Saturday, October 4, 2003

Abdullah could break UK legend's record

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Each day, Muhammad Abdullah passes a sign near the Kentucky locker room that lists the school's football records. He's on pace to break one of the oldest marks on that list, one held by a famous name in Kentucky lore.

Through five games, Abdullah leads the Southeastern Conference with four interceptions.

As a senior in 1949, Jerry Claiborne intercepted nine passes, helping the Wildcats to a 9-3 record and an Orange Bowl berth. Claiborne later coached Kentucky from 1982 to 1989, guiding the Wildcats to two bowl appearances, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in August 2000.

Abdullah, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore free safety from Folkston, Ga., said he frequently looks at the sign listing the team records. It didn't take him long to notice Claiborne's 54-year-old mark.

"I walk by that wall every day, and I look at it, and I know I'm getting closer and closer to it," Abdullah said. "I see that '9' up there, and I'm trying to reach it. I'm inspired by it."

Only two Kentucky players since Claiborne have had as many as six interceptions in a season, so Abdullah's quick start has been particularly notable. He's been consistent, recording one interception in each game except for the Wildcats' loss to Alabama.

He also recovered a fumble during Kentucky's 24-21 loss to Florida last Saturday.

His next chance to increase his interception total will come Thursday, when Kentucky (2-3, 0-2 SEC) will visit league rival South Carolina.

"I've heard it's better to be good than lucky," Abdullah said. "I think it's a little of both. The ball has just been there, and I've just had to go get it."

It's more than just good fortune, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.

"You don't get four picks with just luck," Brooks said. "You have to be reading the football, breaking on the football and doing things. He also picked up a fumble against Florida and was in the right place on that one."

Abdullah set Charlton County High School records with 17 career interceptions and eight pickoffs his senior season. He credits his current success to having played multiple positions in high school - sometimes at free safety, sometimes at strong safety, sometimes at linebacker.

"It made me a little better when I got here," he said.

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