. I would tell him to have his hands up in the catching position well before the ball comes down. It’s easy for him to relate on why because on a catch that defensive back is watching you and he’s keying your hands. When he does that he is engaging you. The same thing happens in punt returns. The gunners can’t afford to watch you and the ball at the same time. So I would tell him maybe two to three seconds before the ball comes down to have his hands up ready to catch it.


The reason I talk about confidence is it doesn’t look like you know what you’re doing. It looks like you don’t know how to catch a punt and you’re doing this early. It’s a big advantage in a small space when you have a short amount of time. The gunners cant just lay you out when they see your hands come up to catch the ball. If you have your hands up the whole time they’ve got no idea and that’s enough to slow down their reaction and that’s enough for Lynn Bowden.”


Bowden will get his first opportunity when the Wildcats kick off the season vs. Toledo at Kroger Field on Saturday, August 31st. Abney will be watching.


“I’ve only talked to him a couple of times but he really seems like a good kid,” he said. “I really enjoy watching him and hope the best for him on his success as a returner or a receiver. I would love to see him have that commitment from the university that they did for Benny. Benny was sort of outspoken and special, but that would be good for Lynn.”


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