How Alvin Dupree Jr. became Bud Dupree starts with a dream by his godmother.
The story is a little too unbelievable and a little too perfect, but this is how Bud tells it:
“My godma had dream before I was born that everyone was calling me ‘Bud’ because I was playing football, and they were saying how good Bud was playing football and how good he’s doing,” Dupree told Athlon Sports. “My mom just went with it.”
The dream turned out to be accurate, though the eventual outcome didn’t always seem clear.
Dupree is now the leader of a defense that has Kentucky on the verge of bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats have lost their last two games — to LSU and Mississippi State — but at 5-3, Kentucky has already exceeded its win total of the previous two seasons combined.
Second-year coach Mark Stoops said before the season he’d be “very shocked” if Dupree isn’t Kentucky’s first first-round NFL draft pick since 2003.
Again, that’s some dream.
Kentucky at Missouri (4 p.m., SEC Network) is the Talk Back Game of the Week. Join former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and former Missouri quarterback James Franklin as they take your questions live throughout the game.
Dupree grew up in rural Georgia in a town of less than 600 people where football wasn’t even the No. 1 high school sport. The roster for the Wilkinson County football team had roughly 30 players, some of whom, like Dupree, split time with the school’s basketball team, a powerhouse in the state. For the football team, many played on both sides of the ball.
“A lot of guys had to play both ways, but that’s all we needed,” Dupree said.
That meant Dupree had to cut his teeth at wide receiver and then tight end in high school.
A big body like that split out wide could fool most high school teams — he’s now 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds playing defensive end and linebacker at Kentucky — but not rival Baldwin County.
That school had inside information from offensive Travis Carswell, a Wilkinson County alum who is a cousin and a mentor to the young Dupree since he was in elementary school. Carswell would eventually become Dupree’s offensive coordinator, but in that first meeting, Carswell was on the opposite sideline.
“I told our defensive coordinator, ‘If he’s lining up at receiver, don’t think he’s slow,’” Carswell said.
Carswell had good reason to know better. Starting when Dupree was 9 years old, he spent time trying to keep up with the Carswell family. Travis played college football at North Alabama. His younger brother, T.J., played at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer.
Other members of Travis’ extended family, spanning several generations, played college football at a high level — Chuck Carswell and Travis Jones at Georgia, Ryan Taylor at Auburn, Robert Carswell at Clemson and Brandon Carswell at USC.
When Dupree was younger, T.J. Carswell would return home to Irwinton, Ga., to train. Travis Jones, who would go on to become a defensive line coach with the Saints and Seahawks, would return home, too.
All the while, Dupree would tag along.
“He’d want to compete with the older guys,” said Carswell, who is now offensive coordinator at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala. “He was always around older athletes who played football at the higher level. That is what put him above the rest in high school.”
In high school, Dupree, also was Carswell’s most trusted lieutenant in delivering messages to the team and keeping an eye on his teammates. Carswell had only four coaches on his staff, so the extra eyes and ears on and off the field were critical.
“We had a lot of hard heads on our team,” Dupree said. “In high school a lot of people don’t want to listen to coach. He told me to do things, relaying things to the team make sure they’re focusing. Once you’ve got someone who can vouch for you on everything you say, it helps a lot in the coaching process.”
Dupree may have been above the rest on the field in high school, but recruiting didn’t pick up until he put up an MVP performance in a national camp before his senior year.
Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech started recruiting him late in the process, but Auburn eventually took tight end C.J. Uzomah. Meanwhile, Kentucky and Joker Phillips stayed on Dupree through signing day.
With he Wildcats. Dupree expected to play tight end, but Phillips quickly moved him to the defensive side of the ball.
As prolific as he was in high school with 10 sacks as a defensive end, he never considered it his primary position until the move at Kentucky. After all, he topped 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a tight end.
If defensive end was his future, that would be his focus.
“I wanted to be the best player to come out of my county,” Dupree said. “I worked hard every day to get out. I wanted to make sure I wasn't a person left behind I didn’t want to be stuck behind where I’m from.”
Dupree was on track at Kentucky to be an impact player in the SEC even though the Wildcats struggled with a combined 2-14 league record his first two seasons. As a sophomore, Dupree ranked in the top 10 in the league in tackles, sacks and tackles for a loss.
During a 2-10 season, Kentucky fired Phillips, and Dupree found himself wondering if he should stick around. New coach Mark Stoops wondered if his blossoming star defender would stick around.
“He was preparing to transfer,” Carswell said.
Carswell told Dupree to get to know the new staff first. A day after defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh was hired in December 2012 — three weeks after Stoops was hired and six weeks after Joker Phillips was fired — Dupree told Carswell he planned to stay.
As happened on Dupree’s high school team, the rest of Kentucky’s defense fell in line when Dupree opted to stay in Lexington.
The trend has continued through his senior season. Dupree is a potential high draft pick and has the athletic ability to “blow up the combine,” as he said at SEC media day. But his numbers don’t jump off the page — 45 tackles, four sacks through eight games — so far this season.
“We had some circumstances where, not Bud, but certain people were trying to do too much (to boost statistics) and it was hurting us,” Stoops told reporters prior to the LSU game two weeks ago. “You have to be very unselfish to play D line, and I think we're getting good D line play. No matter what the recognition they're getting, they're playing very hard and fundamentally getting better and better and Bud is starting to get his statistics.”
Meanwhile, Dupree is just as interested in keeping himself and his old offensive coordinator on their toes.
The two stay in touch through the offseason, but even a round of golf can get cut short for a voluntary workout. During the season, Dupree critiques Carswell’s defensive players at Miles College. Carswell would try to pick apart Dupree’s game at Kentucky, but Dupree is usually well ahead of him.
“He’ll tell me exactly what play and what he did wrong,” Carswell said. “That lets you know his focus. ... “He’s a kid who was destined for greatness.”