By LARRY VAUGHT
Lynn Bowden figures to be Kentucky’s primary punt returner this season based on what he did last year for the Wildcats. However, Pennsylvania freshman M.J. Devonshire certainly brings an impressive special teams resume with him.
He returned eight punts for touchdowns last year, a remarkable total at any level of football.
“Devonshire has the quickness, the speed and the hands that great kick returner need, but it’s his anticipation that makes him exceptional,” Chris Harlan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said. “After the season I asked him which punt return touchdown was his favorite and surprisingly it was a short 35-yarder. By mid-October, teams smartly were kicking away from him, so he became a little more strategic.
“On the 35-yarder, Devonshire lined up deep on the short side of the field, forcing South Park to punt to the wide side. He believed the punter couldn’t reach the far sideline and he was right – the ball landed near the numbers. He moved slowly toward the ball, causing South Park’s kick-coverage to relax.
“With them flat-footed, he accelerated, scooped the football and scored. There’s no reason he couldn’t return punts as a true freshman.”
Harlan was surprised when Devonshire picked UK over Pittsburgh and West Virginia, the perceived frontrunners before UK’s late push got him to sign in Feburary — UK’s only signee in the late signing period.
“John Calipari is a native Western Pennsylvanian, so the folks around here think of basketball when they think Kentucky. Devonshire was under a lot of social media pressure to pick his hometown Panthers, but he’s always seemed like an independent thinker,” Harlan said.
“The Penn State bowl victory made an impact with him. He said that he sees last year’s 10-win season as a building block to 11 wins, 12 wins and ultimately a national championship game. Coming from Aliquippa, he insisted that he wouldn’t go there if he didn’t think he would win.”