By LARRY VAUGHT
He grew up playing basketball and running track but Isaiah Epps hopes to make a name for himself as a dependable receiver for the Kentucky football team this year.
He played as a freshman with four catches for 55 yards in 13 games and showed flashes of brilliance because of his speed. However, he said he also learned important things last year that will help him this season.
“Just the speed of the game and how much it changes. And the physicality. From high school to college, everyone is fast and has good hands and feet. It’s all about technique and fundamentals,” said Epps. “That’s why I’ve tried to get all the reps I can. You might get tired, but it’s worth it to get better.”
Kentucky lacked a consistent deep threat last year. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran hopes that can change this year — and so does Epps, who is from Jenks, Okla.
“I think last year we missed a lot of opportunities on deep balls that could have been pivotal points in games,” Epps admitted. “I think our coaches are focusing more on the deep ball because of how much it could have changed the outcomes last year.
“Me and all the receivers factor in that. I think one of my strengths is my speed and my ability to catch the deep ball. If I am able to do that, it will make our offense more explosive adding the passing game to the running game we have.”
He has a new receivers coach. Lamar Thomas was not retained after last season and Michael Smith took over.
“They are both great coaches with great experience. Learning from coach Smith has been great. We all get along well,” Epps said. “We don’t have senior leaders, so young guys have to come up and help. He’s a great coach and is picking up right where Lamar left off.”
Epps is a psychology major who admits he likes to figure out how things work.
“I just like to figure out what drives people and why people do the things they do. So just like some Netflix shows, Criminal Minds and stuff like that I like. It really interests me,” Epps said.
He believes he “pretty good” at figuring out the plots on TV shows and reading how people will react.
“I think I am getting better with each course I am taking,” he said.
Does that help him outsmart defensive backs by figuring out what they are thinking?
“Really film study is what helps me on the field. Just learning players’ tendencies each week and learning what they like to do. Film study helps more than psychology,” he laughed and said.
Academics have always been a priority for him. Both his parents are Oklahoma State graduates who hold academics “to a high standard” at all times.
“Bad grades are really not an option in my family. I am just held to a high standard to keep a high GPA by my parents. It’s been that way as long as I can remember,” Epps said. “My first summer here I did well (academically) but in the fall with football season, it was a little tougher academically than any other thing I faced. But I was able to do pretty well and maintain what I am used to doing, but it was a challenge and still is.”
Epps has an older brother, Carson, playing football at Iowa State and also has a cousin, Denver Johnson, playing there.
“I grew up playing basketball and running track. I started playing football my junior year in high school. I was really waiting until my brother graduated. I wasn’t really wanting to play with him and then I got in the groove with football after he was gone,” Epps said.
Why not play with his brother?
“I honestly don’t know. We had a good relationship. But there was just something about playing with him. I don’t know what it was,” he said.
Since he got a late start in football, he’s still learning. He thinks he now knows the majority of things it takes to be a successful receiver.
“But there is always more to learn. With experience and new coaches helping me I will be fine,” he said. “Running top speed and then trying to track the ball and fight with a defender to make the catch is not easy. Once you find it, you should catch it and that’s what I plan to do this year.”
Other than football, he says golf is one of his passions. Growing up in Oklahoma, he says there was not always a lot to do so he played frisbee golf and regular golf.
“I have swung the club a few times,” he said. “My dad plays golf and Lamar (Thomas) was really good, but not as good as he said.”
He’s yet to find anyone else on the team that plays frisbee golf.
“I am not even sure if there is anywhere to play around here, but if there is and I had somebody t play with, I would probably go,” he said.