Seven Wildcats Collect Phil Steele, Pro Football Focus and USA Today Honors

Seven Wildcats Collect Phil Steele, Pro Football Focus and USA Today Honors

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Seven Wildcats earned either All-America or All-Southeastern Conference recognition by Phil Steele, including defensive lineman Deone Walker and defensive back Maxwell Hairston, who were tabbed All-Americans on Monday.  

Those honors are as follows:  

Phil Steele All-America Team
DL Deone Walker, Fourth Team (Defense) 

Phil Steele All-America Honorable Mention Team
DB Maxwell Hairston, Honorable Mention (Defense) 

Phil Steele SEC All-Conference Team
RB Ray Davis, First Team (Offense)
DL Deone Walker, First Team (Defense)
KR Barion Brown, First Team (Special Teams)
DB Maxwell Hairston, Second Team (Defense)
OL Marques Cox, Third Team (Offense)
ILB D’Eryk Jackson, Third Team (Defense)
OL Eli Cox, Fourth Team (Offense) 

In addition to the Phil Steele honors, Pro Football Focus also has announced its All-SEC teams, which include Deone Walker (DL), D’Eryk Jackson (ILB) and Barion Brown (KR) on the first team. Moreover, USA Today named Ray Davis to its All-SEC First Team.  

Deone Walker, Defensive Lineman
Deone Walker, a 6-foot-6, 330-pounder from Detroit, has started in 24 of 25 career games, including 23 straight for the Wildcats. Because of his size and physicality, he has been an absolute force on the defensive line. In 2023, he finished the regular season with 51 tackles, most for a UK interior lineman since Cory Johnson in 2015.  He totaled a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 5.5 sacks, and a team-high eight quarterback hurries. Walker also had two pass breakups, one of which led to an interception. 

Maxwell Hairston, Defensive Back
Maxwell Hairston, a 6-1, 181-pound sophomore from Detroit, totaled five interceptions this season, including four in SEC action, which are the fifth-most in the nation. His five interceptions also are tied for fifth-most interceptions in a single season in program history, they’re the most since Sam Maxwell in 2009 (six). In the process, Hairston has totaled 131 interception return yards this season, the most since Greg Long had 176 return yards in 1981 (school record is 197 by Dave Hunter in 1968). 

The Wildcat had two interceptions alone at Vanderbilt, returning both for touchdowns, tying a conference single-game record.  He was named National Defensive Player of the Week and National Defensive Back of the Week for that game. 

Along with his five takeaways, Hairston also is third on the team in tackles with 64 stops, along with 1.5 tackles for loss, a team-high six pass breakups and a forced fumble. 

Ray Davis, Running Back
Ray Davis, a 5-10, 216-pound graduate transfer of San Francisco, totaled 1,066 yards on 186 carries and 13 touchdowns rushing this season, ranking third in the league and second among running backs. He also had 317 yards on 29 catches and seven touchdowns receiving. He concluded the regular season as the program’s single-season record holder in touchdowns (20) and scoring (120 points), while also leading the SEC in both categories. He currently ranks 13th on the program’s single-season rushing yards list (1,066). 

The Wildcat is the only active player – and believed to be the only player in NCAA history – to total at least 1,000 rushing yards in a career at three different Division I schools (also Temple and Vanderbilt). He also became the first player in SEC history to have 1,000-yard seasons at two league schools, also running for 1,042 last season at Vanderbilt. He has the fourth-most career rushing yards among active players in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (3,563). 

Davis’ season was highlighted by rushing for 280 yards and totaling a school-record-tying four touchdowns in the win over Florida.  He was named National Player of the Week by two organizations for that effort. 

Barion Brown, Kick Returner
Barion Brown, a 6-foot-1, 174-pound sophomore from Nashville, concluded the regular season ranked first in the conference and second in the nation with 31.7 yards per kickoff return. He was the lone player in the SEC, and one of five players in the nation, to have recorded two kickoff return touchdowns in 2023. In doing so, he tied the Kentucky records for most kickoff return touchdowns in a season (two) and career (three). 

The all-purpose player also led UK in pass receptions with 40, good for 439 yards and three scores, had three punt returns for 51 yards (17.0 average), and had 10 rushing attempts for 121 yards (12.1 average). 

Marques Cox, Offensive Lineman
Marques Cox, a 6-5, 311-pound senior from Peoria, Illinois, played left tackle on an offensive line that was on the midseason honor roll for the Joe Moore Award, which honors the top offensive line in the nation. He helped create holes for one of the top rushers in the conference in Ray Davis, who concluded the regular season as the leader in total touchdowns (20) and scoring (120 points), while he also accumulated the third most rushing yards in the SEC (1,066). Likewise, he helped block on an offensive line that allowed quarterback Devin Leary to record the second most touchdowns in the SEC (23). 

D’Eryk Jackson, Inside Linebacker
D’Eryk Jackson, a 6-1, 245-pound senior from Dublin, Georgia, led Kentucky with 81 tackles, including 32 solo tackles this season. He covered the stat sheet in 2023, recording 6.5 tackles for loss (-20 yards), three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, two interceptions (29 yards), a sack (-6 yards) and a forced fumble. His first interception of the season came in Kentucky’s conference opening win at Vanderbilt, when not only did he intercept the pass but then lateraled the ball to teammate Andru Phillips who returned it 50 yards to set up a touchdown. His second interception came on a 26-yard return for a touchdown in Kentucky’s win at Mississippi State. 

Eli Cox, Offensive Lineman
Eli Cox, a 6-4, 311-pound senior from Nicholasville, Kentucky, anchors an offensive line that was on the midseason honor roll for the Joe Moore Award, which honors the top offensive line in the nation. The adept blocker led the way for Davis, who is second among SEC running backs in rushing and leads the SEC in touchdowns and scoring. Cox earned the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week in a win over Eastern Kentucky earlier in the season. 

Kentucky (7-5) is headed to 79th TaxSlayer Gator Bowl to take on No. 22 Clemson (8-4) on Friday, Dec. 29 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Wildcats and Tigers will tangle at noon ET at the Bill Gay Grounds at EverBank Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.  

Tickets are available online at or by calling (800) 928-2287, option 4. Kentucky will be on the west side of EverBank Stadium. Student ticket information is online at Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets directly from UK Athletics to guarantee seats with other Kentucky fans and to help UK meet its bowl ticket obligations.   

The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl appearance extends Kentucky’s school-record streak of eight consecutive bowl appearances, all coming under Stoops.  UK is one of only eight teams in the nation, and one of only three in the SEC (along with Alabama and Georgia) with at least eight consecutive Bowl appearances.   

For more information on the UK football team, visit and follow the team on Facebook, Instagram and “X,” formerly Twitter. 


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