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SEC Media Days a whirlwind for Phillips, three Cats

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Joker Phillips participated in SEC Media Days on Wednesday with Matt Smith, Larry Warford and Collins Ukwu. (Photo by Padraic Major) Joker Phillips participated in SEC Media Days on Wednesday with Matt Smith, Larry Warford and Collins Ukwu. (Photo by Padraic Major)
For more coverage of UK's participation in SEC Media Days, including video, transcripts and photos, click on this link. Stay tuned for additional stories on Thursday.

HOOVER, Ala. -- Of Kentucky's four representatives at the Southeastern Conference's Football Media Days, Joker Phillips was the only one who knew what he was getting into. Hundreds - to be exact, a record 1,115 this week - flock to the annual event, which serves as the unofficial start to the season.

"We are excited, I know everybody in this building is excited because it's football time," Phillips said in addressing the gathered press.

Coaches and players from the conference's 14 teams are asked every conceivable question and most more than once in rotation through interviews with television, radio, print and internet reporters. SEC football has the reputation as the best in the nation because of what happens on the field, but there might not be a better way to grasp its scope than coming to Hoover, Ala.

Matt Smith, Larry Warford and Collins Ukwu found out all about it Wednesday, as they were back and forth between Kentucky and Alabama within a matter of hours, with a flurry of activity in between.

The UK contingent met at TAC Air at 9 a.m. for a flight that left minutes later. The three Wildcats were each dressed in brand-new suits, complete with suspenders. Phillips was pleased to learn that each was able to tie his own tie and that the lessons of one of the team's "Straight Talk" lessons had paid off.

"The thing that we're doing at Kentucky is we're trying to prepare our young men for the rest of their lives," Phillips said. "We have a program during the season we call 'Straight Talk.' We bring in a lot of people to educate our kids in life lessons.

"Now you know they're listening and it's reaching home."

In just over an hour, the Cats were on the ground in Bessemer, Ala., and being picked up by an SEC representative. Interviews didn't start until 10:30 a.m. CT, so the group had about 30 minutes to relax in a holding room before the craziness began. The players spent their time thumbing through an SEC media guide and debating how many practices they had before the season's first game (29 was the verdict).

They started a grueling day of answering questions with some familiar faces, as local Kentucky media that had made the trek south were granted time with Phillips first, then the three players.

That was just a warm-up.

From there, Phillips and players ventured into the madness that was the second floor of the Wynfrey Hotel. They split up and tackled each breakout room one by one. For example, Smith - the senior center - fielded the questions of two different groups of television reporters for 10 minutes each. He then made a beeline to a live on-camera interview with CSS before running into Kentucky great Tim Couch, just one of a handful of former SEC stars in attendance.

More interviews with Fox Sports Net, ESPN.com and CBS followed for each of the players, while Phillips stepped to the podium in the main print media room to take 20 minutes worth of questions from SEC scribes. Once Phillips was finished, the three players occupied corners of the room, which was filled with dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs to address topics ranging from last season's win over Tennessee to the unpleasantness at the bottom of a pile on the gridiron.

UK's partner in the Media Days rotation was Arkansas, and the two offensive linemen and one defensive lineman there on Kentucky's behalf couldn't help but notice they were different from their counterparts. The Razorbacks' representatives were Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis and Tenarius Wright, a quarterback, a running back and a wide receiver.

Arkansas' positional makeup was hardly unique. Of the 39 non-UK players scheduled to attend Media Days, 17 were quarterbacks, running backs or wide receivers. Just five were offensive linemen and three defensive linemen even though those two groups comprise nine of the 22 offensive and defensive starters in a traditional alignment.

"I was thinking that too," Ukwu said. "You see a lot of quarterbacks and wide receivers, running backs. We're just three linemen that don't get a lot of media attention. This is a fun experience."

Reviews for all four UK attendees were glowing.

"A guy who makes you want to be a better person, a better man," ESPNU's Trevor Matich said of Phillips on air. "Not because you fear what he will do if you don't but because you don't want to disappoint him."

His players are clearly following along, because Smith, Warford and Ukwu were described as some of the most thoughtful and well spoken of all interviewees.

After a final set of interviews, an intense three-hour schedule was over and the group got to enjoy a well-deserved, though late lunch. By 4:45 p.m. CT, they boarded a jet bound for the Bluegrass having enjoyed a unique experience, but were exhausted by it. Within minutes of takeoff, Phillips and his three players were asleep.

SEC Media Days may have been the unofficial kickoff of the 2012 season, but having talked enough football to last a lifetime, these Wildcats are ready for the real thing.

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