ATHENS — Things didn’t go to plan for the Kentucky Wildcats on offense in their 21-0 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium. But last Saturday’s shutout loss did give one Wildcat plenty of opportunities to take the field.
Kentucky long snapper Blake Best is a fifth-year senior in Lexington who spent his high school days snapping at Peachtree Ridge. He helped lead the Lions to consecutive playoff appearances in his final two high school seasons, and has been a part of Kentucky’s resurgence under Mark Stoops.
“I learned the importance of competing every day,” Best said. “When you play in a region like we did with North Gwinnett, Norcross, Collins Hill, Mill Creek and many others, you have to show up on Fridays to play. I think that has carried over well to the SEC.”
His Georgia homecoming came on a night where offense was at a premium. Driving rain and unrelenting wind made moving the ball a struggle for both offenses, and led to a lot of chances for Best to snap the ball to his punter.
Kentucky did not complete a pass until the fourth quarter, and gained just 177 yards of total offense. The Wildcats punted the ball seven times for an average of 40.1 yards per punt, and Best managed to muddle through the monsoon to keep his snaps on the money for punter Max Duffy.
“It’s hard to recreate that situation,” Best said. “(It was) cold and wet. It definitely made it more difficult, but we did a little bit of practice this week to prepare for it. I guess this is cold down here. Growing up in Georgia, I know that 40 (degrees) is cold. In Lexington you get it in the teens and twenties.”
But as well as Best has done on the field with Kentucky, he has been just as impressive off of it. Best has made it onto the SEC’s Academic Honor Roll in three consecutive years, and has been on the dean’s list every year since he arrived in Lexington in 2015.
It’s a continuation of his strong work in the classroom in Suwanee, where his 4.1 GPA helped him earn an academic scholarship to Kentucky. He walked on in 2015, and earned the job of starting long snapper in 2016 after redshirting his first year. And Best was learning in more places than just the classroom at Peachtree Ridge.
“Coach (Mark) Fleetwood did a good job of teaching us about responsibilities and being a man and coming from tough times,” Best said. “Tough times create tough people and build tough teams.”
The Kentucky program was no stranger to tough times when Best committed. But after an extended down period, Kentucky will qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl game for just the second time in program history with a 3-2 finish in its final five games. This senior class has completely transformed Kentucky football, and the significance of the program’s revival is not lost on Best.
“When I committed in 2014, we went 2-10 the prior year,” Best said. “Last year we went 10-3. Seeing that transition as a whole has been the best part (of the experience) for me.”
Best’s college career is winding down, but the former Lion has plenty of fond memories of his time in Lexington, the latest coming Saturday night when he got to play in front of his friends and family. The relationships with both his family and his teammates are very important to him, and it’s what he hopes to carry forward after he hangs up his spikes.
“There are a bunch of special guys on this team,” Best said. “I really try to put an emphasis on creating individual relationships with my teammates. And I hope it’s reciprocated. I hope when they look at me they don’t see that I was a good long snapper, but I was a good teammate, a good friend, and I worked hard.”
He may not be scoring touchdowns or making the highlight reels, but Best’s senior leadership has been huge for Kentucky, and will continue to be down the stretch.”
“It’s tough to be a team leader as a specialist,” Best said. “Going out there and being a selfless leader, making connections, and leading by example is what I want to be known for.”