Lemaster begins living his dream


LEXINGTON, KY. — One of Washington High School’s most decorated athletes began his collegiate career on Saturday, Sept. 2 as Tanner Lemaster suited up for his first football game as a member of the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Transitioning from high school football to college football introduces many challenges and a lot of changes, however, there are some similarities for Lemaster, who was the winner of the 2023 Clarence A. Christman Jr. Award, presented by the Record-Herald and Washington Shrine Club.

He still resides in Fayette County, as the county that Lexington, Ky. is located in is also called Fayette County. His school colors are still royal blue and white, and his mascot is still a big cat. Tanner also considers the support of the Wildcats from the fans and community to be very similar to the support he experienced as a Blue Lion, just on a much bigger scale.

Kentucky defeated Ball State 44-14 on Saturday.

Lemaster sat down for a phone interview to give the Record-Herald some insight into his first game day experience.

“It was honestly like a dream come true. Any athlete when they’re in high school or even younger, they all pretty much have the same dream to be able to run out of a big tunnel in front of tens of thousands of fans. I got to pretty much live that dream. I got to suit up and I got to run out in front of 62,000 people. I mean, it kind of made me realize how all of my hard work is paying off, especially because there were only six freshmen that got to fully dress and I was one of them. I think it shows that I’m not just another freshman, I’m one of the ones that have a chance of playing. It’s crazy that I get to live out the dream that I’ve always had. When I ran out of the tunnel, I think my mind just completely went blank and I couldn’t hear a single thing. It was just so crazy to me because I couldn’t believe that I was actually in that moment.”

He spoke about the differences between the life of a high school football player compared to the life of a football player at the collegiate level.

“Being in college, you have a bunch of responsibility put on you really fast. Coaches around here, they don’t hold your hand. They give you a schedule, but it’s your job to follow that. They’re not going to text you and remind you when you need to be certain places, you have to follow the schedule. You also have to make sure you do the right things the night before, like getting to bed on time, eating dinner, and just making good decisions. It takes a lot of personal responsibility and it makes you mature a lot. That’s really all that college is, just making sure you stay on top of everything and you can’t be late for anything here. Being on time is considered late, you have to be early for everything. If you mess around and don’t get enough sleep and you show up late to something, it can really hurt your progress and cause you to not play or even dress for the games.”

He finished, “It’s a blessing to just be able to dress and have an opportunity to get in to play. I’m not going to take that for granted. I’m going to make sure that I’m doing all the right stuff I have to do because I know there are plenty of other freshmen on our team that wish that they had my opportunity. I’ve just got to make sure I’m staying on top of everything.”

One other difference that Lemaster noted was the preparation that goes into the scout team each week. As a member of the Wildcat scout team, Tanner said that they are to know the names, hometowns, and tendencies of each player on the offense of the opposing team, and will work to master each of that team’s favorite plays to practice them against the starting Wildcat defense.

“We will run through almost every one of the opposing team’s plays throughout the week and then on Friday we go into the stadium and simulate a game against our starters. By the time the game rolls around on Saturday, we are ready for anything.”

He did mention one similarity between high school and college football — the locker room during pre-game.

“The vibe in the locker room is pretty similar to high school. You have a bunch of guys who just love football so everyone is just so excited. I would say that our high school locker rooms were a little more amped up just because we all knew each other and grew up together. It is a little bit different for me at Kentucky because I’m just a freshman, and there really aren’t a lot of guys that I am super close with yet, so that is different.”

Lemaster spoke about the biggest challenge for him so far this season.

“It would have to be just accepting a new role. We had a position meeting where we went around and discussed what we thought our role was and talked about how we could benefit the team. I shared that my role was to figure out how to be the best teammate possible and help everyone out even though I probably won’t play much this year. The hardest thing for me is figuring out how I can make the most of every opportunity. I knew that I likely wasn’t going to come in and start right away or even get a whole lot of reps, so I just have to make the most of the opportunities that I do get. With being on the scout team, I get a lot of reps against the starting defense right now during the week. Everything we do is filmed so I know that the coaches are watching everything, and I like to use that as motivation to go as hard as I possibly can in every practice to try and stand out. I’ve accepted where I am at right now and I look at it as an opportunity to get better and earn a spot somewhere.”

Tanner was asked about his goals for the season and he mentioned that he just has one goal: Get on the field.

“I want to make it on the field and I don’t even care how. I’m on a couple of special teams, but I’m not a starter on any of them yet. I’m gonna just make plays on the scout team and try to make the coaches feel my presence when they’re watching that film. That’s my main goal. I really don’t care what it is, they could make me run down there on kickoff just one time, and I promise you I’ll go as hard as I can for that one single rep that I get. I know that the only way that I will get on the field is if I go to practice every single day and grind, and just make it known that I deserve an opportunity on the field.”

Lemaster finished by thanking his family and the community for their continued support of his journey.

“It was so cool to have my parents, sisters, and grandparents there for the game. I could really feel the support from the community as well. I saw so many posts and received so many texts from back home. A lot of people were watching the game and had UK gear on, it was so awesome to see. Even though I didn’t play, it shows that I have a lot of people that care about me and I really take pride in that because I love my hometown and community so much.”

Tanner will look to get some game action on Saturday, Sept. 9 as the Wildcats (1-0) host the Eastern Kentucky Colonels (0-1) at 12 p.m. EKU is coming off of a 66-13 loss to the University of Cincinnati on Sept. 2. Lemaster stated that he will know later in the week if he will be selected to dress for the game.

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