Five University of Kentucky football players were honored Tuesday by being named to Phil Steele’s 2015 Preseason All-Southeastern Conference Teams, including sophomore placekicker Austin MacGinnis, who was selected to the first team after his impressive redshirt freshman season last fall.
Joining MacGinnis with special teams honors was sophomore running back Boom Williams, who was named to the third team as a kickoff returner. Junior Jon Toth was named to the fourth-team offense at center, while senior linebacker Josh Forrest and senior defensive lineman Melvin Lewis were honored on the fourth-team defense.
A native of Wedowee, Ala., MacGinnis set six school records in his collegiate debut season, totaling 21 field goals, the most in Kentucky history. He had the most field goals in the SEC last fall, also leading all NCAA freshmen. MacGinnis finished with a school-record 104 points – equaling the SEC lead – and was one of only five kickers in the nation with three field goals of 50+ yards.
MacGinnis, who made a UK record 41 extra-point tries without a miss in 2014, set another school mark with the longest field goal in school history, a 54-yard boot at Tennessee. MacGinnis, who earned national placekicker of the week from the College Football Performance Awards after making four field goals at No. 22 Louisville, extending his school-record streak of nine consecutive field goals made. He also set a school record with 25 touchbacks on kickoffs in 2014.
Williams, who was named to The Sporting News All-True Freshman Team last season, led Kentucky in kickoff returns with 19 returns for 511 yards and a 26.9 average. Williams ranked second in the nation among true freshmen in kickoff return average, checking in 11th overall. Williams’ longest return of the season was 75 yards against ULM, marking the longest kickoff return for Kentucky since 2009. A native of Monroe, Ga., Williams led Kentucky in all-purpose yards with 1,159, averaging 115.9 yards per game. That total ranked him 59th nationally and sixth among freshmen.
On the offensive side of the ball, Williams led Kentucky in rushing with 486 yards and five touchdowns, including a very impressive 6.6 yards per carry. Williams was one of only 10 players in the nation who had three touchdown rushes of 50+ yards in 2014. The George Walton Academy product had a career-best 126 yards and two touchdowns at Louisville. Williams also caught 17 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown.
Toth, a native of Indianapolis and one of four returning starters on the offensive line, will enter his junior campaign with 23 consecutive starts under his belt. Last season he started all 12 games and was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week in the season-opening win over Miami (Ohio) as he helped the Wildcats roll up 59 points and 656 yards. The 656 yards were the fourth-highest single-game mark in school history. With Toth’s help, UK improved from 20 points per game in 2013 to 29 points per game in 2014. He also helped quarterback Patrick Towles account for more than 3,000 yards of total offense last season — joining Tim Couch, Dusty Bonner and Jared Lorenzen as the only players in school history to top the 3,000-yard mark in their first season as a starter.
As a freshman, Toth was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team by league coaches after helping three different UK players rush for 400-plus yards. Last month, Toth was named Rimington Trophy Spring Watch List.
Forrest, who was named third-team All-SEC last season by the publication, led the Wildcats in tackles last year with 110, adding eight tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and one fumble forced. The native of Paducah, Ky., ranked fourth in the conference in total tackles and 36th nationally, while sitting second in the league in solo tackles.
The season was a breakout year for Forrest, who entered 2014 with 29 career tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and zero sacks. Forrest had five double-figure tackle games on the year, including a career-high 20 against Tennessee – the first time a UK player had 20 or more tackles since 2012 – and an impressive 15 tackles in UK’s comeback win over South Carolina. Against Louisiana-Monroe, Forrest grabbed an interception and returned it for a touchdown.
Lewis had a great season last year in his first with the Wildcats, starting all 12 games after sitting out the 2013 season with a redshirt. The native of Compton, Calif., recorded 37 tackles on the year with 2.5 tackles for loss and one-half sack. Lewis forced a fumble and helped Kentucky’s pass rush attack as a great compliment to 2015 NFL Draft picks Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith on the inside.