Kentucky freshman Barion Brown doesn’t lack big-play ability or speed, and he flashed both in Kentucky’s 37-13 season-opening win vs. Miami (Ohio) Saturday night at Kroger Field.
With Kentucky leading Miami (Ohio) 13-10, the 6-1, 166-pound speedster took the opening kick of the second half 100 yards to the end zone, turning on the jets around the Kentucky 30-yard line as he left the Redhawks, and his teammates, in the dust.
“Man, it felt great knowing that I made a big play for the offense,” Brown said about his touchdown return. “And for the defense to pick it up and do what they do, so yeah, it just felt great.”
Brown is the first Kentucky player to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Derrick Locke in September 2009 vs. Louisville. Earlier in the week, Brown learned that no Kentucky player had returned a kickoff for a touchdown under Mark Stoops. He knew he was going to change that.
“We were talking about that Monday, Brown said following the game. “As soon as he said that to me, I looked at my wide receivers coach and we just started laughing.”
“I knew I was going to do it,” Brown told a reporter when asked if he expected to return one for a touchdown.
Brown started at wide receiver for the Wildcats and is the team’s primary kick returner, a significant role for a true freshman in the SEC.
The former Class 4A Mr. Football winner out of Tennessee also recorded three catches for 45 yards. He hauled in a 38-yard catch near the sideline in the second half, one he thought he was going to score on.
“Honestly man, I just got the ball, I just saw the end zone and somebody came behind me, if it wasn’t for that I would’ve been in the end zone again.”
It was Brown’s touchdown return that opened things up for Kentucky but it almost didn’t count. Officials went to review to determine if Brown dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. The call on the field stood but it was too close for Stoops.
“A little too close for comfort,” Mark Stoops said. “I was a little nervous. Obviously, I was concerned because we needed that big play and you hate to see that happen and get wiped away. A couple of things, he veered instead of running straight in. And obviously, we told him to hand the ball to the official, not to drop it because we’ve seen that. We’ve seen it on TV with professionals and in college. He is a great young man. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s okay. He’s very respectful and wants to be great and do good for his team. He’ll learn. He’s a great young man.”
Brown and the Wildcats return to action Saturday vs. Florida in Gainesville. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET. on ESPN.