By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky linebacker coach Chuck Smith couldn’t help laughing when he heard one of his former players, Bud Dupree, had signed a contract worth almost $16 million for the 2020 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He has done good,” Smith laughed and said.
The Steelers picked Dupree with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft after his all-SEC career ended at UK. He had 247 career tackles, including 37 tackles for loss. As a senior he had 74 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Not only did he play in 47 games, but he also graduated with a degree in community and leadership development just a few weeks after the draft.
Not bad for a player that came to UK from Georgia to play for coach Joker Phillips thinking he would be a tight end after having over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns his final high school season. But before game one at UK he was moved to linebacker and became a star.
“He was a freak of an athlete,” Smith, who coached Dupree his first two years at UK, said. “He was a really smart player, too. He had that athletic intelligence all the great ones have.
“But more than anything, he was just an incredible athlete as far as movement, speed, agility, strength. He had the total package.”
Dupree ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical jump at UK’s Pro Day in 2015 before the Steelers picked him.
“He was a really, really good person, too,” Smith said. “Put that with his athleticism and those are the ones who do really well in the NFL. I am not a bit surprised he’s done what he has.”
He signed a $9 million, four-year contract in 2015 and the Steelers picked up the fifth-year option for 2019 at another $9 million. They offered Dupree a contract extension but he gambled his play in 2019 would earn him a bigger payday and it did. He goes into the 2020 season with 200 tackles, 31.5 quarterback sacks, nine pass deflections, six forced fumbles and one interception in his five-year NFL career.
“He was always a real humble person and part of that is just his personality but he also had confidence in his ability,” Smith said. “He knew I can run faster than most and I am stronger than most. He knew he could play. So for him to bet on himself like he did in 2019 did not surprise me. Bud knew what he was doing.”