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The Ballad of Stuart Hines

My first impression of Kentucky offensive guard Stuart Hines is that he is a big, hulking mass of humanity. His hands are the proverbial meat-hooks that scouts salivate over when rating prospects. Alas, a meat-hook scale from 1 to 10 does not factor into a recruiting ranking. He was rated as just a three star athlete when he enrolled at Kentucky. Hines may have lacked the physical attributes to make him a four or five star athlete, but he's got height and girth in spades when compared to your average media member - and I am the most average of media members.

He has a quiet confidence about him that doesn't belie the slightest trace of self-doubt. Even in the face of a media mob that dwindles from the low (very low) teens to a handful of bespectacled elderly gentlemen, Stuart looks happy to sit there and take questions from the likes of me. A finance major at the University of Kentucky, he fully possesses the mental faculties to deduce that he is the least popular of the three Kentucky football players brought to Media Days. And yet, it is clear that he is not bothered in the least. Hines casually sips a bottle of water as his media corps slips to three.

Someone asks him about his "battle scar" under his left cheek and how he came into it.  Hines offers that it was the result of some vigorous drills in which a defensive teammate caught him with an elbow directly to the face. He says he needed a few stitches. The scar is still pink and not yet completely healed. The effect is to make him look for all the world like an overgrown kid playing dress up in his dad's old suit.  He could have just as easily gotten slapped from a low-hanging willow tree while riding his Huffy to the Old Man Cooper's swimming hole.

And then there was one. After my last counterpart politely excuses himself from the conversation, Stuart Hines takes a sip of water and lowers his gaze on me. I ask him about Kentucky's comeback win over South Carolina last year and if anything still sticks in his mind about that game. "The interception at the end of the game," he says. "That was amazing." I nod and concede to myself that I will probably never forget that moment, either. The obvious difference, though, is that I will remember it from the downward-facing dog position that my body assumed for the purposes of protecting my brain (the body knows that in times of extreme stress the brain is prone to bouts of irrational self-mutilation) while Hines likely remembers the victory  from the most regal posture of his life.

Someone else meanders over to our table, and a slight lift of Hine's eyebrow makes sure that I'm satisfied before he shifts his attention. The new guy asks about the toughest lineman and line as a whole that Hines has ever faced. This is a standard question, but in this instant I am happy to hear it. Stuart Hines replies that "to say Nick Fairly is a great player is an understatement." He also mentions that he thinks South Carolina will be the toughest defensive line he faces in 2011. This pleases me, and whether Stuart Hines knows it or not, has made my morning.

I shoot Stuart Hines a half smile as the conventional "thank you" for his time and excuse myself. I am positive that he did not see my gesture, but I am just as positive that he assumed it out of habit. As I depart I notice an SEC staff member stepping in to ask Stuart a few questions. The staff member is obliged to ask questions of athletes who might not otherwise be receiving much attention. Stuart knows this, but he is engaging and attentive all the same.

Stuart Hines is an offensive lineman in the SEC. Stuart Hines is an amateur athlete. Stuart Hines is saving the sport of college football.