The scorebook might say otherwise, but the Kentucky women's soccer team took a big step forward offensively on Friday night.
The Wildcats had scratched across two goals in each of their first two games, and they matched that total in their first game of the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. Don't let the identical final tally fool you; this was the best the Kentucky attack has looked in the young 2012 season.
"I definitely feel like we were very dangerous tonight," UK head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "What I really liked is that we were creating through lots of passing."
Creating through passing is something the Wildcats hadn't done as Lipsitz would like for large chunks of the season's first 180 minutes. UK relied on set pieces to score three of their four goals in wins over Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina. On this night, everything came in the flow of the offense.
Freshman Cara Ledman got the Cats on the board with a goal in the 14th minute, putting the ball past Spartan goalkeeper Jamie Simmons with assists from Caitlin Landis and Arin Gilliland. From there, the Greensboro defense would stiffen, much like it did in a road shutout of then-fifth-ranked Wake Forest, but UK was persistent.
Starting with about 20 minutes left in regulation, the Cats found their feet with a flurry of chances. At the encouragement of Lipsitz, UK kept the pressure on in spite of the risk.
"One bad pass and one mistake and it's one to one," Lipsitz said. "I just kept saying we've got to have the courage to play our style. I'm proud of the way we played."
They were rewarded when Natalie Horner scored her first goal of the season on a cross from Danielle Krohn, giving UK a comfortable 2-0 advantage with less than eight minutes to play.
The two goals the Wildcats scored doubled the amount the Spartans had allowed in their first three games. The one goal Greensboro had yielded came on a penalty kick in an overtime loss to Georgia.
"We knew it was going to be a test. Knowing that, we certainly had their attention all week in training and we trained well," Lipsitz said. "It's no coincidence that when you train well, you play well."
To beat a defense as good as they faced on Friday night, the Cats started at the back.
"(After last weekend's win over EKU) I mentioned we had great individuals in the back line but I didn't think that we were playing together the way we could," Lipsitz said. "Today was phenomenal. It started with our back line and our ability to possess the ball."
Playing twice in a weekend for the first time this season, UK will immediately shift its focus to a game against Southeast Missouri at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday and, just as importantly, to rest and recovery. After playing 22 players in UK's first two games, Lipsitz opted for a shorter rotation when he recognized the 11 players on the field in the second half were playing with great rhythm. The key to surviving two games in less than 48 hours will be sustaining that rhythm.
"The key is to possess the ball," Lipsitz said. "If we come out Sunday and we're chasing the ball, we're going to feel this very quickly. If we're keeping the ball and kicking it around, we're going to be pretty happy with how we feel. When you're playing well and you're scoring goals, somehow nothing hurts." Highlights and postgame with Lipsitz
Over at UKNow, Sarah Geegan has a story about Cailin Harris and Daniel Buckles from the women's soccer and track and field teams, respectively, Harris - a freshman - and Buckles - a sophomore - are both students in the University of Kentucky's Honors Program, in addition to competing for UK Athletics.
The story talks about Harris and Buckles balance school and sports. Here's an excerpt:
Each year, more than 500 UK students get involved through UK Athletics, programs that carry rich tradition. However, freshman Cailin Harris and sophomore Daniel Buckles took their involvement one step further, engaging in a program that upholds another aspect of the UK tradition -- the UK Honors Program.
Buckles, a decathlete on the Men's Track and Field team estimated that he spends at least 20-25 extra hours per week between the two programs, unsurprisingly touting time management as the most important factor in balancing his commitments. However, he and Harris, a member of the Women's Soccer team, both said that this double involvement actually enhanced both programs -- allowing them to gain skills from one program and apply them to the other.
"It can be really easy to make excuses in terms of grades, but the soccer program is an environment that responds to any mistakes with hard work," Harris said. "I think that translates really well to school. If I don't understand a concept, do I mope about it or do I go get extra help? Do I try to find resources that are going to help me get the grade I want? That is something that I have built up, in the short time I've been with this soccer program."
Through two games, 22 Wildcats have seen playing time for the women's soccer team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Jon Lipsitz had simply gotten used to coaching with a short bench. Limited depth on his 2011 roster forced him into regularly leaving multiple players on the field for all 90 minutes.
That's not a problem anymore.
In 2012, Kentucky is suddenly awash in depth. Lipsitz has found himself furiously substituting players so far this season, so much so that he realized last weekend he was actually interrupting his own team's momentum.
"There was actually a moment in the (Eastern Kentucky) game in the second half where we were subbing quite a bit and getting a lot of players in the game," Lipsitz said. "I was doing it because I want as many players as possible to get experience on the field to see how they react and see if the things we've worked on in training are coming through."
Taking the air out of his team in the short term isn't ideal, but for the long-term prospects of these Wildcats, it's necessary.
Through two games of the 2012 season, 22 players have already seen the field, and 16 for at least 40 minutes. To give an idea of the contrast with last season, there were only 21 players on the roster in 2011. With 32 players on the team to start the season, Lipsitz had as many players on his bench for the season opener as on the entire 2011 team.
Based on performance in practice, the majority of his players deserve playing time. As 2012 wears on, Lipsitz wouldn't mind it if he keeps playing upwards of 20 players a game. He also wouldn't mind if a shorter rotation of, say, 15 emerges. Ultimately, it will probably end up somewhere in between.
"As the season progresses, I don't expect to play 22 players every game," Lipsitz said. "I just want that many players with experience."
The next chance to build more of that experience comes this weekend as UK hosts the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Cats will face UNC-Greensboro at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, then Southeast Missouri at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The event will also include the Louisville Cardinals, whom UK won't take on this weekend, but will next Friday in Louisville.
"It's nice to be good hosts and it's nice to bring people here that have great programs and coaches that are good friends," Lipsitz said. "It's fun rivalries and we are looking forward to it."
This season's Tropical Smoothie Invitational features the same four teams as last year, but the other squads in the field will have plenty of new faces and names to learn when facing the Wildcats. UK prominently features a highly touted 15-member freshman class.
Lipsitz has been a head coach at the Division I level for over seven years now, but he has never had a class like this one. A testament to their talent, 10 of the newcomers have already seen the field just two games into the season.
So, is Lipsitz coddling the most highly ranked recruits he's ever coached?
Not so much.
"I called a few freshmen in the office this week and asked, 'How does it feel to be exposed every day?' " Lipsitz said.
Lipsitz's goal is to make training sessions more of a challenge than any game will ever be. He wants players to be tested, both mentally and physically, and the talented depth of his team allows him to do that every single day.
As for the freshmen Lipsitz put on the spot in his office this week, they seem to be handling it just fine.
"Their reaction was incredibly positive and talked about how they wanted to be pushed," Lipsitz said. "That's why we recruited them."
From the first day of preseason, Lipsitz has raved about the overall competitiveness of his team. Freshmen haven't hesitated to take it to upperclassmen and the upperclassmen have consistently responded.
That doesn't mean UK is close to being a finished product on the field. The Wildcats are out to a perfect start through two games, but have often been out of sync offensively, so far managing just one goal that has not been scored on a corner or free kick. The Cats have maintained possession for the majority of the 180 minutes, but converting possession into chances on goal has been a struggle.
With six goals in 2011, junior Caitlin Landis is UK's leading returning scorer. She has just one point through two games, but Lipsitz isn't worried about that. Landis now is joined on the first-team UK attack by forwards Cara Ledman and Kelli Hubly and attacking midfielder Olivia Jester.
"(Landis) is one who is a fantastic player and one that wants to just do her job," Lipsitz said. "She's not allowed to do that anymore with three freshmen. She has to lead and it's very uncomfortable."
That's where practice and UK's depth come in.
The primary focus in training this week has been on the "personality" of the UK attack, with Landis being asked to step up as the emotional leader of the group. The work started in drills with fewer players, which is where it would have had to stop last season. Limited by numbers, the Wildcats couldn't hold full 11 vs. 11 drills in practice. Now, 11 vs. 11 has become Lipsitz's laboratory.
"I think we can fix a lot of our issues without playing 11 v 11 but in the end we can never be sure how much better it's gotten until we test it," Lipsitz said. "We can work in small numbers but we want to see it. The nice thing this week is we have been working on our attack. We could work on offense versus defense all we want but until we get into 11 v 11 will those smaller concepts that we restrict their time and space to make them play faster. I feel like we get to learn more about our team earlier in the week instead of waiting until Friday or Sunday."
This weekend, it will be the fans' turn to see the results.
It hasn't been an easy start for the Ohio University Bobcats, Kentucky's first opponent in the Baymont Invitational. The Bobcats are still looking for their first win of the season after facing a brutally tough field in Dayton last weekend that featured No. 7 Illinois, No. 11 Pepperdine and Dayton (now ranked No. 11 nationally after a 3-0 start).
The road doesn't get any easier for the Bobcats, who have scheduled very tough non-conference opponents, when the No. 10 and No. 17 teams in Kentucky and Oregon come to town. Ohio will try to right the ship Friday night with the Wildcats, but UK is looking to do the same after falling to the rival Louisville Cardinals Wednesday night.
One area of success that Ohio showed in Dayton was their ability to play big at the net. The Bobcats recorded 28 stuff blocks over three matches, good for 2.5 blocks per set. Kentucky is averaging 3.3 blocks per set this season. The Wildcats have defeated the Bobcats in each of their two previous meetings and are 5-1 against them all-time.
University of Oregon (3-0)
AVCA Ranking: No. 17
Wins over: Toledo (3-0), Houston (3-0), Ohio State (3-2)
The No. 17 Oregon Ducks come into the weekend with a perfect 3-0 record after winning the Sports Import DC Koehl Classic hosted by Ohio State last weekend. Oregon handily took down Toledo and Houston in its first two matches of the season, but ran into some early trouble against the Buckeyes. Ohio State had Oregon backed up against a wall, but the Ducks rallied and won the last three sets to get the victory.
Alaina Bergsman led the Ducks with 38 kills over their first three matches en route to tournament MVP honors. With her performance, she earned her fourth career Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week award. The tournament title was the 13th in 15 tries for Oregon coach Jim Moore.
Kentucky last played Oregon in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, defeating the Ducks 3-0 in Lexington, Ky. Western Carolina University (2-1)
Wins over: St. Peter's (3-0), North Carolina A&T (3-0)
Caitlin Piechota (OH) - 46 kills (4.6 K/Set), .364%, 1 SA, 31 digs (3.1 D/Set) Jordan Timmerman (OH) - 30 kills (3.0 K/Set), .250%, 3 SA, 8 blocks (0.8 B/Set) Morgan Cochran (L) - 54 digs (5.4 D/Set)
Western Carolina had a successful opening weekend, taking two out of three in the Western Carolina Invitational Tournament. After suffering a loss to Northern Kentucky on opening night, WCU swept its next two opponents to get above .500 to start the season.
The Catamounts have yet to play against the caliber of opponents that they will see this weekend in Athens, Ohio, however. With both No. 10 Kentucky and No. 17 Oregon in the building, as well as the battled-tested host Ohio, WCU faces an uphill battle going into the weekend.
Kentucky will get their shot at the Catamounts Saturday night in the prime-time match at 8 p.m. The Wildcats have seen their fair share of WCU over the years. The two teams had matched up in three consecutive seasons from 2007-2009, with UK coming away victorious 3-0 each year. Kentucky has never lost a set to the Catamounts in all five of their previous match ups.
You've seen the change across campus. It's been evident at Memorial Coliseum for volleyball and women's basketball games. It can't be missed at the UK Softball or Soccer Complexes.
During the decade he has presided over UK Athletics, Mitch Barnhart has developed the athletic department's 22-sport program in unprecedented fashion. Committed to competitiveness and excellence in all sports, Barnhart has invested resources in facilities as well as bringing in and keeping top coaches, and the results have been obvious.
Barnhart has grown the athletic department at UK by communicating a vision, investing in facilities, focusing on regional recruiting, and securing and retaining top-level coaches.
Barnhart established the "15x15x15" goal of reaching 15 championships and achieving a top-15 ranking in the Directors' Cup by 2015.
"The '15x15x15' model he put in front of us a couple of years ago -- everybody is expected to contribute to that," (rifle head coach Harry) Mullins said. "You can feel the excitement within the department with all the success."
Former UK men's tennis head coach Dennis Emery, who coached under four different athletic directors during his tenure, said Barnhart's impact has been dramatic.
"Mitch expects to win. We didn't used to be expected to win in these other sports," Emery said. "He changed the culture within the entire athletic department."
Despite a challenging economic environment, UK Athletics has found the resources to fund a new track and field complex ($12.7 million) set to open in the fall and a new softball complex ($7.4 million) that will open February and host the SEC Softball Tournament in May. The department also has recently upgraded video boards or scoreboards for soccer, swimming and diving, softball, tennis, volleyball and women's basketball.
Joker Phillips is 1-1 as a head coach against rival Louisville. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
As soon as the last football of the 2011-12 season was snapped - and maybe sooner - Kentucky and Louisville fans circled Sept. 2 on their calendars.
The annual showdown for the Governor's Cup is always big, but the buildup to this one has been different. Wildcat supporters see it as a chance to rebound from a disappointing year with a huge win over their biggest rival. Cardinal fans view beating UK as the first step to fulfilling BCS-or-bust expectations.
For the most part, U of L and especially UK players and coaches have stayed above the fray, electing to skip out on the friendly and sometimes not so friendly back-and-forth preceding the game. That does not mean they don't understand its significance.
Mix the intensity of the rivalry game with the jitters associated with a season opener and you have the recipe for some serious nerves.
"The past week or so, I've been kind of anxious; just have a weird feeling in your stomach," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I'm just ready to play. It's a good anxious feeling, and I'm just ready to go and jump into it. I can't wait for it to get here."
Williamson won't have to wait much longer. UK is just days away from making the short trek west to the biggest city in the Bluegrass to face Louisville at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN. UK-U of L is the lone football game - college or NFL - on the schedule for Sunday, which means the eyes of a huge national audience figure to be trained on the Cats and Cards as they do battle for the 25th time in the rivalry's history.
Quarterback Max Smith, adding to everything else, will be making his first season-opening start and his first start against Louisville. However, it's not as if he's completely without experience. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is expected to be rocking, but Smith has already played at LSU and South Carolina. Even so, he'll be dealing with nerves too.
"I'm nervous before every game, nothing really is going to change," Smith said. "I've been nervous before every game even if we played a really bad team in high school I would be nervous before that game. If I'm not nervous then something is wrong."
Smith went on to say he plans to treat Sunday like any other game in spite of everything swirling around it, but even he had to concede its meaning in terms of setting the tone for the rest of the season.
"Winning the first game is very crucial," Smith said. "It can set you up big time."
Experts and fans aren't expecting big things out of UK in 2012. Completely turning around those opinions will take an entire season, but what better place to start than in the spotlight this weekend?
"What a great opportunity for us," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We've played a lot of top 25 teams, come out on top on some. This is a great opportunity for us to play against a top 25 team in our first game."
The word "opportunity" sums up the way Phillips is approaching this game pretty effectively. He's not putting the pressure on his team - there's enough of that coming from elsewhere - opting instead to focus on what a win would mean. For his purposes, the fact that U of L is a fairly substantial favorite works just fine.
"That's what I'm accustomed to," Phillips said. "We've always been in this position, even when we had some good teams here that finished pretty good. We take it for what it's worth. We use it as motivation and we'll play. That's what we do. We don't talk about it. We just go play."
Louisville will present plenty of challenges though, the most obvious of which is sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. His first action last year came against Kentucky when starter Will Stein went down with an injury. The Wildcat defense, having centered its game plan around Stein, struggled to cope with Bridgewater in a 24-17 loss. He would go on to start the season's final 10 games, throwing for over 2,100 yards and leading his team to the Belk Bowl.
"He's a guy that played really well for them in the second half (against) us, made some huge throws," Phillips said. "Came out of high school, people were wondering if he could throw the ball well enough to be a big-time quarterback. Well, he can."
There's a pretty good chance Bridgewater and Smith will be dealing with less than ideal throwing conditions. Sunday's forecast calls for a 70-percent chance of potentially heavy rainfall. Poor footing and slippery balls could make life hard on receivers and defensive backs, making play in the trenches that much more important.
In terms of pressure up front, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter both aren't afraid to bring the heat. The two teams combined for 10 sacks in last season's matchup, but Phillips believes in his quarterback's ability to cope with the Cardinal blitz.
"What will help Max is what he has seen in practice," Phillips said. "(Minter) is cut from the same cloth (as Strong). You know, he likes to bring pressure from all different angles, all different directions, all different down and distance, similar to what we'll see on Sunday, Max has seen all (preseason)."
Especially if the conditions are as bad as they could be, Smith will need as much help as possible from his running game. UK managed just 3.5 yards per carry in 2011 and just 35 yards on 32 rushes against the Cardinals. U of L ran for 181 yards in last season's game, marking the 16th time in as many seasons the team with more rushing yards has won the Governor's Cup.
Louisville's win over Kentucky last year, combined with the Cardinals' five wins in their final six regular season games, has propelled U of L into the favorite role, but Phillips has been around this rivalry too long to pay much attention to any of that.
"The team that wins this thing comes out of this thing with momentum," Phillips said. "We need the momentum, and so do they need the momentum. That's why it will be a great game. Regardless of who is favored, who is in the top 25, it will be a great football game."
Wednesday night's four-set loss to Louisville was a tough pill to swallow for the Kentucky volleyball team. Carrying a lofty No. 10 national ranking, UK strolled into the KFC Yum! Center and immediately took the first set from the Louisville Cardinals to grab an early 1-0 edge in the match.
It was all Cardinals from there.
Last year, when U of L came to Lexington, UK sent the Cards home with a 3-0 loss in rather convincing fashion. After four matches, I'm convinced the Wildcats are talented enough to be the No. 10 team in the country, if not better, but they can't be satisfied with any number next to their name.
Head coach Craig Skinner talks day after day, match after match, about how useless and unimportant rankings are. If it were up to him, he'd never let his players see the rankings. Now, he hopes a disappointing loss to a talented and fired up Louisville team can be a learning opportunity for his team.
There was a lot to take away from last night's match. Louisville served much tougher, more aggressively than Kentucky did. Louisville was in system far too often while UK found themselves in unfavorable scoring positions throughout the evening. The Cats made several questionable decisions when it came to playing balls that were going to go out of bounds, or sets went to hitters with several blockers. But it all starts with passing.
Kentucky has to pass better, and it will. The Cats have several experienced players in the back row that are capable of performing at the highest level. They haven't yet, but they have a track record that says that they can.
One factor, and perhaps the biggest factor, was the road atmosphere that they went up against Wednesday night in the River City. Louisville packed the joint with 5,007 fans, some who made the drive from Lexington. By design, Skinner has set up a non-conference schedule that has his team playing against top competition is some of the most hostile of environments. That started with the Louisville match and will continue over the next two weekends.
Over that period, Kentucky will travel to the Mecca of college volleyball, otherwise known as the University of Nebraska, which owns the No. 1 ranking. One of the most loyal and devoted volleyball followings congregates there each home match and fills NU Arena with a capacity of 4,030 fans.
This weekend, however, will be a test in and of itself. The Wildcats travel to Ohio to face the Bobcats, Oregon and Western Carolina. It will be an opportunity for Skinner and his team to correct some of the mistakes they've made early on and worry about playing for the name on front of their jerseys instead of their ranking in the polls.
It wasn't a complete beat down last night. The third set was ugly, but UK had a great opportunity to take the second set and hold a commanding 2-0 lead heading into the break. But the Cats let their foot off the gas. In the fourth set, I witnessed some of the most competitive volleyball I have ever seen. Rally after rally, neither team would be denied until Louisville finally capitalized on one of multiple match points.
The bus ride home was somber. The team was clearly upset. They knew that they had to make corrections and that the number 10 was not going to mean a thing unless they went into the gym and proved it to the world and to themselves. They haven't earned anything yet, but they still can.
If the Wildcats can sustain the competitiveness they showed near the end of the fourth set Wednesday night throughout an entire match, they will be a forced to be reckoned with. For Skinner, he hopes that force emerges this Friday in Ohio, and as soon as possible.
After a loss, Skinner wants to be back on the floor as soon as possible to get the taste of defeat from his and his team's mouths. Any loss to Louisville always tastes worse. That's why this weekend will be vital.
The Ohio Tournament field will test the Cats once more, just as the Kentucky Classic field did a weekend ago. Though one day of practice between matches is less than desirable, the opportunity to be back on the court after their first loss of the season should provide plenty of fuel to add to Kentucky's fire to propel the Wildcats through the weekend.
When Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy were each taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft this past April, anybody who followed Kentucky football had a pretty good idea the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were getting a pair of steals.
Guy and Trevathan have delivered, showing what made them the top tacklers in the Southeastern Conference in 2011. Trevathan has battled injury over the last two weeks, but Guy is well-positioned to not only earn a roster spot, but play right away.
"He just gets it," Carroll said. "He's a hitter. He plays the ball well. He's really fast. He's 216 pounds. Big kid. He's got a real knack for rushing the pass. He looks like a pass rusher when he's coming. He's really been a pleasant surprise."
Guy is a sixth-round choice, which means nothing is guaranteed in terms of a roster spot, and after he was conspicuously near the two punts that were deflected in Denver in the second exhibition game, I wondered if that would affect his chances of making the team.
Nope. He's going to be part of the Bandit package from the get go.
"He's in the starting group in Game 1, maybe the first third down of the season," Carroll said. "That's an amazing accomplishment for him, but he's got all of the right stuff, but he's still a pup."
Gene McCaskill is slotted to start at wide receiver Sunday against Louisville. (UK Athletics, Chet White)
So far in the day-to-day media efforts to dig up the best stories of fall camp, a lot of attention has been paid to the freshmen and younger playmakers at the wide receiver position. Yet when you take a look at the depth chart heading into Sunday's game against Louisville, seniors Gene McCaskill and E.J. Fields sit atop two of the receivers spots.
So what gives?
Well, much of that can be attributed to last year's struggles from the wide receiver position. Guys who have been at Kentucky more than one season have been pretty much written off as potential difference makers this year. Those same guys are players who have had some tough moments in their careers when it comes to getting on the field.
Each wide out saw some opportunities last season, but in limited roles. Fields had a big game against the Cardinals last year, catching five balls for 57 yards and a touchdown. But he only made five other receptions the rest of the season and saw most of his live action on special teams. McCaskill, on the other hand, has been cursed by the injury bug for much of his career, even leading into this season.
With little returning experience from last year's team, the UK staff decided to try and keep McCaskill as healthy and fresh as they could by holding him out of contact drills in the spring and having him alternate practice days this fall. McCaskill's injury history has caused him to have multiple surgeries, and the tender handling of the wide receiver has helped him stay healthy heading into the season opener. He's worked hard with strength coach Rock Oliver to help rebuild the necessary muscles in his legs, and now he's good to go.
While McCaskill would rather be out there every day getting better, he knows just how important his presence on the field has become.
"Whatever my team needs, I am trying to stay healthy," says McCaskill. "As long as I stay healthy I will do good things. Just being on the field, my team loves me being on the field. That's what I want to do."
A glaring weakness in last season's offense was the inability to find success in the passing game. Whether it was ineptitude on the offensive line, inaccurate passing, or problems on the receiving end, the passing game rarely showed any signs of life as the Kentucky football team failed to make a bowl game for the first time in six years.
This season, the jury is still out on the passing game with an eye toward the receivers. They need them all to step up and provide big plays.
A fifth-year senior, McCaskill has been around the block and has seen the program's ups and downs. And while the young guns at the position have shone bright at times, McCaskill gives the group an experienced, consistent option that may prove to be even more valuable.
Sometimes, though, those injuries can dress themselves only to later reveal themselves as blessings. McCaskill may not be the player he is without having the opportunity to watch and learn from the sideline while nursing his ailments.
"It was good and bad," said McCaskill of his time away from the field. "It was bad because of the injury itself, but it was good for me to watch from the sideline and see the stuff that I don't see on the field. And I can take that and bring it back into the meeting room, and teach the younger guys."
That's exactly what McCaskill has been doing. Instead of focusing on himself and how he can have the best possible season in his senior year, McCaskill is working to make the team better. He is working with the wide receiver group as a whole, sharing his knowledge and experience, with hopes of teaching those younger talented receivers.
"They know their roles as leaders," said receivers' coach Pat Washington. "Each group is positioned with leaders, and those seniors are leaders in our group. They know their role helping the young kids. The smallest detail, to the most critical, toughest detail, they're helping those guys out, and those young guys are getting better every day."
It's that same experience, though, that has earned them the starting positions. From what has been displayed on the field during the dog days of fall camp, it's only evident that the "experience factor" is more important that raw skill and ability.
"The experience factor is really big," said Washington. "They know how to practice. They know how to prepare every day. They know how to work through the grind. Some of the younger guys quite don't know how to do it yet, so they are not as consistent as they want to be. But they are getting there. They are getting better, and hopefully by game one, if not, game two, they are ready to go."
While the youth at the position is still bridled, the veterans are ready to go. McCaskill, Fields and La'Rod King are three senior receivers who figure to see a lot of playing time early and often. As one of the most tenured groups of the offense, McCaskill thinks that last year's biggest weakness may become the driving force of this year's offensive attack.
"As a group the expectations are high for us anyway, just coming off of last season," said McCaskill. "That was a really bad season for us. And coming back I can see it in all the guys, coming to camp with the young guys, everyone is learning stuff quickly. I feel like we can be the leaders of the offense. And with the tempo that we running, it's going to be really good for us this year."
With the seconds ticking down to the opening of the 2012 season and Kentucky-Louisville, UK Sports Video is posting some of the best plays from recent series history. Take a look at a couple. Stevie Got Loose
In his 25 years as a coach, Joker Phillips can never remember being around a healthier football team with the season just around the corner. Kentucky made it through another practice on Thursday with no major injuries, and afterward, Phillips offered an explanation why.
"We're a little bit more athletic, we're a little bit stronger so we're not all over the ground," Phillips said. "We understand how to practice. A lot of that has to do with or older guys teaching the young guys how to practice."
Thursday was the last time Phillips will speak with the media before Sunday's game at Louisville, mercifully, though he wants to capitalize on the three days before too.
"I'm anxious to see what we have, but...we still have another day of preparation, some meeting times we can take advantage of," Phillips said. "I want to make sure we take full advantage it."
No big news came in Phillips comments, but you can see what he had to say in the video below.
Louisville natives Stephanie Klefot and Jackie Napper are key cogs in Kentucky's second line of defense. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There is a tradition that has developed in the Kentucky volleyball program over the last several years, especially since head coach Craig Skinner took charge back in December 2004. That tradition is winning. But that tradition has spawned from another tradition, also cultivated by Skinner in his recruiting and player development.
Since Skinner was put into place as the head volleyball coach at the University of Kentucky, his defensive leader, the libero, has often hailed from the state of Kentucky. They are no home town heroines, these liberos. In fact, for Skinner to find his dominant diggers, he has to go into enemy territory.
The one thing that all of Skinner's liberos have in common: they are all natives of Louisville, Ky.
Actually, they probably have a lot more in common than their residence. These specialized defenders have incredible range, make the toughest of plays, and start the offense with precision passing. These libero Louisvillians turned Lexingtonians are what make this team go, playing arguably the most important position on the court.
Kentucky senior libero Stephanie Klefot is now the fourth such Louisville recruit to join Skinner and carry on the tradition. It was another one of Skinner's previous recruits that helped lure Klefot here. A player that she had grown up watching all through high school.
"It definitely had an impact," said Klefot of the tradition. "BriAnne Sauer was a huge reason. I grew up with her so it was a huge help coming in with her and getting into the swing of things. She would keep me after practice to work on stuff and we had the same attitude of relentless pursuit and I think that really did help."
Klefot follows in the footsteps of Sauer as well as Alisa Pierce and Jenni Casper who came before her. But who will be the next to carry on that tradition? One candidate may be already on the Kentucky roster.
Jackie Napper,a close friend and former high school teammate of Klefot at Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., followed Klefot and joined the Kentucky volleyball program last season. She's learning from her "mentor" as much as she can now, on and off the floor, in hopes of being the next great libero at UK.
With the reputation that Klefot has built at the libero position, it will be no easy task as her replacement.
"Once Klefot is gone I have large shoes to fill and I hope to step up and become a leader on this team and take our whole team to a place where we want to go," said Napper. "Last year we made the Sweet 16 and this year we expect more and hope to continue that legacy and keep building this program to keep going farther and farther."
The bond that they share is a special one, which may make the transition a bit easier once Klefot moves on. Klefot has been in Napper's ear from day one, making sure that Napper knows just how good she can be.
"She always is working very hard and can always count on her," said Napper of Klefot. "This past weekend I had a game where I was kind of off and I even told her once we left the gym that I appreciated having her there and knowing she had faith in me and knowing she knew I was going to pick it up."
The amount of success that Skinner has had in finding the Sauers, the Klefots, and the Nappers of the country is not serendipitous. Louisville has no magic well to dip into for great defenders. But Skinner continues to dip into the Louisville well because it's a talent-rich area where they breed a certain type of volleyball player: players that fit the mold of what he hopes to continue to build his program with.
"We look (in Louisville) for liberos first all the time," said Skinner. "We try and start watching and identifying those types of players when they are in middle school and try to determine who the up and comers are and go from there. There is usually a recruit in that position in each class."
Louisville is widely considered the best area in the state of Kentucky when it comes to amateur volleyball. It has perennial powerhouses at the high school level in Assumption, Mercy, and Sacred Heart. With that many talented teams in one area fighting for pride and honor, competition is bound to be at a high level. And on the club volleyball scene, the Kentucky-Indiana Volleyball Club, better known as KIVA, is every bit as responsible for molding these backline defenders.
"Any drill we were doing for KIVA and a competition and it we weren't just out there playing, we were competing every point, every ball," said Napper, a former club member. "I think had a lot to do with building us and making us who we are."
It starts earlier than high school for most of these back-row ballers. In fact, these players are learning how to play the game around the same time they are learning to read and write. In the city of Louisville, volleyball is just second nature.
"Volleyball has been a big priority in the high schools and clubs there for years and years," said Skinner. "They have great coaches and they start playing when they are six, seven, or eight years old so they get really, really good at the fundamentals and they compete against each other a lot, go to camp together a lot and they play in club together a lot. They are just seasoned volleyball players and for whatever reason they have a lot of libero-sized volleyball players there and the coaches do a good job training them."
Wednesday night, the priority for Kentucky will be to get an important road victory in Louisville in Klefot and Napper's homecoming. The Wildcats travel west down I-64 to face the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center at 7:00 p.m. Louisville (2-1) will look for revenge against UK after Kentucky got the best of the rivalry last season in a 3-0 sweep. Meanwhile, Klefot looks to start a streak and rectify the result from the Wildcats' last trip to her hometown. It's a game for bragging rights in the state, but with the tradition of Louisville-born volleyball players prevalent on both sides of the rivalry, the intensity of this rivalry should be at an all-time high.
"I am so excited because it is in Louisville and last time we were there we lost," said Klefot. "We are playing against some of the girls I know and now Jackie knows all the new girls. My whole family and friends are coming so I know it's going to be an intense match."
The Kentucky football team held an uncommonly intense practice on Tuesday in preparation for this weekend's game against Louisville. Recognizing that effort, Joker Phillips pulled back a bit on Wednesday.
"We took the pads off because of the effort yesterday and how physical we played yesterday," Phillips said. "We gave threw them a little bone by taking (thigh pads) off. We still banged and ran into people, which is good to be able to do. Our execution got better."
There is work left to be done between now and Sunday at 3:30 p.m., and one task the Wildcats will undertake is getting ready for potentially inclement weather. The forecast for Louisville on Sunday calls for a 70-percent chance of precipitation with the potential for heavy rainfall.
Phillips reported that UK is planning accordingly and will have players practice with wet gloves and balls on Friday. There will be some tweaks in preparation, but Phillips wants no change in attitude.
"The thing our guys got to understand (is) we don't care," Phillips said. "We don't care where we play at: parking lot, who cares? We want to play."
According to Phillips, the game plan won't change based on the forecast, but he did say a 'Wildcat' package is in the playbook. After Randall Cobb took Wildcat snaps to great effect in 2010, the single wing formation was not used extensively in 2011. It remains to be seen how much it will be used this year, but it is definitely an option. However, Phillips declined to say who will play the role.
"You'll have to wait and see," Phillips said. "I told you we'd have one. I don't want to tell you who it will be. We've got some different personnel coming in and out of the game; I want some of it to be a guessing game for everybody, not just (the media)."
Mitch Barnhart is in his 11th year as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches sat down with Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart this week for a question-and-answer session. With another year in UK Athletics in full swing, Barnhart discussed the state of the athletic department, the upcoming football season and facilities, among other topics. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation.
Cat Scratches: UK Athletics had one of the best seasons in its history in 2011-12 and fall sports are already in action. How important do you believe it is for the fall sports to continue the momentum and set the tone for 2012-13? Mitch Barnhart: I think it certainly creates momentum when you get off to a good start. We just completed our first weekend of play and we were 5-1 coming out of the weekend in a variety of sports between women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer. Last year, we really only had two of our fall sports that had NCAA appearances - one of them was women's soccer, the other one was volleyball - so trying to recover from a slow start was difficult. We did make a good run in the winter in the spring and that was very helpful to us. To get off to a better start this year in terms of all of our sports is very important to us.
We've made some additions to our fall sports coaches roster, if you will, in Johan Cedergren (men's soccer head coach) and Edrick Floreal in our track and field and our cross country. That will take a little time to develop, but I think it is important that you get off to a good start. Clearly, we don't want to miss opportunities for our program to be in postseason play. I think winning and creating that atmosphere and the old theory of the rising tide raises all boats is very, very true. We certainly want to start out that way. CS: Being around the program and interacting with coaches, it's impossible not to notice a community across the different teams at UK. How much of that culture did you envision when you arrived and how much is simply an outgrowth of bringing in good, like-minded people? MB: We've tried to create a group of coaches, as well as administrators, that get along and that everybody is sort of rowing in the same direction. It starts with your two revenue-producing coaches and that is with (men's basketball head coach John Calipari) and (football head coach) Joker (Philips). They truly want Kentucky Athletics in total to be great. The things that they do and the things that they put in place help us to get to those spots. They produce and provide opportunities for everybody else, but they take great pride in that and I think they enjoy other people succeeding.
What we do is try to create an atmosphere where coaches enjoy feeding off one another's successes and I think that's sort of what we got. I've joked around and said I've got a group of very normal people. I say that in the nicest of ways in that they have real balance in their lives. The way that they treat people is with respect and they're honorable folks in the way they do their business. But most of all, they understand student-athletes and how to treat them and grow them into the young people we want them to be.
When you put all those pieces of the puzzle together, we've got a group that really, really gets along well. You'll go to matches or games and you'll see all the coaches from other sports hanging out on the sidelines or in the end zones or in the corners watching. And I think they learn from one another. I think everybody's learned a little bit how you manage superstar athletes like Cal has gotten. You've seen some people that have been what I call grinders in grinding away with a group of athletes and how they've won with that and how we've won with some overachieving athletes. They've all taken bits and pieces from one another and I think they're not territorial in any way, shape or form. They get along extremely well.
CS: Moving on to football specifically, expectations on the part of fans and experts are relatively low for this season, while many around the program seem to have a quiet confidence that the team is better and more talented than outsiders think. For the sake of ticket sales, you would obviously prefer that fans would agree, but are there also positives associated with being under the radar? MB: I think, sometimes, you need to be able to play with a chip on your shoulder a little bit. I think that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder. People aren't giving us much of an opportunity to compete and I think you're going to have use that as a rallying cry around your program. You're going to have to believe in one another. We're going to have to have some things go our way. We've got to stay a little bit injury-free and we've got to stay clear of that. And we've got to be able to go out and perform.
We've got some young people certainly capable of that and I think we've got a really good group of coaches. They believe in one another and they believe in our kids. That's the first step. I'd agree with you. I think there is a gentle confidence about them, but we've got to go out and prove that. CS: Another much-discussed topic is the Alumni Charity Game at Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. on Sept. 15. What kind of thought went into planning that and why do you believe it can be a successful doubleheader with football's home game at 7 p.m. against Western Kentucky that same day? MB: You've got some restrictions about when you can play the game and do those kinds of games by NBA rules. We've got a unique set of alumni - probably a different alumni base than most programs have - an alumni base of over 20 NBA guys, and it's growing rapidly. To have a unique group of folks that want to come back and be a part of something like that at Kentucky is very different from a lot of places.
I've always been a believer in creating multiple things for your fans to be a part of on a weekend and let them enjoy a lot of things. It goes back to what we talked about with the culture here. Just being able to share assets and share ideas and share fan bases and share things that promote Kentucky in total rather than one thing individually I think is really, really important. If we can use the incredible traditions we have in basketball to help augment people wanting to come be a part of an incredible weekend with Hall of Fame Weekend and Alumni Weekend and Western Kentucky, what an opportunity for us to do that.
CS: The Alumni Game is just the latest example of the department reaching out to former student-athletes. Across sports, former Wildcats are joining coaching staffs and being invited to be more involved with the program. Why do you believe that to be so important? MB: I think that Joker has done a great job of bring guys back in the program and allowing them to work and begin their careers. That fosters that sense of family that we are trying to create. We want people in our program that love Kentucky and understand Kentucky and take great pride in what we do. To have Jeremy Jarmon, Andre' Woodson, Glenn Holt, Sam Simpson, Braxton Kelley and Tyler Sargent back on your staff in football (as director of player personnel) or to have a Marquis Estill who comes back to get his degree and works on (the basketball) staff and (former student assistant) Wayne Turner now out there in the working world out there representing Kentucky is really good. You've got Tony Delk and Scott Padgett out there in basketball (now assistant coaches at New Mexico State and Samford, respectively, after a stint on Calipari's UK staff).
Most of our coaches are beginning to reach out and pull those folks back. There was a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks interested in coming back to be a part of this, but that has become more the norm. Our athletes are now wanting to be a part of us differently than they have in the past. I think that's very helpful to us.
CS: It doesn't take long for anyone who regularly attends UK sporting events to notice that you attend pretty much every game or match that you can. Why do you make such an effort to do that? MB: I think it's a couple things. One, the young people, our kids, put in an incredible amount of time. For us to be able to come and make sure they know that we care and that and we know who they are, I think that's important for them to know that you care.
Two, if you're going to evaluate your program properly, you've got to understand what the climate is in your program and what's going on. You've got to have an ability to see firsthand how your players, your athletes are reacting to the things that your coaches are teaching.
Three, I think we've got to know that the environment we're providing is organizationally sound and that it is run efficiently and safely for everybody that's coming, whether it's to play in it or to participate in it or to watch. We've got to make sure those things are sound.
I don't think you can do those things if you're not there and you're not around it. Come about mid- to late-June, I'm about done and I need to get away a little bit. So July I try to get away and go do stuff and get my head clear before we crank back up again. CS: We have discussed the challenges UK Athletics faces in maintaining and building new facilities in similar settings before, but can you provide an update on how you believe the department is coping with those challenges and what your priorities are going forward? MB: We came here and I would say - out of the 12 teams at the time that were in the SEC, now it's 14 - I'd say we were bottom three in the league in terms of actual facilities. The way that financing is done on campus and in our state, it is very difficult for us to secure financing. We don't have a private foundation. The way that funding in our state is done is very different from everybody else in our league, and that's another conversation completely.
We have basically piecemealed together everything that we've done. We've saved money, we've raised money, we've put pockets of money together systematically, piece by piece by piece taking care of facilities. We're in the process of finishing up the last two pieces of the soccer/softball complex down there on Alumni Drive. That would be a very important piece. That would leave us three or four projects away. Two of them are really, really big ones - one of them is a new baseball stadium and the other one is obviously the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium - that we're going to have find ways to get help on, whether that's through bonds or through additional fundraising. And then our indoor tennis center, which really desperately needs help. Those three facilities are still on the docket for us of things we really need help with.
How we get all that done and work on that is important because athletes today pick schools for a variety of reasons. We just did a study and they come for that relationship with that head coach, generally, and then secondarily with the players involved and the folks on the team. Can they make those relationships work? Beyond that, we have heard them say over and over again as they have left our program, 'It isn't about facilities, but we just don't want to have horrible facilities.' We've felt like we've always had decent playing facilities, but the amenities around them that make it really warm and accommodating have just not been where they need to be.
We've done the math. In the last 10 years, we've done about $115 to $120 million of cash, capital construction, but we close to no debt. That's a really good thing. The downside is that we haven't been able to move as fast as we've wanted to move. Hopefully, with getting some changes in the way we look at bonding, we'll be able to do that.
CS: The 15 by 15 by 15 plan to win 15 conference and national championships and finish in the top 15 of the Director's Cup standings by 2015 is the centerpiece of your goals for this department. Having won 10 titles already, that benchmark looks to be clearly within reach. But in 2011-12 - one of the best seasons in UK history - the department finished 29th. How difficult will it be to reach the top 15 and how important will the new direction of the track and field and cross country be to that? MB: Our goal is to obviously get the championships, and that's one piece. You could legitimately capture three championships a year for five years, meet that goal and still not be closer to a top-15 program. Our goal is to be a top-15 program and that hasn't changed. We got to 29th last year and it's the second time we've done that in the 10 years we've been here.
The big piece in that is you've got to be able to have success in your track and field program consistently. It counts six times for you when you take cross country, both men and women; indoor track and field championships, both men and women; and outdoor track and field championships, both men and women. That is six opportunities with essentially the same athletes and same coaching staff. We've been relatively inconsistent. We've had some championship performances in those sports. We've had some people do, individually, very well, but not collectively as a team getting us to a spot where we could say we're finishing top 20 in cross country, top 20 in indoor track and outdoor. We've got to get to that spot.
When you get a guy like Edrick to come on board who has got a great ability to move your program forward coupled with the investment we've made in a 13 million dollar outdoor track plus the indoor track, the resurfacing of that, new locker rooms and a new lounge, it's about as good a scenario as you could possibly have for track and field. It gives us all the resources necessary to go compete to get us to that top 15. I'm not saying in year one we make this dramatic move from 29 to 15. It's going to take him a year or two to get all his folks in place.
In time, that has a major impact on our ability to be a top-15 program. If we had everything else in place like we've had the last few years, just the moderate successes we've had and some of the championships we've won, and you added four finishes out of six in track and field, we would have been a top-15 program in I think three of the last six years. That significantly changes the way you do your business. We've got to pay attention to that and we've got to work really, really hard to give that the attention it needs.
I think we've done that and I think we have a legitimate chance to be a top-15 program or we wouldn't have done some of the things we've done. I think we have a tremendous pool of head coaches. Now we have to find a way to keep them in place and grow them the right way for the long-term stability of our program so we're not a transition place where they come here to go to another place. We want to give them the resources necessary to say this is a destination spot at Kentucky and we build toward being a top-15 program and stay there.
UK fell 4-3 to Dayton in the first game of the Johan Cedergren era. (UK Athletics)
Coming into the 2012 campaign, men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren set a lofty goal for his team of allowing 18 goals or fewer in 18 games this season. The Wildcats hit a bump in the road in achieving the feat after allowing four goals to Dayton last Sunday in the season opener.
The Wildcats held the Flyers scoreless through the first 45 minutes of action before fireworks went off in the second half. The teams combined to score seven goals as Dayton squeaked away from the match with a 4-3 victory.
Although the Cats surrendered four goals and walked away from the contest on the low end, Cedergren and the defense never stopped fighting and are confident they will right the ship.
"I think we have a lot of experience in that back four and they as a unit were not at all happy about letting four goals in, but they never stopped trying and they kept pushing," Cedergren noted.
Kentucky runs a 4-5-1 set and is full of experience on the defensive end. Seniors Jacob Kemper and Pettys along with juniors Dylan Asher and Steven Perinovic man the back line for the Cats, who have five seniors among the starting 11.
In contrast to previous seasons, Cedergren is implementing a zone defense instead of man assignments. Like anything in life, change doesn't happen overnight.
"I think we use a fairly similar system that the players are used to in that we play a back four and I believe they played a back four in the past," Cedergren said. "They have zone responsibilities rather than man markings and its just a little more complicated because people that come into your zone are your responsibilities. You have to mark whoever is coming into your zone and then the other three defenders have to feed off of what the first person is doing."
The zone defense requires a lot of attention to detail and trust in teammates to have each other's back.
"We talk a lot of paying attention to detail and as we work more and more the defense is going to get cleaned up," Cedergren said. "We also have to have two holding center midfielders in front of the back four that are supposed to protect them. I think they did an okay job there but we can definitely be a lot sharper."
Despite surrendering four goals in the opener, the offense looked primed and ready for the 2012 season. The Wildcats received goals from senior captain Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs.
UK looked sharp on both ends in the first half, taking a 13-6 shot advantage over the Flyers to the locker room. Cedergren was pleased with the performance his team showed out of the gates and their ability to stay within themselves early on.
"I think we had a pretty clear game plan going into the game and we had a good idea what Dayton was going to do," Cedergren mentioned. "We did really well in the first half in terms of staying with the game plan and keeping the team tight and not giving them a lot of room."
The second half turned out to be a different story. The teams combined to score seven goals, with Dayton holding a 9-8 advantage on shots. The Cats fell behind 4-1 before their courageous rally fell short.
"I think you have to give credit to Dayton," Cedergren said. "They made some changes at halftime and we just weren't able to comprehend what they were doing quickly enough. We started dropping off and giving them more space and soccer is a game of opportunities. Once they got their first goal they became more aggressive and started believing more in themselves and started pushing forward and I think we started doubting ourselves at the same time."
After a long preseason battle for the starting goalkeeper position, UK gave true freshman Callum Irving the nod on Sunday. Irving's stat line didn't looked the most impressive after surrendering four goals but he did catch Cedergren's attention with some of his play.
"When you play a true freshman mistakes are going to happen," Cedergren said. "I will never pull someone or not play someone because they made a mistake. It's how you respond after making the mistake and how you compensate. Callum made a couple of saves that very few keepers in the country could have done. Yes there was a mistake that may have happened but at the same time there were two or three times where he saved almost a given goal."
Junior Jack Van Arsdale and freshman Dary DeWalt are also being considered in the mix for the starting slot. Van Arsdale started three games in goal for UK last season and has performed very well in practice and training.
"Jack did great for us in the spring and he's been great in practice," Cedergren said. "Callum and Jack have been pushing each other like crazy and Dary is in the mix as well. The keepers are very close and we thought Callum looked a little sharper but Jack knows if he trains well this week there is an opportunity for him."
Kentucky will turn its focus to the upcoming weekend as they prepare for the South Carolina Tournament where they will face Big Ten foe Northwestern and Big East member St. John's. Northwestern was picked by the coaches to vie for the top spot in the Big Ten, while St. John's comes into the week ranked No. 15/13. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats as they are scheduled to play Charlotte (Sept. 9), Louisville (Sept. 14) and Indiana (Oct. 3).
"It's a great schedule and very challenging," Cedergren said. "We have 10 teams in the top 25 but that's where we want to be and our goal is to be in the top 25. I think you need a tough schedule to get you ready for conference play but Northwestern and St John's are two programs where we want to be with two very experienced coaches.
The Wildcats have larger goals set for themselves as the season progresses. It will take a quite a collective effort to reach their benchmark of 18 or fewer goals allowed, but the team is looking at the big picture.
"These two tough games on the road will get us ready for when we have to go and play on the road in conference," Cedergren said. "One of our goals is to make the conference tournament and to do that we are going to have to get some wins on the road and I think a tough schedule will prepare us for that."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Aug 26:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Sophomore defender Arin Gilliland netted the game-winner for the Wildcats on Friday night vs. EKU in a thrilling 2-1 game. The sophomore headed in a corner kick to the nearside post for her first goal of the season in the 53rd minute of the game. The goal was the second goal in the game in which the Wildcats scored off a set piece. The Lexington, Ky., native's game-winner was the third of her career just two games into her sophomore season at UK.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Junior Alexandra Morgan made the most of her first three career starts by posting eight or more kills in all three of UK's victories including a career-high nine in a win over Long Beach State. Morgan led the Wildcats with a blistering .388 hitting clip, committing a mere six errors in 12 sets of action. Furthermore, her defensive presence as the net proved to be a momentum changer to keep the Wildcats' early-season record at an unscathed 3-0. Morgan turned back an SEC-leading 16 opponent attacks for an average of 1.33 blocks per set. She logged four or more blocks in all three matches in leading UK to a league-high 3.46 blocks per set. She also logged four digs including a career-high three in a win over the 49ers. Her defensive prowess limited UK's opponents to a mere .120 attacking percentage for the weekend. For her efforts she earned Kentucky Classic All-Tournament team honors, marking the first tournament honors of her career.
Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder
Freshman Sara Schwarzwalder made a positive impact in helping lead the Blue and White to a 3-0 record to begin the season. Schwarzwalder posted 1.42 kills per set and added 1.08 blocks per frame in her first collegiate action. Her eight blocks against Lipscomb were the most opponent turn backs recorded by a UK freshman since 2010.
Five days before game day is about when coaches start easing off the gas in practice, allowing players to rest and stay healthy for Saturday - or in the case of Kentucky this week, Sunday. Joker Phillips did no such thing on Tuesday.
Instead, UK opened practice with three-on-three drills, allowing players to go head-to-head with their teammates watching. The result was just what Phillips was looking for.
"We had a physical practice, an intense practice, exactly what we wanted," Phillips said. "We tried to set the tempo with a three-on-three drill. You kind of sometimes get worried about doing three-on-three the week of a game, but we need it."
As has been the case for most of the preseason, the Wildcats once again avoided injury.
Quarterback Max Smith wasn't involved in the drills, but he was still a popular topic in Phillips' question-and-answer session with the media. Specifically, Phillips was asked how Smith stacks up to predecessors like Andre' Woodson and Mike Hartline in terms of being able to effectively check out of plays.
"He's not the level of those guys when they finished, but he's getting there quickly," Phillips said. "He's only been in the program two years, so his knowledge of the offense is way ahead of those guys after year two. We need him to continue to grow."
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders discussed a similar topic, comparing Smith's grasp of the offense in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
"He's come a million miles since last year, even at the end of the season last year," Sanders said. "Now when you call a play, you look in his eyes and you can tell he knows it. Last year, a lot of times, he knew it, but you could look in his eyes and you could see him processing it."
Listen to more of what Phillips and Sanders had to say in the videos below. Phillips
Volleyball - The 13th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team opened the 2012 season with a flawless 3-0 record in capturing the Kentucky Classic. UK earned wins over North Carolina, Lipscomb and Long Beach State - a field of teams that all advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. - Kentucky's opening night win over North Carolina ensured the Wildcats their seventh opening day win in eight years under Craig Skinner. The sweep of the Heels marked the first opening-night sweep since 2007 for the Blue and White. - Junior Alexandra Morgan led the Wildcats en route to All-Tournament team honors. Morgan averaged 2.08 kills per set on a squad-high .388 hitting percentage in the wins. Morgan also registered an SEC-leading 16 blocks for the weekend for an average of 1.33 rejections a set in helping UK to a league-leading 3.46 blocks per stanza. She was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday following her efforts. - Sophomore Lauren O'Conner joined Morgan on the All-Tournament team with a team-high 39 kills for an average of 3.25 for the weekend. Senior setter Christine Hartmann was the final Wildcat on the All-Tournament team after directing the Wildcat offense to the tune of 12.8 kills per set and .235 hitting. She found five attackers for 1.42 kills per set or more. She also contributed nicely on the defensive side of the net with 1.08 blocks per set and 2.33 digs per frame. - Kentucky will now hit the road for its next seven matches beginning with an instate rivalry match at Louisville on Wednesday. UK will then travel to the Ohio University tournament and take on the host Bobcats as well as top-20 ranked Oregon and Western Carolina.
Women's soccer - Kentucky moved to 2-0-0 on the season Friday night with a 2-1 win over Eastern Kentucky. - The 2-0-0 start marks the fourth consecutive season that Kentucky has been undefeated through the first two games of the season under head coach Jon Lipsitz. - UK has been dynamite on set pieces, as three of the four goals that Kentucky has scored this season have come off set pieces. Junior Ashley VanLandingham scored her second goal off a free kick in as many games Friday night in addition to the corner kick goal tallied by sophomore Arin Gilliland. - UK welcomes Louisville, Southeast Missouri State and UNC-Greensboro to Lexington next weekend for the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Wildcats will play against UNC-Greensboro at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night before concluding the weekend against SEMO at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon as the calendar turns to September.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team opened up the 2012 season and the Johan Cedergren era with a thrilling 4-3 loss in the opener at Dayton on Sunday night. - Kentucky suffered the loss in a riveting game that saw the Wildcats dominate play in a scoreless first half. In the second frame, the two teams combined for all seven goals, with UK getting three tallies. UK's three-goal output in the opening game marks its highest since the 2008 season, a 6-0 win over Central Arkansas. Overall in the game on Sunday, UK owned a 21-15 advantage in shots and a 7-5 lead in corner kicks. - UK got goals from Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs and a six-save performance from freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving. Lodge and Riggs each netted goals in traffic, while Pettys nailed a penalty kick goal in his first career penalty try. With the goals from its trio of veterans, Lodge and Riggs moved up in the UK soccer career history record book. Lodge now owns 18 career goals to rank eighth-best and his 51 career points ranks him tied with Lee Baker for sixth-best. Riggs now owns 17 goals in his career, the ninth-best total in UK history. - The Wildcats will return to action with their annual trip to the Gamecock Classic in Columbia, S.C. UK will face Northwestern on Friday at 5 p.m. ET at Stone Stadium, before facing St. John's on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.
Wednesday, Aug, 29 Volleyball at Louisville - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31 Men's soccer vs. Northwestern - 5:00 p.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Volleyball at Ohio - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts UNC Greensboro - 7:30 p.m. Cross Country at Belmont-VU Opener (Nashville, Tenn.)
Saturday, Sept. 1 Volleyball vs. Oregon - 1:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio) Volleyball vs. Western Carolina - 8:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio)
Sunday, Sept. 2 Men's soccer vs. St. John's - 11:00 a.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Women's soccer hosts Southern Missouri - Noon Football at Louisville - 3:30 p.m.
UK will travel to Louisville to face the rival Cardinals at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
A peek at the polls or the newspaper is all it takes to realize Kentucky is the underdog in its looming season-opening matchup with Louisville.
Preseason projections have the Wildcats toward the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, while the Cardinals are the frontrunner for a BCS bid out of the Big East. Accordingly, home-standing U of L is supposed to win the annual Governor's Cup showdown according to most, and by a significant margin according to many.
It's somewhat counterintuitive, but the Wildcats actually prefer it that way.
"I think everybody likes being the underdog," sophomore quarterback Max Smith said. "You go out and try to prove yourself. You've got to like being an underdog and that's what we are."
There seems to be no more powerful motivator in sports these days than being told you are not going to win a game. Teammates band together at the thought of being the only believers, while coaches point to doubters outside the locker room.
"What a great opportunity for us," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We've played a lot of top- 25 teams, come out on top on some. This is a great opportunity for us to play against a top-25 team in our first game."
Phillips - as well as Cardinal coach Charlie Strong - coached under the man perhaps best-known for playing the underdog role. Lou Holtz perfected the habit of talking up an opponent publicly all, only to go out on Saturday and win. In fact, Phillips jokingly invoked Holtz's name a season ago when Strong declared Kentucky the heavy favorite when the Cats and Cards matched up in 2011.
The roles are reversed in 2012 and, fittingly, Phillips broke out his impression of Holtz in a press conference on Monday.
As for Phillips' players, they weren't about to provide any bulletin-board material for their opponents. No bold proclamations about an upset victory were made, only assurances that fans can expect to see maximum effort come 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.
"I don't want to say anything," defensive end Collins Ukwu said. "Hopefully you won't be surprised to see how hard we play, but I can tell you we will play very hard this game." QB Smith taking on underdog role too
Max Smith has the luxury of some experience gained as a freshman. He showed off some his strengths late in the season, but at the same time, he knows he has plenty of work ahead.
"I've got to prove it to you," Smith said. "I haven't done anything. I haven't proven anything to anyone, so that's what I'm here to do. Just prove that I can play and move the ball up and down the field and hopefully score some touchdowns."
Smith may not yet have proven himself to fans and pundits, but he has done enough to win the starting job over an experienced senior and get his coach excited.
"He's been really efficient in how consistent he is, throwing strikes, which is putting the ball at eye level for receivers," Phillips said. "I like the way he operates."
Smith's accuracy is what has most often elicited the praise of his coaches, but his understanding of the offense and how defenses will try to attack him could be even more important.
"You'll see a more confident player," Phillips said. "Last year as a true freshman everything was new to him. Especially seeing our defense, there's nothing he hasn't seen. There's nothing that can confuse him that he hasn't seen. You'll see a more confident, more relaxed Max Smith."
Smith may be more confident and relaxed heading into his sophomore season, but that doesn't mean he's not still prone to some pregame butterflies.
"I'm nervous for every game," Smith said. "Nothing's really going to change. I've been nervous every game, even if we played a really bad team in high school. I'd be nervous for that game. That's just how I am. Nerves are a part of it. If I'm not nervous, then something's wrong."
Depth chart intrigue
Media in attendance at Monday's luncheon were sure to arrive early, as the notes package distributed to members of the press contained an updated depth chart - which you can view here. A starter and a backup were unveiled at each position and 22 of the 46 players listed on two deep on offense and defense are either sophomores or freshmen. That excludes special teams, where UK will start a true freshman (Landon Foster) at punter and redshirt freshmen at both long snapper and holder.
True freshmen appearing on the depth chart are Jordan Swindle (left tackle), Foster, DeMarcus Sweat (kick returner), Dyshawn Mobley (kick returner), Fred Tiller (cornerback) and J.D. Harmon (cornerback). Harmon's appearance on the two deep is particularly striking given that the freshman only moved to corner at the beginning of fall camp. In fact, Harmon will be the first defensive back to enter the game in nickel packages.
"He's done an unbelievable job," Phillips said. "He's a real physical guy. He's a real long guy. Stronger than most freshmen that come in here in the secondary."
Notable exclusions among the true freshmen are Mobley and Justin Taylor at running back and Sweat and A.J. Legree at wide receiver, but they weren't left off because they aren't going to play.
"Those other guys will play," Phillips said of the wide receivers. "You worry about those guys getting big eyed right off the bat. But they'll play. They'll play a lot."
"It's tough to get in the two deep," Max Smith said. "It's learning the playbook. Our playbook is pretty complex, but I see them definitely helping out this season any way they can. I see them definitely getting on the field at some point."
Smith was a part of the most discussed battle for a starting role, but quarterback wasn't the most competitive position. At weakside linebacker, sophomore Tyler Brause is listed as the starter over Malcolm McDuffen. Brause came on strong during fall camp, overtaking McDuffen after being listed as his backup when the last depth chart was released. McDuffen has since responded.
"That's a day-to-day competition," Phillips said. "We listed (Brause) because we had to. We probably should have said 'or' because Malcolm is making a push to start on Sunday."
UK remaining relatively injury-free
Phillips starts each of his Monday press conferences with a rundown of his team's injury report. This time a year ago, that took quite a bit longer. UK has remained relatively healthy throughout fall camp. There are bumps and bruises, but major injuries have been few and far between.
"We are as healthy as we've ever been around here," Phillips said, "and that's the key to success in this, the 2012 season."
Tight end Jordan Aumiller is "day to day" with plantar fasciitis, while La'Rod King and PC Cobble were given days off recently to allow for rest. One player who will be out for the Louisville game is running back Josh Clemons, who had his knee scoped and cleaned last week.
Alexandra Morgan was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.
Overall Record: 3-0, 0-0 SEC Record Last Week: : 3-0, 0-0 SEC
Recent Results Friday, Aug. 24 - Defeated North Carolina, 3-0 Saturday, Aug. 25 - Defeated Lipscomb, 3-2 Sautrday, Aug. 25 - Defeated Long Beach State, 3-1
Upcoming Schedule (times eastern) Wednesday, Aug. 28 - at Louisville - 7:00 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31 - vs. Oregon - 7:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio) Saturday, Sept. 1 - vs. Western Carolina - 1:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio) Saturday, Sept. 1 - vs. Ohio - 8:00 p.m. (Athens, Ohio)
TEAM NOTES Kentucky held serve on their own court over the weekend, taking down a strong field of contenders from across the nation. The Wildcats hosted North Carolina, Lipscomb and Long Beach State in the Kentucky Classic, and sent all three opponents home with a loss courtesy of the Blue and White. After going a perfect 3-0 in the tournament, UK was crowned champions of the Kentucky Classic.
The season opener saw Kentucky take down a North Carolina team who was receiving votes in the national polls in the preseason. But the Cats played their best match of the weekend in their first match, and took down the Tar Heels in an impressive three set sweep. Lauren O'Conner led the way offensively in the opener with 12 kills, while middle blocker Alexandra Morgan added eight kills while shutting down the UNC offensive attack with six blocks.
On day two, Kentucky was pushed to the brink by a feisty Lipscomb bunch. Lipscomb may have been over matched physically and athletically, but they were a shot-savvy group with great court awareness and solid fundamentals. The Bisons took UK to the wire in five sets, but UK ultimately held on despite a less-than-stellar effort to get the win.
Kentucky looked much more solid in the nightcap against Long Beach State Saturday night. In a 3-1 victory over the 49ers, Lauren O'Conner and Ashley Frazier pounded out 16 and 13 kills respectively to lead the offensive attack. It was their performance in the third set that propelled Kentucky to a momentum shifting victory with UK eventually taking control in the match in the fourth set to take home the Championship.
O'Conner was named MVP of the tournament. Morgan and senior setter Christine Hartmann joined O'Conner on the All-Tournament team.
On Monday afternoon, Morgan was tabbed as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Morgan was a huge threat offensively for the Cats over the weekend, but it was her shot-altering and blocking that made the biggest impact. The junior middle blocker had 16 blocks on the weekend, averaging 1.66 blocks per set, while kicking in a team-best .388 hitting percentage at 2.08 kills per set. It is Morgan's first such honor of her career.
At Kentucky's first weekly press conference of the season, the depth chart for the Louisville game was unveiled. Take a look: Offense Tight end Tyler Robinson or Ronnie Shields Left tackle Darrian Miller Jordan Swindle
Left guard Zach West Teven Eatmon-Nared
Center Matt Smith Max Godby Right guard Larry Warford Jack Gruenschlaeger Right tackle Kevin Mitchell Trevino Woods
Wide receiver La'Rod King Demarco Robinson
Wide receiver E.J. Fields Aaron Boyd
Wide receiver Gene McCaskill or Daryl Collins Quarterback Max Smith Morgan Newton
Fullback D.J. Warren Cody Jones
Tailback CoShik Williams or Raymond Sanders Defense
Defensive end Collins Ukwu Farrington Huguenin
Defensive tackle Donte Rumph Mike Douglas
Defensive tackle Mister Cobble Tristian Johnson Defensive end/Linebacker Alvin Dupree Taylor Wyndham
Middle linebacker Avery Williamson Jabari Johnson Weakside linebacker Tyler Brause Malcolm McDuffen Linebacker/Safey Miles Simpson Josh Forrest
Cornerback Cartier Rice Fred Tiller
Safety Ashely Lowery Daron Blaylock
Safety Mikie Benton Dakotah Tyler
Cornerback Martavius Neloms J.D. Harmon
Long snapper Kelly Mason Kyle Buddle
Punter Landon Foster Joe Mansour
Holder Jared Leet William Tanner Place kicker Craig McIntosh Joe Mansour Kickoff specialist Joe Mansour or Craig McIntosh
Kickoff returner CoShik Williams Raymond Sanders DeMarcus Sweat Dyshawn Mobley
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the week: Volleyball takes Kentucky Classic
The No. 13-ranked Kentucky volleyball team started its season off with a bang over the weekend, posting three wins in route to the Kentucky Classic championship.
Kentucky got off to a beautiful start with a 3-0 sweep of North Carolina in the first match of the season in front of a huge crowd at Memorial Coliseum Friday evening. On Saturday, the Wildcats held off a scrappy Lipscomb team who battled Kentucky to a grueling fifth set before the Cats nabbed the final stanza.
With the Kentucky Classic title on the line, UK took the first, third and forth sets to handle Long Beach State behind the strength of outside hitters Ashley Frazier and Lauren O'Conner. The duo combined for 29 kills as O'Conner tallied 16 kills to lead Kentucky to the four-set victory.
O'Conner's performance vaulted her to MVP of the Kentucky Classic, and senior setter Christine Hartmann and junior middle blocker Alexandra Morgan joined her on the All-Tournament team.
Player of the week: VanLandingham's goal-scoring outburst continues
Ashley VanLandingham leads the women's soccer team in scoring through the first two games of the year. She has one in each of UK's first two games. Not impressed? Well, she's a defender.
The junior has been on a tear through the first two games, albeit a small sample size. Last season she finished with one goal all year, so just two games into the season, she's already doubled last year's efforts. Both goals have come via free kicks.
"I did work on (free kicks) over the summer, but I think it comes from the emphasis that we put on set pieces in practice," VanLandingham said. "It's a very important thing in games and we worked very hard on it."
Game of the week: Men's soccer's valiant comeback effort falls just short
The opening game of the Johan Cedergren era for the men's soccer program didn't end like Cedergren had hoped. In a 4-3 loss at Dayton Sunday night, the Wildcats fell way behind in the second half as Dayton scored four second half goals to put UK at a 4-1 disadvantage.
Dayton and UK played to a first-half stalemate, where no team penetrated the goal through the first 45 minutes. Each team swapped goals early in the second half before Dayton knocked in three unanswered goals on the Cats to pull ahead 4-1.
Kentucky tried to dig out of the hole with offensive fire power and make a late run at the Flyers. They came up with goals from Charley Pettys and Matt Lodge in the second half to mount a late comeback attempt, but Dayton held the one-goal margin to the final horn and came away with the victory. Photo of the week: Vollyeball shows off the hardware
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Video of the week: A day in the life of fall football camp
Alumnus/Alumnae of the week: Rusin makes splash in big-league debut
As the Chicago Cubs continue to handout big-league opportunities to some of their organizational prospects, former UK lefthander Chris Rusin took full advantage of his first Major League start.
Rusin hurled five innings of one-hit baseball in his Major League debut, and retired the first nine Milwaukee Brewers he faced in order. His instant success on the mound may have been a surprise to some, but his ability in the batter's box shocked the world, as Rusin tripled in his first plate appearance of his career.
The lefty fell into trouble in the fourth, after hitting a couple of batters and loading the bases, an infield single scored the lone run against Rusin. Though he was saddled with the loss (0-1, 1.80 ERA), it was a spectacular debut for the former Cat.
Overall Record: 0-1-0, 0-0-0 C-USA Record Last Week: 0-1-0, 0-0-0 C-USA
Recent Results Sunday, Aug. 26 - lost at Dayton, 3-4
Upcoming Schedule (times eastern) Friday, Aug. 31 - vs. Northwestern - 5 p.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Sunday, Sept. 2 - vs. St. Johns - 11 a.m. (Columbia, S.C.) TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team opened up the 2012 season and the Johan Cedergren era with a thrilling 4-3 loss in the opener at Dayton on Sunday night. UK will return to action on Friday and Sunday, traveling to the Gamecock Classic, hosted by South Carolina.
Kentucky (0-1-0) suffered the loss in a riveting game that saw the Wildcats dominate play in a scoreless first half. In the second frame, the two teams combined for all seven goals, with UK getting three tallies. UK's three-goal output in the opening game marks its highest since the 2008 season, a 6-0 win over Central Arkansas. Overall in the game on Sunday, UK owned a 21-15 advantage in shots and a 7-5 lead in corner kicks.
UK got goals from Matt Lodge, Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs and a six-save performance from freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving. Lodge and Riggs each netted goals in traffic, while Pettys nailed a penalty kick goal in his first career penalty try.
With the goals from its trio of veterans, Lodge and Riggs moved up in the UK soccer career history record book. Lodge now owns 18 career goals to rank eighth-best and his 51 career points ranks him tied with Lee Baker for sixth-best. Riggs now owns 17 goals in his career, the ninth-best total in UK history.
The Wildcats will return to action with their annual trip to the Gamecock Classic in Columbia, S.C. UK will face Northwestern on Friday at 5 p.m. ET at Stone Stadium, before facing St. John's on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.
Kentucky took home the hardware Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over the Long Beach State 49ers. It was no easy path to the championship with an impressive field that gave Kentucky all it could ask for. But in the end, no team in the field could match UK's size and athleticism.
It was a great test for the beginning of the season. The Wildcats didn't ace the exam, but their performance was strong enough to pass and give head coach Craig Skinner a better sense of what he has to work with this season.
"We need to have a consistent level of energy all the time not just when a great block happens," said Skinner. "It needs to be more consistent, but I learned that they keep their composure. They don't get flustered to much when they're down no matter what the opponent is and that's going to be important all year."
The first two sets against Long Beach could not have been any less alike, and a trend of slow starts reared its ugly head once again in the opening stanza.
Earlier in the day, Kentucky had to fend off a scrappy Lipscomb bunch that pushed Kentucky to the brink. The Wildcats came away with a five-set win, and the carryover seemed to show up in the first set. The 49ers, however, fell in a five-set match of their own to North Carolina, and they played immediately after the Kentucky-Lipscomb tilt. Long Beach State was still the aggressor in set one despite a shorter layoff between matches.
Sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner agreed that the earlier match may have had a lingering effect.
"Maybe a little bit," said O'Conner, "But I think we all had the mindset that we needed the next point and we all took our game to the next level to get the urgency back."
One of Kentucky's biggest areas for concern against of Lipscomb was the inability to pass well and attack within system. The trend continued early against the 49ers, which had UK all out of sorts early on. Long Beach raced out to an 18-9 lead and UK looked ready to cave. But a quick 6-0 run cut the lead to 18-14 and breathed some life into the Cats.
Kentucky got its urgency back.
Despite the UK rally, Long Beach State would walk away with the set, 25-19.
But the late momentum from set one was evident as UK exploded out to an early 14-4 advantage, looking like an almost completely different team, other than the name on their jerseys. The Cats were fundamentally sound, aggressive and showed much more energy.
From there on out, it was all Kentucky.
Alexandra Morgan terminated five balls on six attempts to lead the Cats in the second set, hitting at a near perfect .833 attacking percentage. Meanwhile, some key defense in the set helped Kentucky keep some of that early momentum, as Whitney Billings and Stephanie Klefot tallied four digs each.
Kentucky would walk into the locker room with a 25-18 win in the second set to tie the match up at one set apiece.
The third set was the turning point for the Cats. With Morgan commanding attention in the middle, room opened up for both outside hitters to take charge. They certainly seized the opportunity.
Point after point senior, setter Christine Hartmann looked to her outsides in scoring opportunities, and they delivered. Fellow senior Ashley Frazier got out to a fast start, while the Kentucky Classic Most Valuable Player O'Conner had five kills in the third, including the set clincher.
Frazier was explosive and owned Long Beach, pounding out six kills in the set and imposing her will on the defensive side with two solo blocks. When Skinner's outside hitters play at that level, Kentucky looks awfully tough to beat.
"It's good to see," said Skinner. " Against great teams you need outside hitters to terminate the ball. It's another thing we've worked on a lot in preseason and it paid off. It took us a while to get it going, but they did a great job. They didn't get flustered by errors and made changes and got kills in the end."
O'Conner and Frazier finished with 16 and 13 kills respectively, combining for 29 of Kentucky's 57 kills in the match.
Kentucky finished off the match with another impressive set. After a disappointing beginning, the Wildcats made sure this match would not be going to a decisive fifth set as it had earlier in the morning. They did it mostly by imposing their will with a stern defensive presence. Kentucky tallied 13.5 blocks in the match including 4.5 stuffs in the fourth set alone to thwart the 49ers' offensive attack.
Defense has been a point of emphasis for Kentucky all preseason long, and it showed Saturday night.
"I guess I'm figuring out we spend more time working on defense in practice than we do offense," said Skinner. "We probably need to balance that a little bit because our offense has got to get a little bit smoother. But you know that's by design. We want to be better defensively early and try and catch up offensively."
With the win, the No. 13 Wildcats own a 3-0 record, and they won't have to wait long to see the court again. Kentucky will travel to rival Louisville Wednesday night and will likely play in front of a raucous crowd at the KFC Yum! Center at 7 p.m.
The Kentucky football team held a mock scrimmage on Saturday morning, running through basically every scenario the coaching staff could conceive of. Coaches scripted approximately 111 plays designed to ready the Wildcats for anything that could happen on game day.
"We just try to create all different kinds of situations," Joker Phillips said. "We try to teach the young guys how we take the field, all the little things that matter. Some people might not think it matters but it does matter."
After Saturday's mock scrimmage, it becomes game week. Practices will be even more intense as preparation for Louisville gets serious.
In the video below, Phillips talks about those topics, as well as which coaches will be on the field and upstairs in the coaching box this season.
Arin Gilliland scored her first goal of the season in a 2-1 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Friday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With eight freshmen playing significant minutes, there were going to be some growing pains.
Through two games, those have been on display for the Kentucky women's soccer team. Players are just a little out of sync. Passes are delivered a moment early. Runs are made a split second late. Communication is a little lacking at key junctures.
From UK's perfect record, you wouldn't know it though. The Wildcats have posted a pair of victories to open the 2012 season in spite of play that has been, at times, predictably disjointed.
"Quite honestly, tonight we didn't solve problems well," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "We talked about that at halftime. (The coaching staff) did a lot of the communicating. I would rather sit down and say nothing. But unfortunately today we had to get up and do a lot more as a staff."
The latest of those victories came over in-state foe Eastern Kentucky on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex by a score of 2-1. Kentucky managed just nine shots, four of which were on goal in moving to 2-0-0 on the season.
During the week leading up to the game, Lipsitz talked about his team needing to capitalize on opportunities, but the visiting Colonels effectively limited them. UK wants to be a team that builds from the back, but Eastern Kentucky forced the Wildcats into playing long ball.
"Tactically, what that did is it gave us almost no room to play," Lipsitz said. "We don't like to play the ball over the top and the end result was we had to."
The Cats lone two goals came on set pieces, meaning three of their first four goals on the season have come on such plays. For the second time in as many outings, junior defender Ashley VanLandingham put UK ahead on a free kick. Later, Arin Gilliland provided some insurance with her first goal of the season when she headed in a corner kick.
"That's great that we can win a game on set pieces, but when we have as much possession as we had - I think we had 60, 65 percent of the possession today - we've got to score goals from it," Lipsitz said.
Although the Wildcats realize they can't rely on set pieces the way they have so far, their success on corners and free kicks is encouraging.
"We chart exactly how many goal we score on set pieces each year and last year was the lowest percentage since I've been here," Lipsitz said. "We've definitely made an emphasis that we need to care about them more, that we need to be more dedicated to the little details."
VanLandingham has been the primary beneficiary.
"I did work on (free kicks) over the summer, but I think it comes from the emphasis that we put on set pieces in practice," VanLandingham said. "It's a very important thing in games and we worked very hard on it."
The junior scored just one goal her first two seasons, but has come out firing as a junior. She certainly didn't expect to be on goal-a-game pace through two games, but VanLandingham is enjoying it while it lasts.
"No I didn't (expect it), but it's alright," VanLandingham said with a smile.
If you were going to predict a UK defender to score goals in each of the team's first two games, it likely would have been Gilliland. As it stands, she'll have to settle for one, but it proved to be big.
UK's defense hadn't even allowed a shot through almost 70 minutes, but Eastern Kentucky mounted an attack in the 69th minute that resulted in an own goal off the leg of Natalie Horner. It was a perfect teaching moment for the way an individually excellent group can be beaten.
"We've got great potential in the back line," Lipsitz said. "What we need to continue to work on is the willingness to communicate with each other earlier. Individually, everyone we play in the back line is a fantastic player. The question is, 'Can we be fantastic collectively?' "
On both defense and the attack, the Wildcats have work ahead, but their unscathed record is quite positive sign for the most talented team of Lipsitz's UK tenure.
"We evaluate based on, 'Did we get better today?' " Lipsitz said. "Yeah, we are young. We know there are players that are hearing things for the first time, but once it's heard, we need to do it."
The 2012 Kentucky volleyball season started off with a bang Friday night. In UK's first match of the Kentucky Classic, UK got through two tough sets, then handled North Carolina in the third to claim match No. 1 with a 3-0 sweep.
Kentucky clearly looked like the superior team athletically on the floor, but North Carolina, a team receiving votes in the coaches' poll, showed that it was no pushover. North Carolina used a multitude of different shots, taking advantage of a sluggish UK defense early. But not to be phased by UNC's craftsmanship; UK kept its poise and fought back with each Tar Heel run through the first two sets.
"Very happy with that win," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "Obviously with the first match of the season you don't know what to expect. Our concentration at the end of game's one and two I think were the difference in that match and us being able to perform when the match is close is a good sign early."
Early on, it was the Lauren O'Conner show for UK. The sophomore outside hitter came up with several huge shots in the first two sets in clutch situations to extend runs or pull UK back into the set. She looked virtually unstoppable. O'Conner finished set one with six kills on 11 attempts, hitting .545 to lead Kentucky to a tight 25-23 set one victory.
Set two was just as tight, but a couple of new faces to the starting lineup made the biggest contributions at the middle position.
Junior middle blocker Alexandra Morgan had a flawless second set, banging out five kills on eight attempts, hitting .625 for the set. Morgan had not seen much playing time at all in her career, but throughout the summer and preseason, she has become a revelation of sorts for a team in desperate need at the middle position.
"(Morgan) is really good in tight situations and she performs under pressure and we saw that tonight," said Skinner. "She is very dynamic off of one foot and probably one of the best slide-attackers overall that we have had in the program. She is a very physical and dynamic blocker and her numbers were very good tonight and the good thing is she will only continue to get better."
But you need two middles to play the game, and freshman Sara Schwarzwalder fit the bill. Skinner said he's really liked what he's seen out of the rookie so far in preseason, but an injury late in camp had held her out of several practices and limited her in the Blue/White scrimmage. Missing so much time as a freshman, Skinner wasn't quite sure what he was going to get out of her, but he had enough faith to stick her in the lineup to get her feet wet.
She pulled through big time. Rarely did she look like a freshman out on the court in front of a raucous opening night crowd at Memorial Coliseum. She was vocal and took control when she needed to, and when the opportunities came, she made the most of them. She kicked in four kills of her own on her way to a .667 hitting percentage for the set as UK took set two over UNC in another close one, 25-22.
Schwarzwalder wasn't the only freshman seeing action Friday night, however. Shelby Workman came off the bench and was dynamic in the back row as Skinner opted for offense over defense. While Workman was potent from behind the stripe, she more than held her own passing and defending. She finished with just one kill, but recorded five digs on the night.
The performance from the youngsters has Skinner encouraged about what they can bring to the table.
"They are both very physical and skilled players and they certainly didn't play like they were freshman tonight and that is a huge advantage for us," said Skinner. "Sara (Schwarzwalder) driving hard in the middle and getting up and getting a couple of blocks and Shelby (Workman) the way she passed and swung out of the back row that is a weapon we didn't have last year. (We definitely) benefit from it and I am proud the way they stepped in their first match."
Kentucky blew it open in set three, getting out to an early 9-3 lead. After pushing it to 14-6, Kentucky cruised comfortably to a 25-14 victory in the third set to take the match in straight sets. It marked the first time since 2007 that UK opened up the season with a 3-0 sweep.
It was an impressive performance by Kentucky who had a big crowd behind their backs. A crowd of 1,621 showed up on opening night at Memorial Coliseum to root on the Big Blue, one of the largest attendance numbers for an opening game in Skinner's tenure.
The fan support is something that Skinner, who wins his opener for the seventh time in his eight years at UK, believes his team feeds on when the going gets tough. He's hoping for a similar showing Saturday night.
"Great crowd, great energy and very knowledgeable and that is a sign of our program continuing to get better," said Skinner. "You see a lot of people you have never seen before in the stands, it's a huge advantage for us and I hope they come back tomorrow."
Kentucky (1-0) will have a double header tomorrow in the final day of the Kentucky Classic. They will face Lipscomb in the morning session, scheduled for 11 a.m. at Memorial Coliseum. In the night cap, Kentucky will host Long Beach State who beat Lipscomb in the early match on Friday, at 8 p.m., potentially looking for the Kentucky Classic title.
If you're in the Lexington area Friday night and are looking for some evening plans, make sure you consider checking out the No. 13 ranked volleyball team as they take on North Carolina in the Kentucky Classic, or head over to the UK Soccer Complex as the women's soccer team takes on Eastern Kentucky. Each game starts at 7 p.m., so good luck making that decision.
As far as UK related news goes, here are a few newsworthy items regarding UK Athletics...
With the addition of two new schools to the SEC, the conference has decided to change the format of the Women's Basketball Tournament for just the second time in SEC history. The tournament will now include all 14 SEC teams and the tournament will be played over a five-day period. The first day will see the 11 and 14 seeds going head to head in the first game, and the rest of the tournament remains relatively unchanged. The 2013 SEC Women's Tournament will be held at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., on March 6-10, 2013.
After receiving its highest preseason rank in program history at No. 13, the 2012 Kentucky volleyball team checks in at No. 12 in the Volleyball Magazine National Pre-Season Poll. Tennessee and Florida also make the rankings out of the SEC at No. 16 and No. 20 respectively.
A recent ESPN.com piece ranked the top 50 men's college basketball programs over the last 50 years, and Kentucky came in at No. 3. In short, the writers used a point scale based on overall success of the program and several other contributing factors. Read more about them HERE. Duke and UCLA topped the list just above Kentucky. They also take a look at the best players, best teams and best coaches during that period. Here is a look at their starting five.
50 in 50 starting five (1962-present) G - Kyle Macy (1977-80) F - Jamal Mashburn (1990-93) F - Jack Givens (1974-78) F - Anthony Davis (2011-12) C - Dan Issel (1967-70)
Over the last few years, you have seen some very familiar faces on John Calipari's bench. Scott Padgett, Wayne Turner, Tony Delk have all served on Calipari's staff, and now former Wildcat Marquis Estill will join the staff as an undergraduate assistant Calipari announced Thursday. Estill, 30, played three seasons at Kentucky, amassing 936 points and played on two SEC Championship teams.
With plenty of familiar faces around the basketball program, once new face has emerged in the form of Kevin Massey, a new student manager. Massey suffered a brain tumor in 2010 before overcoming a dire prognosis, and has now made a recovery that allows him to serve as a manager of the basketball team. Make sure you check this article out to see how Calipari helped make this young man's dream come true and his fantastic story at CoachCal.com.
La'Rod King led all Wildcats with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky football's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, Sept. 2, Cat Scratches will be taking a look at each positional group on the 2012 roster. We'll be breaking down possible contributors and giving an outlook for the position as a whole.
La'Rod King, senior - King has been a fixture in the UK receiving corps since his freshman year. That season, he made a clutch one-handed catch to send UK to victory against Georgia. He evolved from there, becoming a reliable third option in 2010 (36 catches, 478 yards and five touchdowns), then the go-to guy in 2011 (40 catches, 598 yards and seven touchdowns). King was by far UK's best receiving option in his junior season and opposing defenses treated him that way. If receivers around him improve this season, he could take another big step forward as a senior. After an uneven and distraction-filled spring, King was focused over the summer and fall, serving as a leader. Demarco Robinson, sophomore - Robinson was the lone freshman wide receiver to see the field in 2011, but his season was a forgettable one. He tallied just five receptions for 17 yards, but has hardly resembled his freshman self over the spring, summer and fall. He exploded in the spring game, catching nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns and has not looked back since. Robinson was singled out for praise by Joker Phillips probably more than any other player on the roster during fall camp and seems poised for a breakout season. He is still working to build on his 5-foot-10, 158-pound frame, but he has a nose for the ball in spite of his size and quickness that should allow him to get separation against the most physical of opponents.
Gene McCaskill, redshirt senior - McCaskill never quite regained his form last season after reconstructive knee surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season, but he reports feeling as healthy as he has at any time since the injury. McCaskill looked to have a bright future during his freshman season, when he started four games and caught 15 passes for 181 yards and he has one more college season to deliver on that potential. His experience and versatility allow him to line up on either side of the field and in the slot.
E.J. Fields, redshirt senior - At media day, wide receivers coach Pat Washington was talking about speed at the position. The first name he mentioned among his fastest players? Fields. The issue, as Washington explained it, is showing that speed on game day. Fields had established himself as a reliable special teams player, but had not yet caught a pass entering his junior season. That changed in a big way early in 2011, as Fields reeled in seven passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Louisville. Unfortunately, he would catch just three passes the rest of the season. Daryl Collins, redshirt freshman - Of all last year's freshman, Collins was getting the most preseason hype. Coaches raved about his playmaking ability and even made comparisons to Randall Cobb. A knee injury derailed all of that and forced him to redshirt, but Collins has a clean bill of health and is ready to go. Collins is still working to regain his form, but will be ready to go for UK's opener. His emergence could make a world of difference for this group.
DeMarcus Sweat, freshman - Sweat is the Daryl Collins of this preseason, exciting coaches with his combination of size, speed and potential. He is expected to play immediately as both a receiver and a returner. It also can't hurt him that he spent fall camp as quarterback Max Smith's roommate at Smith's request. A.J. Legree, freshman - Legree combines with Sweat to give UK its most exciting pair of true freshman receivers in recent memory. How much he sees the field right away is a bit of question with so many players at his position, but he figures to make an impact sooner or later. Aaron Boyd, redshirt senior - Boyd has the size and hands that could make him a contributor in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Bookie Cobbins, redshirt freshman - Cobbins was a popular player from his arrival on campus as a charismatic quarterback. During his freshman season, the decision was made to move him to wide receiver and redshirt him. The transition is still in progress. Phillips has said he doesn't expect Cobbins to contribute much early in the season, but that his time could come later in the year.
Rashad Cunningham, redshirt freshman - Watching UK's receivers, Cunningham is probably the first player to catch the eye. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, he looks like he might have wandered over from the tight end group, but it's that size that makes him so intriguing. Like Cobbins, Phillips also expects Cunningham's opportunity to come later in the season.
In taking over for Tee Martin as wide receivers coach, Pat Washington was brutally honest with his new group. After evaluating tape, he concluded that UK's wide receivers simply weren't very good in 2011.
Obviously, his goal was to turn that around in 2012, but that wasn't his first priority. Before doing anything else, Washington had to make his wide receivers understand they had not performed up to par and why. With that taken care of, Washington and Co. went about the business of getting better.
It started with building some confidence. UK's wide receivers worked hard during spring practice, and it showed.
"From the beginning of the spring to the end, they began to have a confidence in themselves, not necessarily because of me," Washington said. "I think it's because of what they were doing on the field. They were making some plays in some situations we didn't make plays last year. Coaches were encouraged by what they did and they kind of let them know."
While they were building confidence, they were also building a rapport with Max Smith. With Morgan Newton sidelined, Smith got basically every rep with the first team. Since Smith is now the starting quarterback - due, in part, to all that work during the spring - that work figures to pay off.
Heading into the summer and fall, the hard work continued. Players took it upon themselves to watch film independently of the coaches. Then, the position got another boost when freshmen arrived on campus. Sweat and Legree wasted little time in showing what they could do. Sweat and Legree add depth to a unit that already had plenty of it. UK now has 10 wide receivers who would surprise no one by making a big catch in a big game.
That depth will be crucial as Phillips and Washington try to build a group with no go-to guy. King was far and away the most consistent performer last season, but his production could increase if his fellow wide outs are able to keep double teams away from him. Coaches are also fairly certain about what they will be getting out of Robinson, even though he hasn't produced at a high level yet. The question then becomes, who will be UK's third option?
Kentucky's best offensive seasons has come when the Wildcats have had at least three major threats in the passing game. Remember Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons, Jr., Stevie Johnson and Jacob Tamme? What about Randall Cobb, Chris Matthews and La'Rod King?
This year, who will be No. 3? Could it be a rotating cast of characters? Will a senior like Fields or McCaskill step up in his final campaign? Or will a freshman like Sweat or Legree come up big?
It's been a rare mild August in Lexington. Kentucky football players have been beneficiaries of the unseasonably pleasant weather throughout fall camp, but it's starting to feel like summer again.
Players might be groaning at high temperatures climbing into the 90s, but not Joker Phillips. He thinks the hotter weather couldn't be any more timely.
"It's right on time," Phillips said. "We had really good weather throughout the training and the hot weather's coming right at the right time. Some of them are feeling it, but we got to push through it."
It's not that Phillips wants his players to suffer...well, actually he kind of does, but not because of the suffering itself. He wants the Wildcats to have to cope with uncomfortable heat because of what it can do to prepare them for moments when they'll be tired and feeling like letting up.
"We got to understand why we have to be in this type of weather also," Phillips said, "so that when we get in the fourth quarter down seven, 64 yards to go, two minutes and 27 seconds left, we're flawless."
The heat also helps to separate the men from the boys, which is making some depth chart decisions easier. UK's starters are written in pencil at the moment, to be finalized on Monday when a formal depth chart is released.
One battle that's been particularly heated this preseason is at weakside linebacker, where Malcolm McDuffen came in as the projected starter. However, converted quarterback Tyler Brause has put together an excellent fall to grab hold of the job as of Friday. No matter who wins the job, both Brause and McDuffen can expect to play extensively, which is the case at multiple positions.
"We're going to play a lot of people because a lot of people deserve to play," Phillips said.
The other big news that came out of Friday's practice was the naming of offensive and defensive captains. Defensive end Collins Ukwu and center Matt Smith each won votes among their peers by narrow margins in the closest race Phillips can remember. Cornerback Martavius Neloms and guard Larry Warford will be game captains for UK's opener against Louisville.
"That makes you feel really good when their peers nominated them to be captains and also be that close to being captains," Phillips said. "I feel good about the leadership at the top. I've said that from day one."
Phillips also announced on Friday that junior tight end Anthony Kendrick will be academically ineligible. He will practice on the scout team while he works to regain his eligibility during this fall semester.
Klefot was one of 48 collegiate athletes chosen nationally to compete for the U.S. Women's National A2 team.
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a tried and true refrain in the world of athletics. University of Kentucky volleyball player Stephanie Klefot isn't known for her failures. She's proud of what she's accomplished and what she has contributed to the program over the last three years. She has accrued success and several accolades during her three previous seasons at UK, but it was a previous failed endeavor away from UK volleyball that had Klefot looking for redemption.
After her sophomore season, Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner urged Klefot to try out for the U.S. Women's National A2 Volleyball Program in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Volleyball National Training Center.
After the tryout, Klefot didn't get the news she was hoping for.
"Last year I went out there and I was really timid," said Klefot. "I wasn't my normal self, like loud and everything. Therefore, I wasn't really playing as well as I could."
A year later and a second consecutive Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year award under her belt, Klefot was ready to give it another go after a disappointing showing in Colorado last year.
"Craig came up to me and asked if I wanted to try out again, because I had previously tried out last year," said Klefot. "I really wanted to because I was disappointed with my results, not making it last year. So I went. It was basically serve receiving the entire time and they evaluated everything we did."
The training was rigorous and exhausting. Morning workouts started at 8 a.m. and two-a-day practices consumed a good portion of the daily routine. When they weren't playing, they were nourishing their bodies with the same type of foods and nutrients that Team USA does while training during the year at the Colorado Springs facility. When practice was over, players were expected to stay in the dorms to rest for the next day of practice.
Needless to say, it was no Rocky Mountain sight-seeing adventure.
After several hours of training and evaluation, it was pay dirt time. Would Klefot have made amends for her performance last time around? Or would she come up just short of her goal of playing with and against the best of the best?
A record 207 athletes tried out for the A2 team, and of the 48 players selected, Klefot was one of them. The hard work paid off and Klefot had redeemed herself, becoming the second University of Kentucky volleyball player to be selected to the A2 program (Ashley Frazier, 2011). Even though she was specifically instructed not to tell anyone, she couldn't keep the good news to herself.
"I called my parents first even though they said not to tell anyone," said Klefot. "I was really excited and I was proud of myself."
And so was her coach. Though he's not so sure that Klefot shouldn't have been chosen the first time around, he was very proud of her determination to come back this year and make the squad.
"This is the second time that she's been out there," said Skinner. "And being the best libero that there is in (the SEC) the last couple of years, it automatically puts her in a category of a select few in the country. I'm not sure that it was evaluated correctly the first time out just because she's so athletic and has so much ability. I think this time around, people took notice and she had another year of experience under her belt, so I'm sure she was more confident this time. But she's a difference maker in her position."
Even though Klefot had accomplished her goal of making the team, actually participating in the event was another story. Normally confident in her game, a new experience with new teammates on a national stage gave Klefot a bit of anxiety. It was to the point where she was hoping she would get sick the night before she was supposed to leave for Columbus, Ohio, the site of the A2 competition, so that she wouldn't have to go.
In fact, she didn't even know if she even belonged on that stage.
"I was actually more nervous about it really," said Klefot. "I didn't know if I was expecting myself to make it or not because there were a bunch of other good liberos that were going to be there. So, when the time came to actually go there and play, I told my mom that I kind of hoped I had mono because I didn't want to go out there because I was so nervous."
Fortunately for everyone involved, a clean bill of health arrived and Klefot made her way to Columbus to compete with the A2 team. Once she hit the floor, the jitters were gone and she "had a blast." Her team only lost two games throughout pool and bracket play, and her performance on the court made a strong impression on the USA Staff.
Skinner also made the trip up to see his libero compete and represent his program. He came away impressed with what he saw from his senior captain, but what he heard from the higher-ups was even more encouraging.
"All of the coaches that I spoke to that were working with the USA group said that she was a big-time difference maker among the liberos," said Skinner.
Not only will the experience help Klefot in her senior campaign as she tries to capture her first SEC title, she will be able to help share what she's learned with her teammates in hopes of getting her team to the next level.
"I was definitely playing with some of the top people at the college level," said Klefot, "So just trying to push out team to be as consistent as they were all the time. Playing hard, hitting the ball hard, playing defense and being ready. Just competing every second."
While Klefot has shifted her focus to the 2012 season, which begins Friday, Aug. 24 against North Carolina in the Kentucky Classic, a volleyball career after Kentucky is never a distant thought.
"I hope so, if I'm able to do that," said Klefot of playing for Team USA one day. "Hopefully my senior year will be good and I can get my name out there and continue to play."
Her resume speaks for itself. If she puts together another great season as UK's libero, that could only help her chances.
While results, stats, and awards are important, Skinner believes it will be Klefot's intangibles that help her get to the next level.
"I don't think there's any question that she should have that opportunity (to play for Team USA)," Skinner said. "She has the ability. A lot of people have the athletic ability and capability, and when you get to that level it's competitiveness, determination and wanting to improve every day, and she has every one of those qualities."
Those qualities are exactly why Klefot was able to reach her goal this summer. They are why she has excelled in her first three seasons as a Wildcat. And they will be the reason why Skinner and everyone else associated with the Kentucky volleyball will continue to be proud.
"It means a lot," said Skinner of Klefot competing with the A2 team. "It says a lot about our recruiting. It says a lot about our program and where we are. It's always good to represent the USA, and I know I can speak on behalf of Steph, when you throw the USA jersey on, it makes you pretty proud."
John Wall, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins... all of those players and many more may be coming back for the 2012 UK Alumni Charity game set for Sept. 15 at Rupp Arena. The game will be comprised of all former UK players that are currently playing in the NBA.
Since John Calipari took over as men's basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, UK has one of the largest paw prints in the NBA with several players entering the league over the past few seasons. During last season's NBA lockout, Calipari was able to bring in a contingent of former UK players to scrimmage against his Dominican Republic national team. This season, the alumni will go head to head to create some of the most interesting and exciting match ups the Big Blue Nation has ever seen.
Often the discussion around the water cooler stems from the short time that some of these players spend at Kentucky, creating the question, "Can you imagine this team with (insert player here)?" Well now, many of the greatest talents to ever step on Rupp Arena floor will all be there together competing with and against one another in an effort to raise money for a great cause.
With the football team scheduled to play Western Kentucky later that evening, the alumni game sets up a potentially great double header of UK sports. The alumni game is schedule for 2 p.m. ET and will not conflict with the 7 p.m. football kickoff against Western Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium.
All seats are reserved for the game and are priced at $100 (premium lower level), $40 (lower level) and $20 (upper level) and will go on sale Friday, Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Rupp Arena box office, online at Ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster outlet, or by phone at 1-800-745-3000.
Tickets are limited to four per person. Additional fees will be attached to online and phone orders. All proceeds go to charity.
You must be 16 or older to purchase tickets and children get in free with paying adult. Doors open at 11 a.m.
The long awaited arrival of top men's basketball recruit Nerlens Noel has come to fruition, and with that, the expectations of living up to top recruits in the past. John Wall and Anthony Davis top the list of former No. 1 recruits to suit up for head coach John Calipari while at UK.
Eric Lindsey, the editor and lead writer at CoachCal.com recently sat down with Noel to talk about those expectations and how Noel is different from those who have come before him.
Here's a brief excerpt from the story:
Because of his original three-year plan at Tilton, Noel knew he would have academic work to make up for when he decided to reclassify. While his future teammates enrolled at UK this summer, Noel put aside basketball to finish his academic obligations.
Noel was frustrated knowing he was falling behind his teammates and missing an opportunity to build chemistry with them, but he accepted putting basketball second so he could return to it this fall. Missing out on full-time basketball was a big reason he didn't play up to his standards at a recent camp, Noel said.
"Without the academics I wouldn't be here right now," Noel said. "That was my first priority."
In early August, UK compliance director Sandy Bell woke Noel with a call to tell him he had officially met his academic requirements. Noel was relieved to say the least.
"Even though I know I finished the classes and I finished them strong with an A and a B, I was still nervous because you're nervous until you get the real, official word," Noel said. "I was just in awe."
Click HERE to read the rest of Lindsey's story on Nerlens Noel.
With fall camp in the rearview window and the fall semester underway, the Kentucky football team moved to morning practices like the ones it will hold throughout the regular season. There is are now 10 days before the season opener, so Thursday's practice was the beginning of preparation for Louisville.
The Wildcats kept it simple, going through base runs and passes on offense while the scout team began emulating the Cardinals' base packages.
"We got a good start," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We got a lot more preparation to go, but we got time. That time is becoming shorter every day, but we do have time to keep expanding on the packages."
Thursday's practice came after a day off on Wednesday and, as Phillips said he would, running back CoShik Williams returned from a sprained ankle sustained in last Saturday's scrimmage. He may have missed a couple days, but he remains atop the depth chart.
"He deserves to be the starter, the way he finished last spring," Phillips said. "Pound for pound, he's probably the strongest player our football team. He works as hard as anybody."
Williams is like many of his teammates in that he is beginning to shake off some of the bumps and bruises sustained during camp. Overall, Phillips' team is as healthy as he could expect it to be at this point in the season.
Phillips talks about Louisville preparation, UK's health and other topics in the video below.
Redshirt senior Matt Smith will look to lead the offensive line from his center position in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky football's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, Sept. 2, Cat Scratches will be taking a look at each positional group on the 2012 roster. We'll be breaking down possible contributors and giving an outlook for the position as a whole. Possible contributors Larry Warford, senior - The most important thing that happened to UK football this offseason may have been Warford's decision not to test NFL Draft waters and return for his senior season. Warford is expected to be an anchor on an otherwise inexperienced line, opening up holes for runners and protecting Max Smith. He was second-team All-Southeastern Conference in both his sophomore and junior seasons and earned more All-SEC recognition in the preseason. The Richmond, Ky., native has been quiet throughout his UK career, but has made an effort to become more of a vocal leader. Matt Smith, redshirt senior - The quarterback of the offensive line, Smith will look to lead with Warford. After splitting time as a redshirt freshman, Smith has been UK's full-time starter at center, save for a couple games missed due to injury in 2011. He is a little bit more under the radar in terms of attention and recognition, but the 6-foot-4, 291 pounder is no less important to UK's success than Warford. Kevin Mitchell, redshirt junior - Mitchell is a player most fans who follow Kentucky closely will already know, but is going into his junior season as a starter for the first time. After filling in for injured players mostly at left guard in 2011 and playing nine games, Mitchell moved to right tackle this offseason. He has dealt with some bumps and bruises in fall camp, but is expected to be ready for the opener. Mitchell has worked hard in the weight room to add bulk to his long 6-foot-6 frame, benefitting from the presence of Rock Oliver. Darrian Miller, sophomore - Due to injuries along the line, Miller was forced into extensive action as a precocious freshman. He played in all 12 games, showing the talent and potential that landed him among the top-20 tackle prospects in the nation coming out of high school. However, the Lexington native looked like a freshman at times too. He has spent the offseason building strength and the difference has been clear according to teammates and coaches. Offensive line coach Mike Summers has spoken confidently about Miller, while Warford has predicted he will soon be an All-SEC performer.
Zach West, redshirt freshman - A classmate and roommate of Miller, West did what Summers wants most of his newcomers to do: redshirt. Even though he was sitting out, West worked with the second team in 2011 and even traveled with the team beginning at the midpoint of 2011. That experience figures to be valuable, though growing pains are inevitable playing collegiately for the first time. West is also a Lexington native and has made similar strength gains to Miller over the offseason.
Trevino Woods, redshirt senior - If you're looking for a player who could have a bigger impact that anyone is expecting, Woods could be your guy. He doesn't have a lot of game experience along the line, but he's practiced with the team for over four years now. More importantly, he has the flexibility to play both tackle positions and even some guard. UK has not been bitten by the injury bug like it was last season in fall camp, but there will come a time when backups have to play.
Teven Eatmon-Nared, redshirt sophomore - At 6-foot-7, 342 pounds, Eatmon-Nared certainly looks the part. In spite of his size, the Bucyrus, Ohio native came to UK as a tight end, but was moved to the offensive line, where he initially played tackle. Now, he has moved to guard where he will be asked to provide depth. Max Godby, redshirt sophomore - The Louisville native walked on before the 2010 season and made the team. Since, he redshirted his first year and practiced with the team in both 2010 and 2011. He began his career as a guard, but since has moved to center, where he is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Smith. John Gruenschlaeger, redshirt freshman - On almost any other offensive line, Eatmon-Nared would be the player getting attention for his size. With Gruenshlaeger - nicknamed "Sunset" and "Big Jack" - on campus, that won't be happening anytime soon. At 6-foot-11, 339 pounds, Gruenschlaeger is the tallest college football player you'll likely ever see. He has dropped weight since arriving as a walk-on from Ft. Thomas, Ky., and has settled in at left tackle.
Shaquille Love, redshirt freshman - Love split time between the offensive and defensive lines in high school, but is now slotted as Warford's backup.
Projected depth chart (unofficial)
Left tackle 1) Miller 2) Gruenshlaeger
Left guard 1) West 2) Eatmon-Nared
Center 1) Smith 2) Godby
Right guard 1) Warford 2) Love Right tackle 1) Mitchell 2) Woods
A season ago, UK's offensive linemen bore the weight of expectations. The unit was projected as the strength of the team and was being asked to lead the offense. A year later, the story is quite a bit different.
After a 2011 rife with injuries and unexpected struggles, the offensive line begins the season with three new full-time starters and just two holdovers from last year's first team. With two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and redshirt freshman listed atop the depth chart, UK will rely on a unique combination of experience and inexperience to get the job done.
If they stay healthy, Kentucky has a pretty good idea what it will get out of the center and right guard positions, at least in terms of on-field production. Where Smith and Warford are being asked to step up is the leadership department and, by all accounts, they've done that this offseason. The other three starters - Mitchell, Miller and West - will certainly be relying on them.
Miller and West arrived on campus in 2011 with a lot of potential. The two freshmen bonded quickly and hoped to one day form an all-Lexington left side of the offensive line. That day has come earlier than expected. Miller has an idea what he's getting into having played extensively last season. West does too having watched his friend go through the rigors of the SEC for the first time, but now he's doing it for himself. It won't be all smooth sailing, but Miller and West believe their close bond will help them get the job done this season.
A question mark heading into 2012 is depth. The results weren't always great, but UK was able to deal with injuries last season because of having players like Miller and Mitchell available off the bench. With those two starting now, steady backups must emerge. Woods has been around for a long time now and has the adaptability to play multiple positions, so he's a leading candidate to step up. It will also be interesting to watch whether any true freshmen are asked to play. Summers talks often about how difficult it is for a newcomer to play in his first season, but if the time comes, could T.J. Jones, Zach Myers, Jordan Swindle, Jon Toth or Jordan Watson see the field?
All in all, the progress UK's offense makes in 2012 will start up front. Coaches are excited about the improvement at quarterback and at the other offensive skill positions, but they will all rely on the offensive line to hold up.
The Kentucky men's basketball team had their annual photo day Wednesday down in the Joe Craft Center practice gym. It offered up the first time that the returning players slipped on their jerseys since the national championship victory over Kansas, but it also provided a glimpse at what the newcomers look like in Blue and White for the very first time.
Photo day isn't the most exciting event of the year, but it's one of the most interesting. There is a lot of standing and waiting around, and when it's held in their own facility, you never know what you are going to see as these players get to interact with one another.
I had the opportunity to spend photo day with the media relations and sports video staff to snap some pictures and give you a behind-the-scenes look at men's basketball photo day.
The Kentucky men's basketball team participated in photo day on Wednesday in preparation for the 2012-13 season. Stay tuned for more photo and video content over the coming days, but in the mean time, check out this video of sophomore Kyle Wiltjer taking over behind the camera.
Max Smith was named UK's starting quarterback earlier this week. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky football's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, Sept. 2, Cat Scratches will be taking a look at each positional group on the 2012 roster. We'll be breaking down possible contributors and giving an outlook for the position as a whole. Possible contributors Max Smith, sophomore - Smith pulled off a rare feat in his first season as a Wildcat, starting multiple times as a freshman and even winning a Southeastern Conference game. The Granada Hills, Calf., native arrived on campus early, positioning himself at No. 2 on the depth chart from day one. When Morgan Newton went down to injury, Smith stepped in. He had some rough moments early - particularly in road trips to LSU and South Carolina - but settled in against Ole Miss and Mississippi State before suffering an injury himself that kept him out of the finale against Tennessee. With over a year and a half in Randy Sanders' system, he could be poised to take a big step forward in 2012. He has been lauded for his leadership during the spring and summer, organizing film-viewing sessions with teammates. Morgan Newton, senior - Newton won the starting job heading into last season, but struggled in large part due to ineffectiveness along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Like Smith, he was forced into action as a rookie, and led UK to an upset win at Auburn. His size and athleticism make him a dangerous threat in the running game. He underwent offseason shoulder surgery which kept him out of spring practices and is still recovering from the injury.
Patrick Towles, freshman - Towles was the centerpiece of UK's 2012 signing class. A signal caller out of Fort Thomas, Ky., he won Mr. Football honors after completing 171 of 279 passes (61.3 percent) for 3,820 yards with 42 touchdowns and only one interception en route to a state title. Towles was given a chance to compete for the starting job when he arrived on campus this summer, but is still in the process of learning a new system. Whether he plays this season or is redshirted, he has a bright future ahead. Jalen Whitlow, freshman - Whitlow was listed as an "athlete" by most recruiting services, but the coaching staff is giving him a chance at playing his high school position. He quarterbacked Prattville (Ala.) High School to a state title and a top-25 national ranking. Whitlow's speed and elusiveness make him dangerous out of the backfield, but the 6-foot-2, 202 pounder has impressed with his arm as well. He is a candidate to see the field early in "Wildcat" sets. Depth chart
1. Smith 2. Newton 3. Towles or Whitlow Outlook
The quarterback position was the story of the fall, as all four players listed above competed for a starting job. Eventually, it came down to Smith and Newton and the sophomore won out.
Last season, the importance of the quarterback position was on display. UK completed just 50.9 percent of its passes last season for 135.6 yards per game and as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns. However, pinning that ineffectiveness or the offense's struggles on the quarterbacks alone would be unfair and inaccurate. Injuries along the offensive line and inconsistency at wide receiver made life difficult on Smith and Newton, who split time under center in 2011.
Smith, though, did show promise in his first collegiate season. He was forced into action on the road against LSU and South Carolina and the results weren't pretty, but when he got a second opportunity at extensive playing time, he took major steps forward. In splitting back-to-back games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Smith combined to complete 45-of-69 (65.2 percent) passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
With a year of experience under his belt, expect Smith to look much more like the quarterback he was late in the season. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has said during fall camp that Smith is "way ahead" of where he was last year in terms of understanding the offense, while Phillips has praised his accuracy and ability to move the offense. Smith might not always throw a perfect spiral and he is still getting his feet under him in Sanders' system, but he has the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
UK has the luxury of one of the most experienced backups you're ever likely to see in the SEC. Newton is still regaining his form following shoulder surgery, but did enough during fall camp to make Phillips wait two weeks to name a starter. His relationship with Smith is also a plus, and Smith will likely be relying on his good friend on the sideline all season.
Whitlow and Towles add depth to the position, as well as a promising future. They are also very different quarterbacks. Towles is a big-armed quarterback with good size and athleticism, while Whitlow is even more dangerous than Newton running the football. The Wildcats tried to make it through an entire season in 2011 with just two quarterbacks on the roster, but Whitlow and Towles allow them to not have to do the same this season. The coaches have not yet named a No. 3 quarterback between Towles and Whitlow, but when they do, redshirting the one who does not earn the spot is a likely course of action.
With Smith under center to start the season, the team believes it has improved significantly at quarterback, but the progress made at other positions will dictate how much that improvement shows. An improved running game with an stable full of solid backs could make life much easier, while receivers Demarco Robinson, Daryl Collins, DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree will look to add consistency to an experienced core of La'Rod King, E.J. Fields and Gene McCaskill.
It all starts in the trenches though, and we'll be taking a look at UK's offensive line on Thursday.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, so I took particular pleasure in watching former Kentucky star lefthander Chris Rusin dazzle in his first career big-league appearance.
After spending most of the last four seasons in the minors and the last year with Triple-A Iowa, Rusin finally got the call to the Major Leagues on Tuesday night. He wasted no time in making an impression, retiring the first nine batters he faced in order. In fact, Rusin tallied his first career hit before he allowed any of the opposing Brewers to reach base. With one out in the third inning, Rusin laced the first pitch he saw into the right-field gap and raced around the bases for a triple. Here's video of his first career hit on MLB.com.
Rusin would go on to pitch five innings, allowing just one run on one hit with UK baseball coach Gary Henderson in attendance. The run came in the fourth inning, when Rusin issued a walk and hit two batters. Corey Hart had the Brewers' lone hit against Rusin - an infield single off Rusin - to score a run.
For most, the first day of school is something to be dreaded. It marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of nearly 200 days in a classroom.
Some students feel that way, but we at UK Athletics do not. The arrival of students back on campus for the fall semester injects Lexington with energy and, more importantly for us, it means the beginning of another athletic year.
John Calipari passed that message along to students at Big Blue U on Saturday night and is doing so again on Wednesday with a letter to students on both his website and President Eli Capilouto's blog. Here's part of what he had to say:
A new year opens the door for new opportunities, new goals to achieve and new barriers to break. For those of you returning to UK for your second, third or fourth year, let's not rest on the success of 2011-12. Let's all dream bigger. For those of you joining the Wildcat family, push us to become ever greater.
You are all a part of something greater than yourself. UK just isn't an institution in Lexington - it's the UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY. You have probably heard me talk about our basketball team being the Commonwealth's Team. That's exactly what this university is - it's the Commonwealth's University. We move the needle in the state. Our state - our country - looks to you to lead us into tomorrow.
I often tell our fans that we are trying to become the gold standard of college basketball. It's time we start thinking of that as a university. Let's become not only the premier institution in our state and in our region, let's become one of the best universities in the country. With your help, your bright ideas, your vision and hard work, I believe we can get there together. See Blue, Big Blue Nation, and good luck on another fantastic year at the University of Kentucky. I can't wait to get started.
The men's golf team took at foreign trip to Scotland over the summer. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Mills)
If you ask a former athlete or even current professional athletes, they will likely tell you that being a student-athlete in college is one of the most memorable times of their careers. They may not remember every snap, every swing or every play, but certain special moments and experiences with teammates often remain fresh in their minds forever.
The Kentucky men's golf team had one of those experiences over the summer. In head coach Brian Craig's tenure at Kentucky, he has been able to take his starters on a foreign trip, each of the last two times to Ireland. This year, he decided to mix things up.
In 2012, men's golf was afforded the opportunity to take all 10 players, staff and a couple of extra guests on a trip to the birthplace of their sport: Scotland.
The birthplace of golf offers a different style of golf than is played in the United States. Their courses are considered "links-style," a faster, longer, firmer type of course that vastly contrasts from the traditional course in the U.S., which often leads to a more difficult game. But that didn't keep the Wildcats from having the time of their lives.
"It was obviously a one-of-a-kind trip," said senior Joseph Barr, "And the scenery, you can't beat. It's, everywhere you go, beautiful mount sides, green. It doesn't have the city feel to it. But when you actually do go into the town and city parts, everything's really bunched together and it's a great time."
In fact, the difficulty of some of the most famous and scenic courses in the world was looked upon as a challenge and opportunity to improve. It not only tested the will of these UK golfers but also their creativity.
But if the style of the courses did not make it challenging enough, the wonderfully gloomy weather that is Scotland played a hand in the conditions as well.
"It rains every day in Scotland," said senior Cody Martin. "You just have to accept that you're going to get wet. But we got used to that after about five days. The conditions are the same every day. It's cloudy, it's cool and it rains."
This was no sight-seeing tourist trip, however. They came to Scotland with a purpose: improve their golf game no matter the conditions. Each day brought more golf, new courses and new experiences. Scotland wasn't about learning about Scotland, which they did, but it was learning about themselves and how they could adapt their game.
Though the styles of play vary so much to the point that links golf vaguely resembles the game they are used to playing in the United States, there were still several lessons to be learned.
"You can for sure use your talents of knowing how to play in the wind because the wind you get there is nothing like you get here," said Barr. "It's so dramatic. So when you come back here, you're like, 'Oh, this isn't bad at all.'"
Craig, who decided that he would play with and against his players to generate a competition within the group, believes that his team had a great time regardless of the results or conditions just because the experience was that unique.
"The reaction was, they loved it; every one of them," said Craig. "Even though the weather was not very good over there, it doesn't bother you because the golf is so special."
Despite the gloomy weather, the players kept a bright outlook each day. After all, they were playing on some of the world's top courses and honing their craft. They got to play on Open Championship courses like The Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, The Turnberry Resort, and the Royal Troon Golf Resort.
If you're a serious golfer, that's golf heaven.
While the golf may have been special and the sightlines otherworldly, the greatest impact the trip may have made was within the team itself. For the first time since Craig began taking foreign trips, he had an entire team intact to absorb a once-in-a-lifetime experience together.
"We normally only take the starters," said Craig. "But this time we took all 10 guys. We obviously were together all the time, but I think the best part of the trip for the guys was that they got to bond together all the time."
Both seniors echo their coach's sentiments. For most tournaments during the regular season, teams often only travel five or six of their best players. Those guys often get to know each other better than the others and the team rarely gets to share experiences as a unit. For really the first time, this group was able to do just that.
"Even on the days where played 36 holes and that's what we did all day, and even when we were miserably tired and it was pouring down rain, we were still loving it," said Barr. "Turnberry was our favorite golf course and it poured down rain all day and we had the greatest time. We'll just always be able to have this camaraderie that we were able to enjoy this together."
Spending time with teammates is great, and this team certainly came together just as well as Craig could have hoped, but it was the special guests that made this trip extra special. Playing countless rounds of golf in Ireland with your buddies is fantastic. Playing countless rounds of golf with your father, with your brothesr, or with a Kentucky basketball legend can only enhance what was already going to be a fantastic experience.
Stephen Powers was fortunate enough to have his father John join the team on the trip. Barr had his brother and former Kentucky Wildcat Cale Barr, who had previously been on one of the Ireland trips during his time playing for Craig. Then to cap off the guest list, former Kentucky basketball great and two-time national champion Cameron Mills received an invite from volunteer assistant coach Tim Philpott.
For the Barr brothers, it was a very special moment that they will be able to share with each other and their family for the rest of their lives.
"I was so worried that he wasn't going to be able to go because it was such an expensive trip," said Joseph Barr. "You know you always want to be able to have some family members there. That's why for me and Stephen Powers, he got to have his Dad there. John Powers and my brother were the only family that were able to come, but we were very fortunate to have them there."
They were also fortunate to have Mills along for the journey to share his life experiences, both on and off the hardwood. Mills also served as the team photographer, shooting some amazing pictures of the players and the scenic landscapes that the team competed on. Though he wasn't part of the team, it may have been Mills who had the best experience of all.
"I haven't followed UK basketball my whole life," said Martin. "I didn't know (Mills) before he went on the trip. But I obviously know who he is now. He was a ton of fun to be around and he had so much fun. He probably had the most fun out of everyone there to be honest. He plays the least golf out of anyone who went. He took pictures of us all and he had a blast. I know that."
It was experience after experience for these players. Whether it was a new course, high winds, firm conditions, or special guests, this team was taking it all in, savoring every last bit before the Wildcats had to return home.
Now, when they look back, they are a stronger, tighter group, all because of the similar experiences that they shared together as a team. After spending some time back home, they've played some golf to get back into the swing of things, but Scotland is, and will continue to be, forever fresh in their minds.
"Every day we talk," said Barr. "Every time we see each other it just brings back old memories."
With a long-awaited decision on a starting quarterback made and announced, the focus turned elsewhere in the media's question-and-answer session with Joker Phillips on Tuesday, and he didn't seem to mind.
Kentucky's final practice of fall camp was cut short due to inclement weather, but Phillips still had time to talk about his special teams unit. At punter, Phillips said that a starting punter has been named, but elected not to share who it would be, potentially because of his policy of not talking about freshmen by name. Newcomer Landon Foster entered the fall in a competition with Joe Mansour and Jay Wilmott.
At kicker, there's no mystery about who UK will line up with. Craig McIntosh grabbed hold of the job last season - converting 12-of-14 field goals - and has not let go. Phillips praised his consistency, saying the only remaining question is the senior's range. McIntosh reports he is confident from 55 yards and in, but Phillips needs to confirm that on the practice field before he's willing to agree. McIntosh's career long is 50 yards.
Phillips also likes UK's depth among its kickoff specialists, but Mansour has an edge in that department.
In the video below, you can watch Phillips' complete comments, as well as Rick Minter discussing battles for starting jobs and playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
In a mission to connect with some of the most loyal and devout Kentucky volleyball fans in Lexington, the UK volleyball team went out and personally delivered 2012 season tickets to a lucky few. The team, head coach Craig Skinner and Wildcat all piled on the bus Monday evening to make personal connections with their dedicated followers, and as you will see, their mission was accomplished.
Believe it or not, the countdown to Big Blue Madness 2012 is on. Even though it seems like Kentucky was just cutting down the nets in New Orleans, the annual kickoff to the men's and women's basketball season is just 52 days away.
On Tuesday, information about ticket distribution for the event - which will take place on Friday, Oct. 12 - and the annual campout that precedes it was released. Fans can begin lining up for tickets at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 7 a.m. Last year's campout set a record with 570 tents. UK Athletics asks fans to be respectful and safe in finding places in line.
Tickets are once again free and will be distributed at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22. There will be a limit of four tickets per person. Tickets will be available at the same time online at UKathletics.com and Ticketmaster.com. Tickets are limited to four per household and will have a minimal service fee attached.
For those fans wishing to camp out, UK will provide portable restroom facilities, but permanent, wooden-type structures; portable generators; and propane tanks or other open frames are prohibited. Campers will be issued control cards beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21. No cards will be issued after 7 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 and all people with control cards must also be in line at that time.
This map is a diagram of where fans will be able to set up their tents.
The image below shows the ticket distribution lineup that will occur on Sept. 22.
Season ticket sales for the 2012 football season are still ongoing. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In late July, Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips delivered an impassioned speech at Kentucky's Kickoff Luncheon. With the season just over a month away, Phillips issued a challenge to fans, asking them to rally behind the Wildcats.
"These players don't need everybody to believe in them, but they damn sure need somebody to," Phillips said. "And I expect you, the Big Blue Nation, to get behind this football team. Why? Because we are UK. Simply said, We are UK."
His message came a day after the news that season ticket sales for the 2012 season were down from the 2011 total. Over three weeks later and with nearly three more before UK opens its home slate against Kent State, updated ticket sales show progress, but that work is still ahead answering Phillips' call.
Since the last ticket sales figures were released on July 26, 1,668 combined public and student season tickets have been sold, representing a 4.7-percent increase. The latest publicly released ticket sales through Aug. 16 show that UK has now sold 37,154 season tickets for 2012 - 34,707 to the public and 2,447 to students. Additional tickets have been sold over the five days since these totals were tabulated. **Season ticket packages for all seven home games are still available. The cost is $272 or $237 per seat. Visit www.UKathletics.com/tickets for a season information packet and to check seat locations.**
With the latest figures, season ticket sales in 2012 are down 20.8 percent from 2011 and 32.5 percent from 2009. Sales to the public are down just 15.4 percent, while student tickets - which cost just $35 for the entire season - are down more.
The athletic department has relied on the passion of fans and a creative marketing and ticket office approach to boost sales. Headlining that effort has been the offering of football mini-packs, which allow fans to select from three- and four-game ticketing plans. In total, 559 mini-packs have been purchased since they went on sale on July 20. The above-listed season ticket sales totals do not include mini-packs.
**Mini-pack sales are ongoing. Fans are given the opportunity to choose from conference and non-conference games. All seats are located in lower-level end zones. The Quarterback 4-Game Pack costs $150 and the Touchdown 3-Game costs $115. Tickets can be purchased online at www.UKathletics.com/tickets, by calling 800-928-2287 or In person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office**
Season ticket sales declined leading up to both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, even though UK's school-record bowl streak was extended in each of the preceding seasons.
Schools throughout the country are facing the same changing times in ticket sales. UK's drop in season ticket sales coincides with the economic downturn that began throughout the United States in 2008 and is hardly an anomaly compared to schools around the NCAA. Average attendance for all Division I games in 2011 was at its lowest point since 2005.
Moreover, fans are more and more often electing to cheer on their teams from the comfort of their own living rooms due to the proliferation of television coverage and high-definition broadcasts. Beginning in 2009, every Southeastern Conference football game has been shown live with the conference's lucrative television contracts.
This new reality in the market is reflected in the decreasing ticket prices across the SEC. Nine of 12 the league's schools have lowered the minimum cost per game for the public to purchase season tickets, according to a survey by the Birmingham News. In an era of unprecedented on-field dominance by the conference, even championship-winning programs like Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida have lower minimum ticket prices compared with the 2008 season, but UK's per-game ticket prices to the public remain the second-lowest in the SEC.
Once again, Kentucky will host some of the nation's best teams as part of an always-challenging SEC slate. Fans will be treated to high-level football, but that's not the biggest reason for them to come out to Commonwealth Stadium.
"These players come to UK because of you, that's what I will tell you, the fans," Phillips said. "They come to UK because of you. We're out there selling you."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Aug 19:
Women's soccer: Cara Ledman
In her first game in a UK uniform, forward Cara Ledman made a big impact, scoring her first career goal off a rebound in the 67th minute, which sealed the win for the Wildcats in a 2-0 defeat of Coastal Carolina. Ledman was one of four freshmen in the starting lineup for UK, joining fellow newcomer Kelli Hubly up top for the Wildcats. The UK offense mustered 21 shots in the game, including 14 in the second half, as well as tallying 13 corner kicks.
Women's soccer: Ashley VanLandingham
Ashley VanLandingham scored her second-career goal on Friday night in game-winning fashion on
a ball the junior served into the box from 35 yards out on a free kick that took a hop and rolled into the back of the net from distance. In addition to tallying the game-winning goal for the Wildcats in Friday night's game, VanLandingham helped anchor the UK back line, which kept a clean sheet for the third-consecutive season opener. The Wildcats allowed just one Coastal Carolina shot the full 90 minutes, which was not on goal. VanLandingham has played in, and started in all 41 games she has been a Wildcat.
Oftentimes, Twitter is where the truth comes out for college-age young people. Sometimes, that truth isn't pretty.
The Josh Harrellson episode of almost two years ago now - has it really been that long? - introduced everyone at Kentucky to some of the dangers of social media. But in the end, it worked out well for everyone involved.
In the wake of Monday's decision by Joker Phillips to name Max Smith his starter at quarterback, another such moment was not out of the realm of possibility. Smith could have been far less than humble in reacting to the news, and Morgan Newton easily could have reacted negatively. In comments to the media immediately after the announcement, Smith and Newton were gracious in the face of excitement and disappointment, respectively. But how would they respond with the cameras off and the only their typing fingers and a smart phone between them and thousands of followers? No differently, it turns out.
Minutes after his time with the press was over, Smith had a short message to pass along:
Thank you #BBN Now let's go win some ball games! #CATS
It's hard not to be impressed by the way both players have responded to the quarterback decision, especially Newton. Smith and Newton have important, though different, roles on this team now. Their reactions bode well for how they will fill them.
Women's soccer - Kentucky started off the year with a win for the fourth-consecutive season, defeating Coastal Carolina 2-0 thanks to goals off the boots of junior Ashley VanLandingham and freshman Cara Ledman. - The shutout posted by the UK defense was the third-consecutive shutout for the Wildcats in their last three season openers. - Kentucky dominated the game, tallying 21 shots to the Chanticleers one, while generating many set-piece opportunities including 13 corner kicks. - The Wildcats outshot Coastal Carolina 14-0 in the second frame, while also earning nine second-half corner kicks.
Men's soccer - Kentucky got goals from freshman Caleb Richardson and junior Steven Perinovic to post a 2-2 tie against Northern Kentucky University in an exhibition game Friday night. - The Wildcats unofficially opened the Johan Cedergren era, facing the Norse in the lone scrimmage of the season. NKU will transfer to NCAA Division I after a dominating run in NCAA Division II that culminated in the 2010 National Championship. - UK took the lead in the 23rd minute, as the Wildcats forced their second corner kick of the game. Gabriel Conelian lofted the cross inside the six-yard box, with a leaping Perinovic heading the ball into the back of the net at the far post. - After NKU took a 2-1 lead, UK evened up the game in the 76th minute as a long ball was played into the box by Kristoffer Tollesfsen and Dylan Asher. With the keeper coming out of the six-yard box to attempt to secure the ball, Richardson found the ball inside the box and finished the goal for the game-tying tally.
Volleyball - Under the direction of eighth-year head coach Craig Skinner, the 13th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team will begin its quest for an eighth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament with its only home preseason tournament of the season. - UK opens the 2012 campaign by hosting the Kentucky Classic from Aug. 24-25. The Wildcats will welcome North Carolina, Lipscomb and Long Beach State for a round-robin affair. The entire field at the Classic were NCAA Tournament representatives from a season ago. - UK begins the season with its highest preseason ranking in school history and is coming off a 28-6 season that saw the Cats advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons. The Blue and White return nine letter winners from last year's remarkable campaign, including seven that appeared in all 34 matches. - The Wildcats are led by second-team All-America selection and the reigning two-time SEC Libero of the Year in Stephanie Klefot. Klefot and junior Whitney Billings were tabbed preseason All-Southeastern Conference selections.
Upcoming schedule Friday, Aug. 24 Volleyball hosts North Carolina 0 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts Eastern Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 25 Volleyball hosts Lipscomb - 11:00 a.m. Volleyball hosts Long Beach State - 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 26 Men's soccer at Dayton - 5:00 p.m.
Sophomore Max Smith was named UK's starting quarterback on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout fall camp, the Kentucky coaching staff had asked a great deal out of Max Smith and Morgan Newton.
The two quarterbacks had each guided the Wildcats to wins in their careers. Smith and Newton - who also happen to be friends off the field - assuredly believed in their ability to win many more in 2012. That's what made the competition for the starting job the pair was asked to enter into the last two weeks so tough.
If either had brought a sense of entitlement to the proceedings, things could have gone south quickly.
"If you're the right type of person, competition's always good for you," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "Sometimes guys come in and they want things handed to them and usually those are the ones you don't want when it gets tough or in the fourth quarter. Guys that thrive on competition usually become the good players."
Fortunately for Smith, Newton and everyone involved, UK had two such players. But only one was going to come out on top.
On Monday, head coach Joker Phillips tabbed Smith as his team's starter with the season opener against Louisville 13 days away. Smith, a sophomore, made eight appearances and three starts in 2011, throwing for 819 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions on 84-for-153 (54.9 percent) passing.
"You have to make the tough decisions and be accountable for them," Phillips said. "This is one of the tougher decisions that I have had to make."
Newton will serve as Smith's backup, while the battle for the No. 3 spot continues between freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
It was getting to the point where not having yet named a starter would begin hurting preparation for the Governor's Cup game against the Cardinals, but Phillips would not have hesitated to keep the competition going. He opted to put it to an end because he felt confident in saying Smith gives the Cats their best chance to win, lauding his accuracy and improved grasp of the offense.
"It was a big enough separation that we thought we needed to go ahead and announce it today," Phillips said. "If it wasn't, we would have carried it on another week."
In making his announcement, Phillips revealed that a final decision was made on Sunday night. On Monday morning, he summoned Smith and Newton into his office to inform them.
"I felt great," Smith said, recounting his emotions upon learning of his starting role. "That's what I've been working for since I was a little kid."
Based on all the snaps he got during the spring and with Newton still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Smith held an edge in the quarterback competition, but his performance in Saturday's scrimmage - the second of fall camp - may have put him over the top. According to comments from coaches, the scrimmage was marked by big plays, but more importantly, a methodical 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive. Even though it was the running backs - the position that now features the most competition and intrigue - carrying most of the load, Smith's presence was important.
"We had some other real good drives as well, but that was definitely the highlight of it," Smith said. "For me, I think I only threw maybe four passes on that drive. It was great. I was perfectly fine with handing it off every play."
There will come a time when Smith is called on to air it out, but his contentedness with pounding the ball on the ground shows the kind of maturity needed out of a starting quarterback.
For Newton, the news that he will not be starting the opening game of his senior season cannot be easy to take, but in answering questions about it, he handled himself with aplomb and even a sense of humor.
"People will start liking me again now that I'm the backup," Newton said.
Newton, who was replaced by Smith in 2011 due to injury, is more than familiar with the rigors of playing in the nation's toughest league. He has made 17 starts and won some big games, including ones against Georgia and Auburn during his freshman season.
Those victories are certainly still prominent in his memory, but he doesn't anticipate having any trouble turning into another coach on the sideline for the good of the team. He proved that last year in delaying surgery in case his team needed him. Even so, he's twice been forced into action because the starter in front of him was knocked out of competition and once been replaced due to injury, so he knows it doesn't take much for another opportunity to arise.
"That's just the nature of the business," Newton said. "The SEC's a tough league so there will probably be opportunity. I'm not wishing anything bad, but you just got to be ready."
Getting ready also now becomes Smith's task. After one final training camp practice on Tuesday, UK will set its sights on Louisville, going into full preparation mode for the rivalry showdown.
There will be plenty of time spent game planning, but Sanders wants Smith's focus on "playing quarterback" and all that entails. By the nature of the position, that includes leadership.
"When you're the quarterback, you might not be deemed the captain, but you're the captain," Phillips said. "He's got to lead guys on defense also. They've got to believe in him and I believe they do."
Johan Cedergren and senior Cameron Wilder talk about the upcoming season at Fall Sports Media Day. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Johan Cedergren may call one of his players by the wrong name. He may have invented a new dialect of English that his players are slowly catching on to. But in less than eight months, Cedergren and his players have started to bond, and a new voice, despite a new language, has been well received by his new team.
"It's a new term in the soccer office, it's called Swenglish," said Cedergren at Fall Sports Media Day last week. "My players are getting pretty darn comfortable with it."
Comfort is an important word when it comes to being a first-time head coach at Kentucky. Both he and his players seem to have already gotten into a groove.
"I have been here for six months or so, and I have had time to work with the returners and I feel I have a good feel for them," said Cedergren. "I think we have a pretty good feel for the 12 coming back, but for the 13 coming in we have only worked with them for about a week."
Cedergren was given a difficult task of having to revamp his roster, bringing in 13 new players with limited time to do so. In each one of those new players, he was looking for them to fit the right criteria for what he was looking for in a Kentucky soccer player. What they do off the pitch is equally as important as what happens on it.
While recruiting, Cedergren prefers to be as honest and straight up with each recruit, letting them know how important it is to represent Kentucky the right way. He has made it a point to be more demanding in terms of school and non-soccer-related behavior, and in turn, has become more demanding of what his players can bring to the team with an eye on all-around excellence.
Cameron Wilder, a returning senior midfielder, has not experienced Cedergren's recruiting pitch, but he's received the message loud and clear. With what he has seen and heard so far from his new head coach of the expectations of the soccer program, he has already bought in. Despite starting a new chapter for men's soccer at Kentucky, with new faces on the staff and on his own team, Wilder believes the team has had no problem getting comfortable thanks to Cedergren's open-door policy.
"It's good," said Wilder. "It is a good line because it's comfortable to go talk to coach if we need to but we know he makes the ultimate decision and we are all aware of that."
Cedergren has made sure since day one to let his players know he is at Kentucky for their best interests. His availability is another thing that Wilder and his teammates have been pleased with. It has helped both sides, the players and the staff, to build trust and open a channel of communication with one another.
"It's no hesitation or issue if we have a question to call coach and he will tell us straight up if there is anything he can do, and the whole staff is like that," said Wilder.
The comfort level is something that Cedergren will need to rely on as the season approaches. A new voice and approach can be difficult to adjust to, especially for the returning group and upperclassmen who had done things for so long a certain way. As expectations change and philosophies are put into place, comfort and trust will play important parts in the overall success of this transitional season.
Kentucky unofficially opened up the Johan Cedergren era over the weekend in an exhibition with Northern Kentucky University. They came away with a 2-2 tie against the newly appointed Division I Norse. Things may not have gone necessarily to plan for the Wildcats, but there were certainly positives to take out of the first match of the year.
"Nobody expected us to be perfect tonight," said Cedergren after the game.
It was a good litmus test to see just where his team stood, where they excelled, and what areas still needed improvement. But now, the exhibitions are over and attention turns to this Sunday when they travel to Dayton for game one of the 2012 season. Everything he and his team have worked on his in his short time at the helm will be put to the test.
It seems like only a few weeks ago that Cedergren started at Kentucky, but now, in only a few days, he will make his head coaching debut. While they may not be as comfortable as they want to be at the start of the season, he and his team are just excited to finally get going.
"We start against Dayton next Sunday," said Cedergren. "But for me and my staff we can't believe it is here. We were sitting here in May, planning practices for August and it's here and we are knee-deep into it. We are all healthy and looking good, and we have a very, very tough schedule but here now we don't have any negatives."
Since Cat Scratches launched in the early months of 2009, the official blog of UK Athletics has sought to give readers an insider's look into the athletic department. With added staff and a rethought approach to covering UK's 22 varsity teams, we believe Cat Scratches has never been better positioned to do so.
I, Guy Ramsey, have been primarily responsible for producing and overseeing content on the blog since Eric Lindsey left to take over CoachCal.com last August. Over that time, there have been some other familiar names pitching in with posts and feature stories during a memorable season in UK Athletics.
Cat Scratches will be more structured in 2012-13, with two new full-time writers joining our staff in addition to undertaking other responsibilities in the media relations department. I am pleased to officially welcome Ryan Suckow and Cory Weigel to the UK Athletics family and I can't wait to see what they bring to the blog.
Ryan has been with Cat Scratches on a part-time basis since this spring, but his duties will be expanding greatly with this latest move. He brings a strong writing background and knowledge of UK Athletics to our team. Cory joins us from the University of Louisiana, where he worked with the women's basketball, softball and women's soccer teams. He is eager for the chance to work at UK and in the nation's best conference, and I know he'll do great work.
Our added manpower is going to allow us to do some exciting new things and those things will all start with our new structure. I will continue to serve as the editor of Cat Scratches, but each of our teams - especially those that compete in Olympic sports - will be getting a significant boost in coverage.
All of our 22 teams will now have dedicated lead writers who work closely with players, coaches and staff to tell the best stories about each, both on and off the field. While each sport is in-season, we will be using feature stories, live blogs, videos and shorter-form blog posts to help provide fans an up-close perspective on the Wildcats, no matter the sport.
Here is the breakdown for which of us will serve as the lead writer for each sport. Of course, we will still be sharing the work for each sport among the three of us, particularly for sports like football and men's basketball, but the listings below will serve as guidelines for which of us will be covering each sport.
Guy Ramsey: Baseball, football, men's basketball, men's tennis, women's basketball, women's soccer Ryan Suckow: Gymnastics, men's golf, rifle, swimming and diving, volleyball, women's golf, women's tennis Cory Weigel: Cross country, men's soccer, softball, track and field
Also, Cat Scratches finally has its very own URL. Bookmark CatScratchesBlog.com for the latest on UK Athletics.
We are excited about the growth of this blog and new media as a whole here at UK, and we have you to thank for all of it. It's the passion of the Big Blue Nation and the support you show for your teams that make it possible for us to do what we do. As always, we appreciate your continual feedback. Please email questions or comments to CatScratches@uky.edu or tweet @UKAthleticsNews.
We can't wait to see what the 2012-13 season holds and we look forward to having you, the fans, with us every step of the way.
Kentucky looks to reach new program heights in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The preseason routine gets monotonous when you are facing the same opponents, your teammates, in practice every day. Yes, the competition is great, and when the roster is as deep as Craig Skinner's volleyball team seems to be, it can be quite productive. But most of the time, as an athlete and competitor, you're looking to take on a true opponent. This is especially the case at the beginning of the season to test everything you have learned and worked on since the previous fall.
Though the season isn't quite here yet and they were once again pitted against a familiar foe, the Blue/White Scrimmage serves as a dress rehearsal for the real thing. The real thing starts Friday, Aug. 24.
For the first time, Kentucky got to take the main court in Memorial Coliseum and put on its new uniforms and get acquainted to playing in front of fans instead of empty seats Sunday evening. Skinner said he was pleased with what he saw from his players in their first live action of the fall.
"We needed to get out there and compete on the main floor and get the uniforms on and see what we have," said Skinner. "I saw a lot of good things out there, a lot of positives. A lot of people can play. It's just a matter of finding the right combination of things."
The scrimmage saw several players changing sides throughout the four sets, allowing Skinner to take a look at different combinations of players on the court together. Those are hard decision to make, especially when there is so much talent on both sides of the net.
Set one showcased the Blue team in what may loosely be considered their projected started lineup, but with five still days remaining before the first match, a lot can change. The depth this team has demonstrated throughout practice will make the final starting decisions difficult ones for Skinner.
"You know, we needed that," said Skinner. "I think there were a lot of positive plays and a lot of people out there competing hard. Like we've said all along in the preseason, it's very difficult to win in our gym because of the number of people who can play the game at a high level."
The starting lineup along with preparation for the Wildcats first opponent, North Carolina, will be on the list this week for Kentucky. They also start classes Wednesday and begin the normal routine of game week. After a long, productive preseason, Skinner ready for what's next.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Skinner. "Looking forward to the regular routine of practice, an opponent to prepare for, and just figuring out what is going to make us best. I think we can take a lot out of the video today to get us ready for Friday night."
It's an old football cliche, that the first scrimmage of fall camp belongs to the defense, while the second is the one where the offense steps up.
Consider that cliche fulfilled.
Kentucky held its second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, and the offense, after falling victim to the turnover bug last weekend, made a major impact. Joker Phillips reported that La'Rod King scored a pair of touchdowns and CoShik Williams, Demarco Robinson, E.J. Fields and a pair of unnamed freshmen all took turns in the end zone.
Highlighting the offense's solid day was a 14-play, 98-yard drive led by quarterback Max Smith.
"It was very satisfying to see," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. "Number one, just to see us go 98 yards without having a 30- or 40-yard play mixed in there means that you had a lot of guys doing the right things a number of plays in a row."
Throughout preparation for the 2012 season, Phillips has hammered home with his team just how difficult it is to sustain a drive. He wants more big plays this season to help avoid having to drive the length of the field, but there will come times when a long, systematic drive has to happen. As for the defense, the task is to avoid them at all costs.
"There wasn't any huge plays in it, but we had some consistency," Phillips said. "There was no penalties and there was no turnovers, no sacks and there was no negative-yard plays. That's a good teaching point for us."
Defensive coordinator would have liked to have seen a performance more like the one of a week ago from his unit, but he could not fault the effort and intensity of the defense.
"Kids are trying hard," Minter said. "I give an 'A' for effort for our kids trying hard. We're in the camp grind. It's, what, practice 18, 19? That's tough on anybody."
Minter also couldn't help but give credit to the offense. Media and public were not allowed at the scrimmage, but there were fewer turnovers according to the coaches and many more 20-plus yard plays in what Phillips called a "very, very competitive scrimmage."
Phillips also continued his habit of avoiding naming any specific players in the freshman class, but he was certainly hinting strongly at one youngster, leaving reporters to surmise to whom he was referring.
"We got us a young receiver, I can tell you that," Phillips said. "He's got a chance to be a special guy. You guys figure out which one. There's only two of them."
Of course, DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree are the choices. Based on Sanders' answer when asked about Sweat, it's fairly safe to assume he's the guy, though he certainly has work ahead.
"I think he's got a great future," Sanders said. "I think he's got a lot of ability. He still doesn't have that timing and distribution down, being where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there all the time. But he's got speed, he's got quickness, he's got really good hands. It's just a matter of how quickly he can learn and progress."
Quarterback announcement coming soon
A good day for the offense doesn't happen without some solid play from the signal callers, and Saturday was no exception. Smith and Morgan Newton once again got the bulk of the snaps, but freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles also saw action.
"For the most part, the ball was coming out to who it should have been coming out to when it should have been coming out of their hand," Sanders said. "That tells me their drops are pretty good, usually their eyes are in the right place."
Above all else, Sanders has noticed accuracy from his quarterbacks, which has to be encouraging considering UK completed just 50.8 percent of its passes a year ago.
"The one thing we are doing, pretty much, as a group is throwing the ball accurately," Sanders said. "Usually they're throwing the ball where they want to, which usually always correlates back to your fundamentals."
The question, of course, is which quarterback is most accurate? Which quarterback will start on opening day vs. Louisville? There's no answer yet, but one could be coming very soon.
Phillips said that the staff will evaluate tape from the scrimmage on Saturday and into Sunday and that a decision could come by the end of the weekend, though no announcement is likely before Phillips next meets with the media on Monday.
Sanders is looking forward to have the choice made.
"The sooner we can do it, the better off we'll be just because the team will kind of know," Sanders said. "We need to sit down and talk. Whenever Joker's ready, I'm ready. He's my boss, so we'll do it when he says, 'Let's do it.' " Former players invited to scrimmage
Last weekend, Phillips looked around the stands and field at Commonwealth Stadium and noticed a few former Wildcats in attendance. Past football players have always been allowed, but Phillips decided on the spot the information should be more public.
A few days ago, UK advertized the open invitation to former players and they responded. Almost 70 - 67 to be exact - were in attendance in spite of very short notice.
"We got an unbelievable response," Phillips said.
Phillips wants to make sure past and current players know that UK football is a family. He and the team watched Act of Valor, a film about Navy SEALs, and a quote stuck out to him.
"There as a quote there that really hit home with me that says, 'Here's to us and those like us - and there are damn few,' " Phillips said. "That hit home to me and (the current players) need to know that these guys are one of us." Another relatively injury-free scrimmage
With the exception of Glenn Faulkner, UK has made it through fall camp without much more than bumps and bruises. Once again, the Cats mostly stayed out of injury trouble during the final full scrimmage of camp. A sprained foot to CoShik Williams was the only injury of note on Saturday.
UK will hold two more "training-camp type" practices on Monday and Tuesday before getting down to preparation for Louisville on Thursday. Before the opener on Sept. 2, the Cats will hold just one special teams scrimmage and one "dress rehearsal" mock scrimmage, then it will be time for football in the Bluegrass.
Student and fans flooded the field celebrating a win over Tennessee in UK's last home game of 2011. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Late Saturday afternoon, the University of Kentucky will officially welcome a new group of students. Afterward, the newest Wildcats and all other students will have the opportunity to show support for their peers that will take the field in Commonwealth Stadium.
President Eli Capilouto will lead the New Student Induction Ceremony in Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. At 4 p.m., the start of a new school year will be commemorated in front of parents, families and guests.
With such a large portion of the student body gathered, the UK Athletics ticket office will be open for special hours. Football student season tickets will be on sale in Memorial from 4:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Additionally, single-game tickets for UK's Family Weekend matchup with Mississippi State on Oct. 6 will be available.
The Kentucky women's soccer team had to bear the weight of leading off the 2012-13 year in UK Athletics. The Wildcats wasted no time in getting things going.
Ashley VanLandingham gave UK a lead over Coastal Carolina just 11:21 into the game on a free kick from 35 yards out. The Cats would add a second goal when Cara Ledman followed a Caitlin Landis shot off the bar en route to a 2-0 victory.
Ledman was one of four freshmen to start for UK on Friday night, but it's not as if the team is wholly inexperienced.
"I think it's exciting," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "But I also started two senior center backs (Alyssa Telang and Natalie Horner) and that was very special and very important to have them in there."
Telang and Horner, along with goalkeepers Kayla King and Kayla Price, helped anchor a defense that shut out the visiting Chanticleers. The group, which has been reshuffled due to a preseason injury, did the job in protecting the goal on Friday, but Lipsitz wants the unit to be where the attack starts as well.
"I think defensively we played very well. What we want to do is go to the next level," Lipsitz said. "I think, in the past, our back line has been more of a defensive unit than starting our possession. As we become more talented, as we've gotten our culture in place more, we're much more of a possession team now."
Lipsitz discusses those topics and more in the video interview below:
The Kentucky Sports Video department was along for the trip as John Calipari visited West Liberty, Ky., to join Kentucky Sports Radio's fundraising efforts for the tornado-ravaged Eastern Kentucky town. Here is the piece they put together:
Bud Dupree looks to make a big impact at linebacker in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Over the last seven years, a bit of success has turned into expectation at for the Kentucky defense. Six different Kentucky linebackers have been tabbed All-Southeastern Conference performers with one First-Team All-America selection in the form of Danny Trevathan. The second line of defense has delivered traditional success over that time under the watchful eye of Chuck Smith, the eighth-year linebacker coach at UK.
With outside expectations low for the 2012 season, it will be perhaps Smith's toughest task to date. There are no All-Americans returning. There are no All-SEC linebackers making their way back to Lexington this fall. Essentially, Smith is starting from scratch. But while the big name has yet to emerge, Smith is enjoying the opportunity to coach up his young and hungry talent.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Smith. "It's obviously been frustrating at times because you want to see them go faster and understand it faster and grow quicker and more mature. But you've got to be patient as a coach and let them keep plugging away. And the thing that makes it fun, every day they come back they're hungry to have another good day and try to inch a little bit closer to what they all want."
Junior Avery Williamson has received much of the early praise in camp, and deservedly so. He's been a model teammate over the summer and transition into fall camp. He is the vocal leader of the defense, and has the most experience of any returning linebacker on the roster.
But ask Smith and he'll tell you that there are other guys in this group ready to make an impact.
"Tyler Brause. He's really stepped up. He's doing a great job," said Smith. "Malcolm McDuffen's done a good job. Jabari Johnson's coming on a little bit. Josh Forrest has really done a nice job. So those guys are coming and they're coming fast."
Even still, Williamson has yet to start a game in his collegiate career. It's a young, inexperienced position and this year, there are no Danny Trevathans or Winston Guys walking through that door. This will have to be a collective group effort. The linebackers will have to rely on each other if they hope to match the success of their predecessors.
Bud Dupree, a budding young prospect who made three starts as a true freshman last year, recognizes that Williamson is at the forefront of the pack, but he knows this young, thick-as-thieves core they are building can help each individual reach his goals.
"We just look to each other," said Dupree. "Everyone's trying to be a leader together. So we're a whole. Instead of one person being a leader, this is like a big group of leadership trying to come together as one."
Though the physical presence of last year's defensive leaders in Trevathan and Guy is absent, the SEC's top-two tacklers in 2011 have their fingerprints all over the 2012 squad.
The leadership that last year's seniors contributed made long-lasting impressions with their underclass teammates. Today's players are not only staying in contact and talking with NFL rookies Trevathan and Guy, but they are trying to emulate what they do on the field to supplement their own skills.
In McDuffen's first two years, he formed a bond with his "big brother" in Trevathan. Though the First-Team All-American is in Denver studying under another former Wildcat in Wesley Woodyard, McDuffen makes sure to stay in contact with his close friend whenever he needs advice.
"When it comes down to football," said McDuffen, "I always ask (Trevathan) about little things and how he would do something in particular. I'd ask him 'How do you do that?' And he would tell me, and I'd try to break it down and I'd try to imitate it as best as I can."
Miles Simpson's relationship with both Trevathan and Guy has helped make Simpson's transition from safety to linebacker rather seamless. He draws inspiration and wisdom from both players after watching them play ahead of him for the last two years.
Simpson enjoyed a prolific career as a running back for in-state Simon Kenton High School in Northern Kentucky. When he got to UK, they decided his size and speed would better suit the team on defense in the safety position. With a wealth of depth at safety, the decision was made to have Simpson make yet another change to the versatile defender's resume.
Now the sophomore linebacker looks to borrow playing styles from his former teammates.
"Mainly from Winston, he had a nose for the ball," said Simpson. "He knew how to use his hands so I've been trying to mimic him, because that's been one of my weaker spots right now. He's taught me a lot with learning coverages and what to do. Danny was a really big striker, so that's what I'm trying to take from him."
His coach is particularly excited with his development as well. Smith has been impressed with Simpson's skill set and feels that he brings a bit of the toughness that the linebacker position necessitates.
"He's done a great job," said Smith of Simpson. "He's kind of an old school guy. He's just kind of rough and rugged and kind of got that old school mentality about it; Likes the physical part of it. He's just got to use the tools that he has to his advantage to be the best player that he can be."
Now the challenge is actually getting up to speed to be able to make an impact on Saturdays. Each of these players is well aware of the reputation at the linebacker position, now it's their responsibility to uphold the name.
Woodyard, Sam Maxwell, Micah Johnson, Trevathan and Guy have are all names closely associated with linebackers at UK. Now guys like Williamson, McDuffen, Dupree and the rest of the group are looking to make names of their own.
"It means a lot," said Dupree of the tradition. "We've always had good linebackers, so we're just trying to produce and continue to produce big-name linebackers from Kentucky. Hopefully we can get more than one this year."
The tradition is not coincidence. It's no string of good luck. Despite responsibility over an inexperienced position group, Smith's resume speaks for itself. All-SEC linebackers are the rule, not the exception.
"We want All-SEC linebackers," said Smith. "That's what we want and I think that's what these guys want. I have a board in (our meeting room) where everybody who has made All-SEC, I put them on there. Those guys want to be on that board. I think the expectations are high and they want to meet those expectations."
The Kentucky football team spent the offseason in the weight room with the goal of starting a new bowl streak on the field in 2012. That hard work was put to use in a different way on Friday.
Continuing an annual tradition, Joker Phillips and the Wildcats put practices and meetings on hold to help with "Operation: Move-In." Not many people other than football players think of carry a mini-refrigerator as a one-man job.
UK Sports Video was alongside the Cats on move-in day and put together this video.
On Friday, John Calipari took a helicopter ride to West Liberty, Ky. The town in the Eastern part of the state was ravaged by tornadoes this spring, and the popular radio talk show Kentucky Sports Radio was airing from West Liberty to help raise money and awareness for the recovery effort.
Fundraising efforts were going well before Calipari joined the show for its second hour, but he kicked things up a notch, pledging to match all donations from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Before his time on the show was even over, donations reached the $25,000 mark Coach Cal committed to matching.
A good number of West Liberty natives came out to watch the show live, and Calipari gave them something other than money to get excited about. Those in attendance and listening on the radio were the first to learn of plans to hold a charity basketball game featuring Kentucky alumni in Rupp Arena next month.
Calipari announced a game is being planned for Saturday, Sept. 15 that will feature a "majority" of the 23 current former Wildcats playing in the NBA. Details for the event are still being hammered out, but a portion of the proceeds will go to West Liberty recovery efforts. As soon as further information about tickets and a start time becomes available, we will pass it along.
Alyssa Telang and Jon Lipsitz previewed the 2012 women's soccer season at Fall Sports Media Day on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The spirit of the Kentucky women's soccer team's 2011 season was defined by its motto, "21 Strong." The rallying cry reflected the Wildcats' shorthanded roster, turning what many outsiders would have called the team's biggest weakness into a point of pride.
A year ago, the Cats were underdogs, and 21 Strong reflected that. Not much was expected of UK, but the team surprised en route to a trip to the Southeastern Conference Tournament and hosting a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 seasons.
Gone are the days of sneaking up on opponents. Gone are the days of an underdog mentality. UK women's soccer made its mark on the national stage last season. Now, the Wildcats are ready to act like they belong.
"It is not an us-against-everyone attitude anymore," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "I think as you improve the program, you get to the point where you say...we now have a target on our backs. Instead of rallying around, I think you are really talking about our own excellence."
The new mantra for 2012 is an outgrowth of that new mentality. The Wildcats - who open the season on Friday at 7 p.m. against Coastal Carolina - need only look inward for motivation.
"As a team we decided we were going to have the theme 'Believe,' " senior midfielder Alyssa Telang said. "Last year we were the underdogs in the SEC and we made it to the NCAA Tournament. This year it is just about believing in ourselves and believing that we can do greater things every year."
It shouldn't be too much of a stretch for the team to believe it can improve on last year's 13-7-1 record, because the Cats have done it every year since Lipsitz and Telang both arrived in 2009. That first season was a struggle, as UK won just five games. A year later, the Wildcats took a step forward with 10 wins and a trip to the SEC Tournament before progressing ever further in 2011.
"Every year we have just been working on creating this new culture that has been based on hard work, discipline and family," Telang said. "Different people have different qualities to add to our team and it is just amazing how much we have changed."
To Lipsitz, the changes make it impossible to compare the program as it was when he arrived and the one he presides over today.
"It's hard to do that now because I can't see the same things," Lipsitz said. "When I look back four years, it is as if it is two totally different programs. The answer is everything. Everything is different."
Telang and fellow senior Brooke Keyes are the lone holdovers from the 2009 roster, but the changes are about so much more than personnel. In fact, Lipsitz cites Telang as the perfect example of UK's evolution.
"She came here pretty shy, and not just shy, but a little meek at times," Lipsitz said. "She didn't want to stand out. She wanted to fit in, to the point, fitting in meant not creating waves, not embarrassing someone in practice, not doing a special thing. She at times struggled on and off the field and had to decide who she wanted to be."
Years later, Telang's decision is clear. She is still soft-spoken and would rather lead by example than with an impassioned speech, but she is not afraid to stand out and certainly not afraid to serve as a leader. Without hesitation, Lipsitz called Telang and Keyes the undisputed leaders of this team. They are the two team captains and their coach could not have more faith in them.
Before each season, Lipsitz summons team leaders to his office for a meeting to discuss what he will be asking of them throughout the year. Normally, the leadership summit takes place within the first day or two of fall camp. This year, a number of factors caused it to be delayed by a week and a half, which normally would have Lipsitz more than a little worried. But not this year.
"I literally let them come to me," Lipsitz said. "Imagine as a coach not having a meeting with the leaders 10 days into preseason. For me, that is unheard of. For me, I think that tells you something about how much trust I have in them and my trust in their abilities."
On the face of things, Telang and Keyes would seem to have a tall task in leading this year's team. Fifteen of the 32 players on the roster are freshmen, and another six sophomores. It's a young team that will cope with some growing pains, but the incoming class - ranked sixth in the nation - is having no trouble asserting itself.
"It is so awesome to have freshmen that so willingly come in and work hard and do all the little things," Telang said. "I have never had a freshman class since I have been here that works this hard and is so on top of things. It is just really cool to come out and compete every day and get better."
Getting better truly is what it's all about for UK. For Lipsitz, the "excellence" he so often talks about will be measured not by results on the scoreboard, but by the progress of his team.
"It is about what we did today," Lipsitz said. "Did we get better today? Yes. That is excellence today. Tomorrow we have to be better than that. The day after, we have to be better than that. If we follow the process of being our best and getting better every day, in the end, we will achieve more than we did last year."
On Thursday night, John Calipari logged on to Twitter and created some excitement among Kentucky fans for the 2012-13 season. He posted the jersey numbers that each of UK's newcomers will wear this upcoming year, along with a number change for a Wildcat returner.
With that, we now know the jersey numbers of every player on the roster. Here they are:
Nerlens Noel - 3 Jon Hood - 4 Jarrod Polson - 5 Archie Goodwin - 10 Twany Beckham - 11 Ryan Harrow - 12 Sam Malone - 13 Willie Cauley-Stein - 15 Alex Poythress - 22 Brian Long - 32 Kyle Wiltjer - 33 Julius Mays - 34
Pool day is an annual tradition at Kentucky football's fall camp. The Wildcats get a short break from the grind of meetings and practices with a little time to have fun.
Over his three seasons on the team, walk-on Steven Duff has been one of the things his teammates most look forward to on pool day. "Human highlight Duff," as Joker Phillips calls him, uses his sneakily athletic 6-foot, 332-pound frame to do all kinds of tricks off the diving board.
On Wednesday, with the release of the video above on UK's official YouTube channel, Kentucky fans were let in on the Duff secret as his diving exploits circulated the Internet. On Thursday, the video went a whole different kind of viral as SportsCenter put Duff in its Top 10 Plays segment. The Wildcats were all eating together on Thursday morning when they learned about it.
"Nobody knew about it," Duff said. "We just kind of looked up there and we saw 'Kentucky football.' We were all surprised. It was pretty funny. We just erupted. It was pretty cool."
Since joining the team in 2009, Duff has served as a practice player helping prepare his teammates. He has impressed the coaching staff with his leadership and has been selected for the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll each of the past two seasons.
"Nobody's more excited for Duff than me and this whole football team," Phillips said.
Except for maybe Duff himself. New Twitter followers and Facebook friends have come streaming in and Duff's mother rushed home to record the Top 10 as soon as she learned he had made an appearance.
"I'm super proud of that," Duff said. "It's definitely cool. It'd be nice to have our team on there a couple times this year, but I'll definitely take being on there before the season too."
Duff spoke to the media on Thursday about his newfound fame. Watch what he had to say in the video below.
Joker Phillips spoke after Kentucky football held a practice late Thursday afternoon. With the defense suffering from some bumps and bruises and players like Martavius Neloms and Ashely Lowery taking the day off to recover, the Wildcat offense got the better of the action.
The one severe injury on the team is Glenn Faulkner. The sophomore safety injured his ankle during Saturday's scrimmage and, after further examination, he was diagnosed with "some separation." On Wednesday, Faulkner underwent surgery to insert a screw in his ankle and will be out between six and eight weeks.
Phillips talked about the offense, Faulkner and other topics after practice.
Craig Skinner and Stephanie Klefot talk about the approaching volleyball season (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics).
UK Athletics held its inaugural Fall Sports Media Day Thursday, and head coach Craig Skinner along with senior libero Stephanie Klefot represented the volleyball team. Both Skinner and Klefot had much to say about the upcoming season as well as the daily grind in the gym among other topics. The Wildcats had special visitors into practice, they've seen the ups and downs of the dog days of preseason preparation, and they are embarking on their first live competition of the fall when they step on to the hardwood of Memorial Coliseum for their annual Blue/White Scrimmage.
In his eighth season, Skinner returns three All-America selections and six starters from a season ago, including five All-SEC selections. Along with a highly-touted group of newcomers, the Wildcats are poised to back up their preseason No. 13 ranking, tied for the highest in program history.
Here are some thoughts, notes and quotes from Thursday's media opportunity.
If Stephanie Klefot is representative of the collection, this team is going to play extremely hard. Effort will not be a problem. Skinner spoke to Klefot's ability to be a student of the game throughout here time as a Wildcat, and now she's become a leader, along with the other seniors in the group.
Former Wildcat and current Boston Celtic Rajon Rondo peeked into volleyball practice Wednesday afternoon to speak some words of wisdom to Skinner's squad. Skinner said Rondo preached that consistency is what separates the best players from the pack in the NBA.
The leadership from the three seniors - Klefot, Christine Hartmann and Ashley Frazier - will go a long way in just how effective this team can be this year. They began emerging as leaders late last season, so the experience should only help them in that role this year. With a young group of players who may see significant playing time this year, that experience and leadership from the upperclassmen is vital.
The freshmen started off hot in preseason practice and came out with guns blazing. After getting accustomed to the friendly confines of a sometimes inhumanely warm Memorial Coliseum, the freshmen began to play more like freshman.
"They started off really well, then they went through the freshman-get-worse-before-you-get-better stage for a few days," said Skinner. "Sarah (Schwarzwalder) unfortunately had a concussion for a few days and has been out, but I think she's going to be back here shortly, but they started to come back up on the rise."
The addition of the freshman class, which was ranked No. 15 nationally, along with transfer Desirre Wilkerson, provides depth at several positions on the floor for Kentucky. More talent in the gym has led to greater intensity and competition on the court. This could lead to several new looks for Kentucky attackers this season.
"We're trying to expand a little bit," said Skinner. "We're trying to attack a little bit more out of the back row and create some different set opportunities for our attackers. We do have some versatility. We have several people who can play on both antennas, play on the left side of the net and the right side of the net. Left-handed and right-handed, there's a lot of different looks we want to be able to show people.
That leadership helped make for one of the most productive summers in Skinner's time at Kentucky. With the freshmen enrolled in classes during the summer session, the team was able to start early with building their chemistry on and off the court. A slow start to last season and big time success on the back end fueled their fire in preparation for the upcoming year.
"Last year, we did start off slow, and it was really disappointing," said Klefot. "We were all sitting around in the circle and I remember us just being like this is not where we want to be. So in the summer, we trained literally every day. We've never done that before in the past, and I think it's just helped us push each other and stay focused and realize what are goals are this year."
After last year's Sweet 16 run that saw them nearly pull off an unprecedented upset over the No. 1 seeded Texas Longhorns, the Wildcats feel like they can play with anyone. While upcoming games with Tennessee and Florida will continue to be significant matches, this roster views those challenging opponents with less fear and hope but with more of an expectation to win.
Kentucky faces a very tough stretch of road games at the forefront of their schedule. They begin the season at home with the Kentucky Classic. From there, they go on the road to Louisville, two tournaments in Ohio and Nebraska respectively, before returning home for their SEC home opener with Florida. After their first SEC road trip to Baton Rouge, La. and their first SEC trip to College Station, Texas, Kentucky will have battled through a brutal stretch of nine of 10 matches on the road.
"Thinking about scheduling, you do want to be on the road," said Skinner. " We're playing at the Yum! Center this year against Louisville and that's where the Final Four is. We're playing at Ohio, which is a very difficult place to play. And then Nebraska, that we'll play in front of 4,000 people. So being in different environments around the country I think can prepare us in the long run. We want to be playing our best volleyball towards the end of the season, so we're going to find out what the things are that we have to get better at early."
Klefot, a Louisville native, is more than happy with heading to the Yum! Center this year to face the Cardinals on their home turf. It not only gives her and her team a chance to see the facility for the first time, but it allows her to play in front of a large family contingent.
"It's so exciting," said Klefot. "My mom called me and she goes, 'I already have 100 t-shirts made up. I have 100 tickets, and we're ready to go.' It's my senior year, I want to go out strong, and having the Final Four there, just, I could not go out a better way if we can get there. Playing Louisville at home, just with everyone there, my family and friends, it's going to be great."
The Wildcats will finally step on the main court for the first time, albeit against one another, when they get together for the Blue/White scrimmage this Sunday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The competitive dress rehearsal will serve as a primer to the season opener against North Carolina in the annual Kentucky Classic Friday August 24 at 7 p.m.
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introduced Edrick Floreal as the head coach of UK track and field and cross country on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Edrick Floreal thought he was heading to a two-week "vacation" before he really got down to business at his new job. Kentucky's recently named head track and field and cross country coach would serve as Team USA's coach for jumps and combined events, where he assumed he would rub shoulders with some of the world's best athletes in a relaxed environment.
He turned out to be half-right.
Six of his athletes won medals at the Olympics - including Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, who took gold and silver in the decathlon - but Floreal had to do a lot more than just hold a stopwatch. Floreal was a two-time Olympian himself in 1988 and 1992, so his athletes trusted him. And relied on him. A lot.
"The guys really wanted me to be involved and they wanted to have no responsibility," Floreal said. "That's what they told me: 'We want you to do everything. You've been there, you've been to the Olympics, you've competed so we trust. We want you to tell us what time to be at the track. We want you to meet us at the bus.' "
After two weeks of 15-hour days on his supposed vacation, Floreal was likely ready for a break, but he's getting no such thing. Eighteen days before the Opening Ceremonies in London, Floreal was named the coach at UK. Four days after the Closing Ceremonies, he was at a press conference being introduced to the media and fans by his new boss.
"I'm not sure he knows what time zone he's in right now," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "But we're glad he's in ours."
He had a chance to begin to cobble together a staff and get to know his new athletes, but the real work begins now, along with the process of moving his family into a new home, though he admits his wife - LaVonna Martin-Floreal - will lead that charge.
With the success Floreal was having in his old job, not many would have figured he, his wife and his four children would be moving anytime soon. In 2011, Floreal led both the Cardinal men and women to top-15 national outdoor finishes. His six-year head-coaching tenure saw more than 50 athletes earn 142 All-American honors. Floreal was also a four-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year, the 2009 West Regional Indoor Coach of the Year and the 2006 West Regional Outdoor Coach of the Year.
He had built a consistent winner, a program that succeeded both on the track and off, but a three-year stretch as an assistant had always stuck with him. From 1996-98, Floreal served under his predecessor, Don Weber, at UK. More than a decade later, the lure of coaching in Lexington had always remained in the back of his mind, and his wife - the 1992 silver medalist in the 100-meter hurdles - sensed it too.
"A long, long time ago, my wife asked me, we were sitting having dinner and she said, 'You know what? Would you go back to UK?' " Floreal said. "And I said, 'Oh, in a heartbeat.' "
Earlier this summer, Barnhart put Floreal's off-handed answer to the test, initiating a conversation about succeeding Don Weber at UK at the Olympic Trials in Portland, Ore.
"When I came back from the Olympic Trials, I said, 'Remember that heartbeat thing we talked about a long time ago?' " Floreal said. "She was like, 'Yeah.' 'We'll that's going to happen.' We sort of chuckled and she knew right away. She said, 'I've already found a house.' "
However, the ultimate decision was not so easy. Floreal had built relationships with administrators, in the community and, most importantly, with his pupils, so telling them of his plans was difficult.
"If it wasn't tough, I wouldn't be able to coach," Floreal said. "It's tough to look at an 18-year old in the face and say your coach, your mentor, your friend and the person that's been sort of leading your way has to go somewhere else and be someone else's mentor."
It was what he saw in Kentucky, what he thought the track program could become that made him willing to turn to the next page in his career.
"Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...In my eyes, what I see here, what I see that this place has to offer, I'm not going to try to explain it to anybody else because nobody else can understand," Floreal said. "That's for me. It's what I'm into. It's what I'm after and this place has what I look for. That's all I care about."
Not everyone may share his opinion, but he doesn't care. He knows his new assistants - Hakon DeVries, Jason Dunn and Andrew Ninow, all of whom come from Stanford - do, he knows Barnhart does and he knows his Wildcats eventually will. He wants to help the young people he works with grow in every facet of life. He wants to make lasting impacts on their future.
"I want to mentor young people enough to make an impact that when they grow older and they've got kids, hopefully their middle name can be Edrick," said Floreal.
If Floreal's charismatic performance on Thursday is any indication, getting current athletes and future recruits to buy in will be no issue. Media in attendance commented that Floreal's question-and-answer session was the early favorite for UK press conference of the year, saying even John Calipari would have a tough task in outdoing Floreal's combination of thoughtful answers and amusing one-liners.
He was at once self-deprecating in pointing out his wife's superior athletic accomplishments and supremely confident in speaking about the future, and engaging from start to finish.
"I typically shoot from the hip so what you hear is what you get," Floreal said. "Maybe I need to filter a little bit more."
That honesty was on display as Floreal offered his appraisal of where the program is now and where he wants it to go. He is adamant in his belief that UK track and field is a sleeping giant, that Lexington is "a logical place for great athletes to come," but he also knows there will be growing pains. The discipline and training habits he will demand of his athletes may come as a shock in the short term and the results may not come overnight, but he has a vision.
"Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad," Floreal said, quoting a saying on his office door. "A lot of people are going to think I'm mad, but I have a tune in my head and I can hear it. By the time I'm done, people here will hear that too."
Floreal expects to compete at a high level and he's not talking in terms of rebuilding. He plans to hit the ground running and not stop anytime soon. He wouldn't be here if he didn't think Kentucky couldn't compete at the highest level.
"I'm not interested in participating if I don't have a chance to win," Floreal said. "That's not a game I want to play. I truly believe I have a chance to win here and we're going to find a way to do it. I can't say when, but I can tell you it's going to be as soon as possible."
With plenty of work ahead and barely two weeks before the start of the cross country season, it might be a while before Floreal gets that vacation.
Thursday is going to be a busy one here at the Joe Craft Center.
Beginning at noon, UK Athletics will host a press conference quadruple header ahead of the fall sports season. It will start with Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introducing new track and field and cross country coach. Next, women's soccer coach Jon Lipsitz and midfielder Alyssa Telang will take their turn previewing the season. Volleyball's Craig Skinner and Stephanie Klefot will follow and Johan Cedergren and Cameron Wilder from men's soccer will close it out.
Each of the press conferences is expected to last 15 minutes and you can watch them all live on UKathletics.com. Throughout Thursday and Friday, Ryan Suckow and I will have stories from the event in addition to our regular football coverage.
There's no getting around it now. The season is upon us.
This is when fall camp earns its reputation. Players are mentally and physically exhausted, the season seems a mile away and no one is without a bump or bruise.
The Kentucky football team, in a matter of days, will have two different 24-hour periods with three full practices in preparation for that first game that feels so far in the distance. But the Wildcats know they can't relent, and their coaches wouldn't let them anyway.
"We need to continue to push the guys," Phillips said after UK's second practice on Wednesday. "This is the time of the year when everybody in the country is mentally shot: a lot of meetings, a lot of banging, but we've got to continue to push."
Those moments of self-doubt, of wanting to give up are those that define a player, that define a team. If UK wants to have the season it believes it can, the Cats must rise to the occasion.
"We've got to push through it," Phillips said. "We've got to mentally tough. We've got to be physically tough. We've got to have the right attitude to withstand this."
Phillips is seeing what he wants out of his players so far. They are continuing to fight, and that fight is showing in a number of areas. He praised his first-team defense for their improved knowledge of Rick Minter's system. He also likes what he sees in the passing game.
"I think we'll be better at throwing the ball," Phillips said. "Throwing and catching, we've done a good job here on the practice field. You got to take it to the game field."
Phillips talks about those topics, among others, in the video below. Take a look.
Alex Poythress is up next in CoachCal.com's series of stories profiling John Calipari's latest bunch of gifted newcomers. Eric Lindsey writes about Poythress' on-court battles with his twin sister, Alexis, ones Alex lost more often than not before developing into one of the best forward prospects in the nation.
He's worked hard to get where he is and plans to continue doing so as he looks to help lead Kentucky to a third Final Four in as many seasons.
Poythress weighs 235 pounds right now and is trying to get to 240 by the beginning of the season. Many think he could be the leading scorer on this year's team, but Poythress said there are only three numbers he cares about: his grade-point average (a 3.9 in high school with AP courses), the ones he could deal with as an aspiring accountant (if basketball doesn't pan out) and Kentucky's quest for its ninth national championship.
"If we come working hard from day one and we don't take any days off, just trying to work hard every day, condition every day, listening to what Coach has to say in practice and just taking what he has to say (to heart), I really do believe that we're going to have a chance to win a national championship," Poythress said.
Poythress intends to back up his belief by leading by example. Easily the most soft-spoken of Kentucky's heralded freshman class, he lives by a passage he recently discovered from author Mary Anne Radmacher that says, "Courage doesn't always roar."
That seems to contradict Poythress' on-court game that can be so powerful and so authoritative to the naked eye. That's not going away at Kentucky, but he wants to be defined by the other things that make a difference, similar to what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a year ago.
No starter has been officially named, but sophomore Maxwell Smith and senior Morgan Newton continue to lead the QB battle at Kentucky. Freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow are in the picture, but appear to be fading behind the two veterans.
Smith started four games for the Wildcats in 2011, completing 84 of 153 passes for 819 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton appeared in nine games last season, completing 83 of 174 passes for 793 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders set a pecking order after Saturday's scrimmage, saying sophomore Maxwell Smith and senior Morgan Newton were ahead of freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow -- and hinting that Smith led Newton because of the latter's continued recovery from shoulder surgery.
Sanders said Monday that order hasn't changed.
"We've got a couple guys competing hard," he said. "It's a good situation to be in. I think it will sort itself out, the way I see things going, the way things are happening. We just need some more time. You don't want to make a decision too quickly. You want to make sure you're doing the right thing."
His son's birth has changed more than just King's sleep schedule.
It's changed everything about the senior's life.
"It makes you more humble," he said. "The goal to get to the NFL has that much more meaning. There's nothing like providing for your family, and to do it by doing something you love would make it that much easier.
Trevathan and Guy were two of six starters UK lost on defense from last year's team, leaving a pair of big holes to fill. In their place, the Wildcats are turning to sophomores Malcolm McDuffen and Miles Simpson.
"I know I'm not Winston Guy," Simpson, who is listed at No. 1 at the hybrid safety/linebacker position on the depth chart, said. "I'm not trying to be Winston Guy. I'm trying to be myself and do my own thing."
For UK and its quartet of righty QBs, the blind side is brand new. Left tackle Chandler Burden and left guard Stuart Hines are gone from last season, taking with them 61 career starts. They've been replaced by true sophomore tackle Darrian Miller and redshirt freshman guard Zach West.
"There's a lot of responsibility to protect the quarterback and to perform," Miller said. "It's pressure all the way around."
Kentucky will get a chance to take down defending national champion Baylor in its second game of the season.
That is one of many big games on UK's non-conference women's basketball schedule released Tuesday.
After their home opener against Delaware State on Nov. 10, the Cats will head to Waco, Texas, to take on Brittney Griner and the Bears, who went a perfect 40-0 last season. That game, on Nov. 13, will be part of the State Farm Tip-off Classic.
Emery, the son of former longtime UK coach Dennis Emery, served as a volunteer assistant for the Cats last season.
"Matt was born to be a collegiate coach with his ability to relate to players and his endless knowledge of the game of tennis," Kauffmann said. "Matt has incredible experience after serving as a volunteer assistant with us last year and a very successful stint as an assistant coach at Maryland. We are both alumni of this great university and know what it means to wear Kentucky across your chest."
The Lakers had just finalized a trade that would bring them Dwight Howard. Immediately, Meeks imagined what it would be like to join a star-studded roster featuring an elite defender (Howard), an elite passer (Steve Nash), an elite scorer (Kobe Bryant) and elite post player (Pau Gasol). The thought of receiving countless open three-pointers because his teammates were double-teamed seemed so tantalizing. Later that night, Meeks agreed to join the Lakers with a two-year deal, worth $3 million, which became official Monday when he signed the contract.
"I felt like this was the best situation," Meeks said Monday in a phone interview with The Times. "To have a chance to play for a team like this will make me better. I'm playing with so many good people."
When Davis finally ran onto the floor, his father in the 12th row pulled out a camera to capture another big moment, the kind that have been more scarce than they were in college or Perspectives Charter School. In six Olympic games, Davis has averaged 8½ minutes, 4.3 points, three rebounds but gained an appreciation no statistic can measure.
"It's been tough coming from Kentucky where I was That Guy," Davis said Friday. "I represent Chicago every time I step on the court. So I'm just glad to be here and want to perform when I get in. I'm lucky these guys are teaching me how to become legendary, like they are."
That first player who caught the first pass from Manning in Thursday's preseason opener at Chicago, that's Jacob Tamme. And he plays tight end, a position that last year often seemed to be an afterthought in the spread-option Tim Tebow offense.
Tamme, one of two free-agent tight ends signed in the offseason, was the target of two of Manning's seven passes (one fell incomplete) against Chicago. Backup tight ends Virgil Green and Cornelius Ingram were also targeted by other quarterbacks against the Bears, proof that the Broncos' offense will be far more diverse in 2012.
Kentucky appeared in and hosted a Regional for the 2011 NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
At the beginning of the 2010 season, the Kentucky volleyball team had been given its first preseason top-15 ranking in school history, coming in at No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Sarah Mendoza, the highly talented outside hitter, was no longer a part of the team and Kentucky faced two very tough opponents in their opening weekend in Nebraska and Iowa State. Neither match was very pretty. The rest of the season wasn't much to brag about either.
Nevertheless, Craig Skinner's team held things together and made the trip to their sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward two years later to Monday afternoon. As is customary for this time of year, the 2012 coaches' poll made its debut for the upcoming season. Kentucky weighed in at No. 13, besting the program's previous high during the Skinner era of No. 14 for the preseason.
Skinner is usually not one to read much into preseason rankings. After all, how can anyone know how a team is going to be without first seeing them perform? But it happens for every sport. Every year the preseason polls come out, and there is plenty of conversation and debate as to who belongs where. It is completely subjective and often times, especially in media-light sports like volleyball, the coaches have not even seen several teams in that appear in the poll.
What may be the most puzzling question of the poll's results is that Kentucky is ranked higher than Tennessee (No. 15), the same team that won the SEC last season over Kentucky and loses very little from their starting lineup in 2012.
Kentucky, however, loses three seniors, including two starters, from the front line. The difference may be Kentucky's late-season success, which took the Wildcats further than Tennessee in last year's 2011 NCAA Tournament. They also gave the No. 1 Texas Longhorns all they could handle before falling 3-1.
Despite the loss, a highly decorated group of returning players will carry that momentum and experience in to the 2012 season while trying to bring a talented freshmen class up to speed.
In that 2010 season, Kentucky was coming off another Sweet 16 appearance the season prior. That momentum was thwarted as the SEC Player of the Year, the team's libero, and top offensive threat would all not return to the lineup.
This year's team is in a completely different situation. A better one. A much, much better one.
Kentucky's depth will be their strength as competition battles for spots at nearly every position on the floor break out on a daily basis. The 15th-ranked recruiting class will impact this team in every way and several returning players will look to break into the starting lineup.
Bottom line: This team is much better equipped to handle the pressure and success that comes along with the high expectations of a No. 13 ranking.
While Tennessee may be considered the favorite to repeat in the SEC as defending champions, Kentucky's No. 13 national ranking shows one thing: respect.
Skinner's program continues to gain respect nationally for the job that he's done in it from the ground up. Last season's late run in the tournament only bolsters the reputation the Cats have built for themselves over the last several years.
While Skinner may not be fond of the preseason accolades, he has to take some pleasure in the fact that he's continuing to raise the bar and help push his program to new heights on a yearly basis. Preseason rankings don't mean much, but they do mean something.
CoShik Williams rushes in the 2011 season finale against Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The depth chart at running back for Kentucky football was fully utilized last season, even if that wasn't the original intention of the staff. Despite several injuries last year, it was the depth at the position that kept a struggling offense afloat.
Josh Clemons, a true freshman at the time, incurred the most devastating injury last season when he needed season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. That came on the heels of Raymond Sanders returning from surgery himself. What once looked like a potential bright spot on the offense was seeing the spotlight diminishing.
That's when CoShik Williams saw his first crack of daylight, an opportunity to get back on the field and showcase his abilities to his teammates, staff, and the fans.
"It was a big adrenaline rush," said Williams. "You can't really explain it. You're right out there in Commonwealth (Stadium), see all those fans looking at you, it's like a feeling you can't really explain. It's a dream come true. I'm just blessed I finally got the chance to show people what I can do."
It was a long time coming for the now redshirt senior. He had been hampered by injuries earlier in his career that kept him from seeing more playing time. Williams, who stands at 5-foot-9, has bulked up to 190 pounds this offseason in an effort to stay healthy and add an element of power to his game.
"It really took a lot of patience and hoping and waiting," said Williams. "When it finally came years later, it felt good to finally get it, like I said, it's just a feeling you can't explain. I just had to go out there and show the coaches I could play, that I knew the right plays, that I had speed, that I had power, that it wasn't just size. Back then, in the first game I played I was 178, so I gained a couple pounds and now I feel good."
Running backs coach Steve Pardue could not have been happier for Williams. Pardue arrived to Kentucky last season to see Williams' breakout year, but Williams was unsure whether or not his time would come. That patience and waiting that Williams exhibited came with a lot of frustration and disappointment internally. Constant encouragement from Pardue helped Williams stay focused for when his time would come.
"When I first got here last year, he wasn't in the top couple and didn't play in a couple games and really got discouraged," said Pardue. "And I kept telling him you're going to get your chance. Just keep fighting and you'll get your chance. He's what you hope in life happens to people that when they get their opportunity, they seize the moment."
Williams had several moments in his nine games at tailback. In fact, he ended up leading all Kentucky rushers with 486 yards and three touchdowns including a career-high 148-yard performance against Jacksonville State.
After tasting success and prolonged playing time last season, Williams has his eyes set on keeping the starting role. And while he figures to get a majority, or at least his fair share of carries, the coaching staff has stated that the running back position will be by committee, words that no starting running back wants to hear.
"I just feel like I'm in this position for a reason," said Williams. "I'm just going to have to keep doing what I do and stay at the top of the running back position. Whatever happens happens from there. But right now, my mindset is to keep my position."
As was the case last season, and one of the main reasons why Kentucky was able to make strides in the offense down the stretch, an abundance of depth at the running back position could go a long way for this year's offensive attack. Except this season, the depth is even deeper.
At running back, Kentucky returns three upperclassmen to their stable in Williams, Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. Clemons will be back in the mix once his knee returns to 100 percent. But what really gives this group its depth and versatility is an impressive duo of freshmen in Justin Taylor and Dyshawn Mobley. Both players have impressed so far in fall camp, so much so that Pardue is intent on having all six running backs ready to play September 2 against Louisville.
Though Williams may not be willing to surrender the top spot on the depth chart that he's worked so hard for in his four years at Kentucky, the running-back-by-committee approach will definitely keep him fresh and help preserve his longevity throughout the season.
Williams' fellow running back Raymond Sanders appreciates Williams' desire to the best running back of the bunch, but the competition will ultimately make the collective group stronger.
"I like that idea," said Sanders. "Everyone wants to be the number one guy, and if you didn't want to be the number one guy, I wouldn't want him to be in the room with me. That's not pushing me to make me better and that's not pushing him to be his best. Everyone wants to be the number one guy, but we all know that we can come out and treat it like you are the starter and make sure you know everything."
Sanders also looks at the running back plans as a way to give his best efforts 100 percent of the time, knowing that if a player is winded, someone else is going to be able to step in and not miss a beat.
"I think it is the best way," said Sanders. "When your legs are fresh, it's easier for you to run and to play hard. You know you've got guys behind you where you can get a rest. You don't have to worry that he's not going to bring the same intensity, not going to bring the same production."
Pardue has been pleased with what he has seen from his upperclassmen. They have been great role models on and off the field for the younger backs and provided invaluable leadership.
"(Williams) and (Sanders) have done a really good job of setting the tone for our running backs and Jonathan George is right there with him," said Pardue. "Not only just our running backs, but our whole football team. They've been heavily involved with special teams and trying to work really hard and bring energy level. They take a lot of pride in saying they're the hardest-working guys."
Williams, Sanders and George have seen it all during their time at Kentucky. They've enjoyed success and suffered through the pains of last year. With both victory and defeat fresh in their minds, they've been able to rally together to become a leading unit of the football team.
"Years in the past, we were young guys, and we had (Derrick) Locke," said Sanders. "He was the one guy leading us. But now that we've grown together and we've learned together, we've been down and we try to come up together. Now, we have more leadership. It's better leading with three guys instead of just one because some guys here are different, some guys bring energy different."
And whether it was out of necessity or a natural occurrence is a moot point. Several leaders from last year's team graduated and have moved on. So players had to step up to fill the void. Williams feels like he's one of them. The guys before him had always helped move his career along, now he hopes to give back to the younger guys what he's learned over his first four years at UK.
"I feel like being a senior, I can finally help guys and teach guys. When I had guys teaching me, it made a big difference. I mean the way I played and the way you learned things and take in different things, so it plays a big role in it."
While using six running backs is the plan at the start of the season, even the best of plans can go awry. While Williams never wished for his teammates to get hurt, it was for the reason that he emerged as a capable back in the SEC. Pardue believes all of his backs are reliable, and potentially one play away from seizing and opportunity of their own.
"You're always one chinstrap buckle from being in the game and it could be the play of the game," said Pardue. "The other day, all of a sudden we have two guys banged up and I'm thinking I'm good at six and now I'm down to four. I talk to the trainer, one guys a little bit of a groin irritation, then I only have three. So what happens then? I've learned my lesson. Six is my goal to have at the tailback position."
For 10 straight days, it was all football all the time during Kentucky's fall camp. On Tuesday, the Wildcats got a reprieve from the grind with a trip to the pool. Britney McIntosh was there to document the day in photos, which you can view in this gallery. One image is worth specific mention though Junior offensive guard Steven Duff showed off his belly-flopping skills and here's what it looked like:
This month, the Kentucky Sports Video department has been posting a bunch of video on its YouTube page. Women's soccer, volleyball and men's soccer, among other sports, have been featured, but there has been lots of football content, including this video of defensive line coach David Turner working out his unit, which is projected to be one of the strengths of this year's team.
Matthew Mitchell is entering his sixth season leading the Kentucky women's basketball program. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell and his Kentucky Wildcats are going to have plenty of chances to prove they are here to stay on the women's college basketball scene.
UK Hoops released its non-conference schedule for the upcoming season on Tuesday morning and the Cats will be facing six NCAA Tournament teams. The challenging slate includes a trip to Baylor to face the defending national champion Lady Bears on their home floor on Nov. 13 for UK's second regular-season game.
The game at Baylor will mark one of four road games, as the Wildcats will go on the road to take on Louisville (Dec. 2), Pepperdine (Dec. 18) and California-Santa Barbara (Dec. 21). The latter two are a part of a trip to southern California.
UK will look to continue a 20-game home winning streak when next season tips off, but it won't be easy. Five of the nine non-conference road games will come against teams that reached the postseason in 2011-12, including a matchup in Rupp Arena against DePaul on Dec. 7.
A couple weeks ago, Cat Scratches helped you get to know the Blaylock twins, Daron and Zack, with a feature about their adjustment to college life. Now, the two brothers from Marietta, Ga., have been featured with Rock Oliver on Rockin' with the Rookies. Take a look:
Anyone hoping Joker Phillips and his staff had made a decision on a starting quarterback after reviewing tape of Saturday's scrimmage is going to have to wait a bit longer. Following Tuesday's practice, Phillips said more competition between Max Smith, Morgan Newton, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow is needed to make any such determination.
However, Phillips did have some thoughts on what he noticed on second viewing of Kentucky's first scrimmage of fall camp. One thing stuck out above all else.
"The thing I did like was how many big plays we had on both sides of the ball on offense and defense," Phillips said. "There were some big plays made by the receivers, the tight ends, the running backs hit a couple big screens. And then on defense there were some takeaways, some takeaways for touchdowns, which we haven't had in a long time."
Phillips also confirmed that sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner's injury sustained in the scrimmage is a high ankle sprain. He is undergoing an MRI on Monday to determine the severity.
Many other topics were addressed in Phillips' time with the media - which you can watch below, in addition to an interview with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders - but one quote about the team chemistry of this season's Wildcats is worth pointing out.
"We got a great locker room," Phillips said. "I love this locker room. We got guys that are doing things the right way, especially the guys at the top are leading guys, teaching them how to do things."
Make sure to watch the video of Sanders. Included in it is a great soundbite about headache-inducing running backs Justin Taylor and Dyshawn Mobley. Phillips
It's August. The middle of August. Summer break has come and went, and the typical University of Kentucky student is tying up loose ends preparing for the trek back to Lexington for the beginning of the fall semester. But there is another group of students who have already been in Lexington, back at work in the hot summer sun or the muggy confines of a gymnasium. Fall sports are right around the corner for Kentucky, and student athletes are already in full swing when it comes to preparation.
Before you know it, men's and women's soccer will be kicking off and volleyball will be looking to build on last year's trip to the Sweet 16. All of that starts in the summer, when other kids are mowing lawns, swimming or vacationing, the elite athletes of the University of Kentucky are using their time to better themselves in the classroom, in the weight room or improving their game. All in the name of the University of Kentucky.
Craig Skinner's volleyball team is hard at work in Memorial Coliseum on a daily basis, sweating out two-a-days in hopes of building on a strong ending to the 2011 season. Kentucky hopes to build on a Sweet 16 run and break through into the Final Four, which will be hosted in the Bluegrass.
Johan Cedergren hopes to rekindle a winning tradition for men's soccer. After accepting the position as an assistant at Dartmouth in late December, Cedergren has sought to make a connection with his new players. A 3-0 run in the spring has Cedergren and his team excited about the prospects this fall.
And women's soccer looks to combine some veteran leadership with some talented underclassmen under the tutelage of head coach John Lipsitz. Lipsitz guided the women back to the NCAA Tournament, and this season looks to take more steps forward
People are definitely getting excited in the Big Blue Nation as we prepare to get underway here at UK Athletics. Women's soccer will have its first game of the season this Friday when it hosts Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex. On Sunday, volleyball will get a final tune-up when the Wildcats go live in the annual Blue/White Scrimmage Sunday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. Then, men's soccer kicks off its season with a Sunday evening match up at Dayton at 5 p.m.
With Kentucky football on the horizon, it won't be too long before we're all back to normal, cheering on the Blue and White to bring home the victory.
Ronnie Shields saw action in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
There might not be a player on the Kentucky roster being asked to balance more on the field than Ronnie Shields. By the nature of his tight end position they play, he toes the line between blocker and receiver, but Shields has an even more crowded plate.
In the words of head coach Joker Phillips, Shields is moving "all over the place" in fall camp. Not only is he juggling responsibilities as a pass blocker, run blocker and receiver from a spot alongside the offensive tackles, he's also splitting out wide to line up in the slot to take advantage of his athletic 6-foot-5, 243-pound athletic frame.
"It's not easy," Shields said of his workload. "But I try to take it as a challenge and better myself with it and help better to the team so we can move forward and win more games."
His coaches wouldn't ask so much of him if they didn't believe Shields could deliver. He played in seven games in 2011, but made just two catches for 10 yards in sharing time at a crowded position. A year later, UK is still deep at the position with four players who have seen extensive time, but Shields has begun to distinguish himself even though he's the least experienced of his peers.
He entered the spring listed atop the depth chart with Tyler Robinson, but a solid offseason has seen him become the first player mentioned at his position.
"He's coming along," tight ends coach Greg Nord said. "He's gotten a lot of reps through spring. He's had a pretty decent camp so far. He's going to have to continue to grow and get better and do some things for us this year."
Shields would seem to have plenty more room for improvement. Even though he is only a redshirt sophomore, Shields is probably even younger in practicality than his designation suggests. It wasn't until his junior year in Stone Mountain, Ga., that he took up football. Even then, Stephenson High School - where Shields and four of his UK teammates played - utilized a run-heavy offense and Shields had just 14 catches as a senior.
"He's gotten bigger. He's gotten stronger," Nord said. "He's got to continue to grow. He hasn't had a great deal of game experience, but he has played in games. Every day he's learning something new and getting a little bit better."
With two years of practice and some limited experience on the field at UK, Shields thinks he's now ready to bloom.
"I feel like this is my year," Shields said. "I finally know everything I need to know to be successful on the field. It's a developmental sport and I think I developed these past couple years. I'm ready to use what I've learned."
Although he's the leader in the clubhouse for the starting role, Shields will be far from the only tight end to see the field this season. Robinson, Jordan Aumiller and Anthony Kendrick give offensive coordinator Randy Sanders a variety of options with different sets of strengths. Shields, for one, doesn't mind things being crowded.
"You know that you can't mess up," Shields said. "Any day you could lose your spot. It makes you work your hardest out there and give your best."
Ultimately, what differentiates Shields is the fact that he can do so many things. With Shields in the game, it will be close to impossible for opponents to predict where he'll line up, much less what his assignment will be.
"He's a big, tall athlete that can run pretty well," Nord said. "Hopefully we create some mismatches with him. By asking him to do a lot, it makes us much more versatile."
That's what the position is all about.
"Those are the true special attributes of a tight end," Nord said. "You're a little bit of everything."
Consensus national player of the year. Final Four Most Outstanding Player. National champion. No. 1 overall pick in NBA Draft. Olympic champion.
For most players, that list of accomplishments would make for a solid career for a normal player. For Anthony Davis, that list makes for a five-month stretch he won't soon forget.
On Sunday, Team USA defeated Spain 107-100 in the final game of the 2012 Olympic basketball tournament, making Davis the youngest American to win basketball gold in Olympic history. The Spaniards hung around, trailing by just one heading into the fourth quarter, but LeBron James (19 points), Kevin Durant (30 points), Kobe Bryant (17 points) and Chris Paul 12 points) came up with clutch plays to help the Americans pull away.
Holding a double-digit lead, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski called for Davis to enter the game with 37 seconds remaining. Spain made things interesting in cutting the lead to six, but Davis pulled down the final missed 3-pointer and dribbled out the clock, touching off a celebration with plenty of American flags. Davis finished the tournament with 53 minutes, 26 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks in playing seven of Team USA's eight games.
When he stepped on the podium and had the medal placed around his neck, Davis became the 10th Wildcat to win gold. He joins Tayshaun Prince (2008), Sam Bowie (1980), Adrian Smith (1960), Billy Evans (1956), Ken Rollins (1948), Wallace Jones (1948), Alex Groza (1948), Ralph Beard (1948) and Cliff Barker (1948).
It's the second year in a row a UK player has won gold and, with the level of talent going from Lexington to the NBA these days, there could be more than one come 2016. Who knows, maybe Davis will be making a run at the NBA champion-NBA MVP-gold medal trifecta that James just pulled off this year.
After a week of practices, the Kentucky Wildcats moved from the practice field to Commonwealth Stadium for the team's first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. The idea was to get players as much experience in an intense, competitive environment as possible.
"We had an old-school scrimmage, a hundred forty-something plays," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We just wanted to put the ball down and get as many snaps as we possibly could."
The session pitted offense vs. defense with some special team drills first on an unseasonably mild August day. The scrimmage was closed, but Phillips, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, defensive coordinator Rick Minter, wide receiver La'Rod King and linebacker Avery Williamson answered questions afterward. Below are some salient notes and quotes.
-- Quarterback play, as it has been throughout fall camp, was the salient topic. All four of signal callers in contention for the starting job - Maxwell Smith, Morgan Newton, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow - saw time, but the two returners got the bulk of the snaps.
Phillips and his staff will begin reviewing film on Saturday night and the third-year head coach was unwilling to make any proclamations about the position until then.
"I'll hold judgment until I see the film, but there were some good things," Phillips said. "There some things that, at times, we played sloppy at that position, but there was some good. I think there was more good than bad."
Sanders, in answering questions, revealed that Smith and Newton have a leg up due to their experience. Sanders also said it's clear that Newton is still in the recovery process after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, equating the procedure to Tommy John surgery for a pitcher in baseball.
As far as the two youngsters go, Phillips and Sanders both reported seeing some promising things. Nonetheless, they are in the midst of a process that's only just starting.
"He's learning a new offense," Sanders said of Towles. "It's a lot like learning a new language. He's got a really good start on that. The biggest thing is just the sheer volume of defenses he's facing. He saw more defenses in the plays he got today than he probably in the last four years of high school."
The physical gifts are unquestionably there though.
"He, I think, can get there," Sanders said. "Whether it happens in the next month or whether it happens in the next three months or whether it happens in the next two years, I don't know. But he can get there. I can see the ability."
-- Whoever ends up winning the quarterback battle figures to have an improved set of weapons at the skill positions. Phillips singled out King and running back CoShik Williams for making big plays, while Sanders mentioned multiple wide receivers, including Daryl Collins, Demarco Robinson, and freshman A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat.
Phillips and Sanders were also asked specifically about big freshman backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor. Their answers were very similar.
"When they get in there, the pile usually falls back," Sanders said. "You didn't see them getting knocked back. It'll be interesting to see how much better they are in the next scrimmage from what they are this scrimmage."
The two weren't always sure about what they needed to be doing, especially as blockers, but they make their presence known.
"I don't know if they always know yet who they're supposed to protect, but when they do, it's an explosion," Phillips said.
As a unit, Sanders wishes the offense was further along in its development, but he also acknowledges that he is very demanding when it comes to evaluation.
"I'm not displeased with where we are right now considering where we were last season, what we went through in spring practice," Sanders said. "I think we're on a good track."
-- Neither Phillips nor Sanders spoke at length about UK's offensive line, which features a blend of experience and youth with two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman projected as starters, but they were the group that first popped into King's mind when asked to pinpoint who most impressed him.
"I really like our whole offensive line," King said. "Those guys have come a long way. Matt Smith and Larry Warford really have took control of the offensive line. We got some young guys on the line, but they're taking care of them.
"They probably are the hardest-working guys on this team right now."
-- On the defensive side, Minter viewed Saturday's scrimmage as a sort of "mid-term exam," evaluating his group somewhere in the C-plus to B-minus range. Minter is a busy man during scrimmages, as his play-calling duties are nearly all consuming with the defense on the field for every snap. That hinders his ability to evaluate individuals or position groups, at least until he reviews the tape, but it was hard to miss at least a few plays.
"We did have some takeaways today," Minter said. "Those were nice to have."
Turnovers are key to Minter's attacking scheme, so seeing Malcolm McDuffen return an interception for a touchdown and Cartier Rice nearly do the same is a major positive.
Minter also couldn't help but take note of junior linebacker Avery Williamson. He forced a fumble in the scrimmage, but that's not even close to the most important thing.
"Avery Williamson is really, really outstanding, not only as a producer and a playmaker, but more importantly, our guy," Minter said. "He's our man in the middle, knock on wood, for the next two years. We're going to lean on him heavily. He's got high character, good work ethic. He's the pied piper of the linebackers and almost the entire defense."
-- Another encouraging aspect of the scrimmage was that it was relatively injury-free. Safety Glenn Faulkner suffered an injury that Phillips tentatively called a high-ankle sprain, pending medical examination.
The Kentucky football team will hold its first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. According to Joker Phillips, it was easy to tell in watching Friday's practice.
The Wildcats were energetic and competitive, but a little bit too much so at some points. There was some testiness after plays, which Phillips is unwilling to accept. He likes the fire in his players, but it needs to be kept within the bounds of smart football.
"That's not how we do things here," Phillips said. "We had a little pushing and shoving after plays and we don't do those things. We're trying to get those things corrected today. Not tomorrow, today."
Phillips talked more after the final practice before the scrimmage about what he'll be looking for on Saturday. Included in the video below are more raving reviews of wide receiver Demarco Robinson.
John Calipari is entering his fourth season as UK head coach. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats finally found out what life is going to look in the new Southeastern Conference.
The SEC released conference schedules for its 14 teams on Friday and UK learned whom it will play and when. Of particular interest are the Cats' first matchups with the league's newest members, Texas A&M and Missouri. UK will host the Aggies in its second conference game on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network and then travel to College Station, Texas for a game on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN. Kentucky's lone game against Missouri will quite the event, as the Wildcats will host the Tigers for an ESPN College GameDay game on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. ET.
As is the case annually, UK will be a fixture on national television, playing 13 games on either CBS, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU in addition to the five national television games it will play during the nonconference schedule. All told, UK will play 18 nationally televised games with coverage information for games against Louisville and Baylor still to be announced.
The last remnants of divisional play are gone, as the Cats will play 18 total games, including two each against five different conference foes and one against all remaining SEC schools. The Wildcats will take on former Eastern division rivals Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida, while Auburn, in addition to Texas A&M, will also match up twice against UK.
Beginning with the 2012-13 season, each SEC team will be assigned one permanent rival to play two times a season - UK's is Florida. The other four will rotate on an annual basis.
The SEC Basketball Tournament semifinals and championship game will be shown on ABC. The SEC Network will broadcast games on Wednesday and Thursday in addition to the Friday
night games. ESPNU will televise the two afternoon games on Friday at
the tournament, which this year will be played March 13-17 in Nashville,
Below is UK's complete schedule for all games this season. Note that tip times and television information will be released at a later date for some games.
Oct.12 (Fri) - BIG BLUE MADNESS - 7:30 p.m. ET Oct. 24 (Wed) - BLUE-WHITE GAME - 7:00 p.m. ET Nov. 1 (Thurs) - NORTHWOOD (exh.) TBA Nov. 5 (Mon) - TRANSYLVANIA (exh.) TBA Nov. 9 (Fri) - 1 vs. Maryland [ESPN] - 8:30 p.m. ET Nov. 13 (Tues) - 2 vs. Duke [ESPN] - 9:30 p.m. ET Nov. 16 (Fri) - 3 LAFAYETTE (PA) - TBA Nov. 21 (Wed) - 3 MOREHEAD STATE - TBA Nov. 23 (Fri) - 3 LONG ISLAND UNIV. - TBA Nov. 29 (Thu) - 4 at Notre Dame [ESPN2] - 7:00 p.m. ET Dec. 1 (Sat) - BAYLOR - TBA Dec. 4 (Tues) - SAMFORD - TBA Dec. 8 (Sat) - PORTLAND - [ESPN] Noon ET Dec. 15 (Sat) - LIPSCOMB - TBA Dec. 22 (Sat) - MARSHALL [ESPN2] - 4:00 p.m. ET Dec. 29 (Sat) - at Louisville - TBA Jan. 2 (Wed) - EASTERN MICHIGAN - TBA Jan. 10 (Thurs) - at Vanderbilt [ESPN/ESPN2] - 9:00 p.m. ET Jan. 12 (Sat) - TEXAS A&M [SEC Network] - 4:00 p.m. ET Jan. 15 (Tues) - TENNESSEE [ESPN] - 7:00 p.m. ET Jan. 19 (Sat) - at Auburn [ESPNU] - TBA Jan. 22 (Tues) - at Alabama [ESPN] - 9:00 p.m. ET Jan. 26 (Sat) - LSU [SEC Network] - 4:00 p.m. ET Jan. 29 (Tues) - at Ole Miss [ESPN] - 9:00 p.m. ET Feb. 2 (Sat) - at Texas A&M [ESPN] - 6:00 p.m. ET Feb. 5 (Tues) - SOUTH CAROLINA [ESPNU] - 9:00 p.m. ET Feb. 9 (Sat) - AUBURN [SEC Network] - 4:00 p.m. ET Feb. 12 (Tues) - at Florida [ESPN] - 7:00 p.m. ET Feb. 16 (Sat) - at Tennessee [CBS Sports] - 1:00 p.m. ET Feb. 20 (Wed) - VANDERBILT [SEC Network] - 8:00 p.m. ET Feb. 23 (Sat) - MISSOURI [ESPN GameDay] - 9:00 p.m. ET Feb. 27 (Wed) - MISSISSIPPI STATE [SEC Network] - 8:00 p.m. ET March 2 (Sat) - at Arkansas [CBS Sports] - 4:00 p.m. ET March 7 (Thurs) - at Georgia [ESPN/ESPN2] - 7:00 p.m. ET March 9 (Sat) - FLORIDA [CBS Sports] - Noon ET As of August 10, 2012 - HOME GAMES in BOLD CAPS All dates and times are subject to change. 1- Barclays Center Classic (Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.); 2-State Farm Champions Classic (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.); 3- Barclays Center Classic (Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.); 4-SEC/Big East Challenge (The Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.)
Senior setter Christine Hartmann will look to anchor UK's attack in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Craig Skinner has led the Kentucky volleyball program to seven consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, a feat matched by only 16 other Division I programs. The Wildcats have reached the Sweet 16 two out of the last three seasons. But things are different this year.
And maybe that's a good thing.
Kentucky started practice Wednesday afternoon, a two-a-day session, and the Cats hit the ground running.
"I definitely expect us to be a lot more organized than in years passed because we have six or seven upperclassmen who have been through a lot of drills and a lot of seasons, so you expect that to be at a high level," said Skinner. "I think execution-wise I would think this team is further along than most just because all of our ball control and ball handling is all back as well as our starting setter. So I think we're probably a little bit ahead of where we've been in the past."
But perhaps the biggest difference is the overall talent in Memorial Coliseum on a daily basis. Practice already looks to have mid-season intensity. Yes, a bit of the excitement is due to the players finally getting back to structured practice and the fast-approaching 2012 season, but the energy in the gym is palpable.
It hasn't always been that way. Senior setter Christine Hartmann is heading into her fifth season after a redshirt freshman year. She has seen a bit of a transformation, for the better, in the culture and attitude of the program.
"I think it's way more intense than it's been in the past years," said Hartmann. "And being here for the last four years, I think that's got a lot to say for the group that's here. Leading up to it, everyone was on the same page on how we wanted to be once we started practice, and it showed when we came in a lot in the summer just to play."
This summer was a blessing. All four incoming freshmen were able to enroll in classes and get a leg up in building team chemistry and familiarity with their new school and program. Early enrollment also allowed the rookies to train with their new teammates to be in shape once the preseason regimen began.
"First of all, in the summer workouts, they were probably some of the most in-shape freshmen that we have had," said Hartmann. "My class, I mean, none of us had ever lifted before, and we came into conditioning dying. They're already pretty fit and in shape so they're able to keep up with us more."
That goes a long way. Instead of the coaching staff needing to spend time introducing the newest additions to the team during the fall, the bonds and chemistry they created over the summer allows Skinner and his staff to focus more on the game rather than the well being of his team.
"We can get into some team stuff and six on six a little quicker than we have in the past," said Skinner. "Not only because of our returning players, but because of the freshmen we have here have been part of winning programs and played at an extremely high level in club. So they're used to the speed of the game a little bit more so than some of our recruiting classes."
Freshmen Sara Schwarzwalder is helping make sure that Skinner does not have to worry about the new comers at all. A talented member of the nation's 15th-ranked recruiting class, Schwarzwalder is already reaping the benefits of getting a head start in the summer.
"That was one of the best decisions I've ever made because I was able to start conditioning, start lifting, start hanging out with the team, growing chemistry," said Schwarzwalder. "It's just definitely made me stronger having come in. This is only our second day of practice but I feel so acquainted with everybody. I feel comfortable with everybody. And I already feel faster and stronger because of it."
It's evident already, just two days into practice. After watching bits and pieces of team drills, there is a noticeable difference on the court. There is more depth in this program than at any point in Skinner's tenure. He has three returning All-Americans, several All-Southeastern Conference players on his squad and a highly touted recruiting class. It's an impressive collection of talent that has Skinner and his team excited about the prospects of a season set to start on Aug. 24 vs. North Carolina.
Skinner has never shied away from using freshmen if they are the best option for the team. Sarah Rumely played as a freshman and developed into an SEC Player of the Year and All-American by the time she finished her UK career in 2009. Stephanie Klefot has been a staple in the Kentucky defense since her rookie year, and she's developed into a two-time defending SEC Libero of the Year.
This freshmen group may provide something that Skinner has never had in his previous recruiting classes. He has capable, physical players who can make immediate impacts all over the court.
"They're physical. They're physical in a lot of different ways," said Skinner of his freshmen. "Obviously, physically capable of playing high above the net, but also very skilled. Because they played at high levels at high school and club, they've worked on a lot of fundamental skills that a lot of freshman haven't worked on a ton and that allows them to not think as much the first few practices and be able to react."
The talent on the floor at any given time will only help propel this team toward its goals. With each player on the floor battling to see the court this fall, a healthy competitive atmosphere will undoubtedly boost the level of play during the preseason. But the preseason not only gives the players chances to compete and prove themselves, but they are learning the game from the coaches and fellow teammates.
"It definitely pushes me to compete better and to work hard and grow stronger in the weight room," said Schwarzwalder. "Having (Alexandra Morgan) and Kayla (Tronick) here and who have been here in previous years and having (Marshall transfer Desirre Wilkerson) who played previously in college, it's just great to learn from them slowly. Like I'm learning new things about blocking, I'm learning new things about hitting, and it's just great to have that resource around me at all times. We all push each other because we're all strong players."
The new cupboard full of talent, especially on the offensive end, tends to excite one particular position on the floor. That position would be the setter, and Hartmann can't wait to show the nation all of her new weapons.
Hartmann's teammates have each made strides in the off-season while the freshmen provide new looks that their opponents have yet to see. She has already started to realize just how versatile of a group she has at her disposal.
"As a setter, I know I have more hitters that are capable of different things than I've had in the past," said Hartmann. "I know with (Morgan) even that I can throw some ball out of system from anywhere in the middle position and she'll got a touch on it at least or she'll score on some crazy play. That's just one of the examples of just knowing how dynamic and how athletic we are that we can do things that we haven't been able to do in the past."
Skinner has had his teams knocking on the door to SEC Championships and Elite Eights throughout his tenure at Kentucky. They have fallen just shy. But the differences that are emerging from this year's team may make for a different ending.
A different culture, a different intensity, a different versatility and attitude in the program may, and likely will breed different results.
For Anthony Davis and Team USA, it's all been building to this. A handful of exhibitions before the Olympics, five games of preliminaries and a knockout win over Australia were all played with the goal in mind of reaching this point: the medal round.
At 4 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network, the Americans will take on Argentina in the semifinals of the Olympic basketball tournament for a right to play for the gold medal. Argentina, the lone team to knock off Team USA more than once in Olympic play since NBA players have been allowed to play in 1992, is perceived as the biggest threat to the Americans' march to the gold.
Team USA defeated Argentina 126-97 in the final game of preliminary play, with Davis tallying two points and two rebounds in 7:32 of playing time. Don't let that lopsided score fool you though. The Argentinians will be ready to play. Five veterans from the 2004 gold medalists are on the 2012 roster, including San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili.
All that's to say Team USA could be in for a test on Friday, meaning there's a pretty good chance Davis - the squad's 12th man - might not see too much playing time. Even so, it's been an incredible experience for the national player of the year, who is over three years younger than James Harden, the next youngest player on the roster.
Davis has played in five of the Americans' six games, averaging 5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds in 9:33. He's also shot 64.7percent from the field, not so different from the 62.3 percent he shot during his season at Kentucky.
Rockin' with the Rookies is back. Over the weeks leading up to Kentucky's season opener against Louisville, UK Sports Video will produce a series of videos in which strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver helps fans get to know the latest crop of Wildcat freshman.
First up is Landon Foster, the freshman punter/kicker from Franklin, Tenn.
Name a Kentucky football-related question and odds are Joker Phillips has fielded it in his question-and-answer sessions with the media after practice. With such a variety of question, there's no telling how many different players will come up in any given interview.
There aren't many times that one player is the answer to as many questions as Demarco Robinson was after UK finished up an "old school" two-a-days Thursday of practices.
Who are the fastest players on the roster?
"Demarco would be one of those guys," Phillips said.
Who is Phillips most excited to see on the field for game day?
"I'm most eager to see, probably, Demarco Robinson," Phillips said. "Again, every time we've been in the stadium, he's made a play. I hope that continues. We need him as a big-play guy."
Will Robinson be able to overcome his slight frame and break off the line of scrimmage unimpeded?
"No, he's got quicks," Phillips said. "I think he has enough quicks and I think we'll line him up in enough different spots that you can't always say, 'We're going to press him.' He's inside sometimes, he's outside on both sides."
In answering the same question, Phillips elaborated even more on why he believes Robinson will make such an impact in 2012.
"He's becoming a guy you can depend on," Phillips said. "He made a 4.0 (grade-point average) this summer...That's a huge step. It's a huge step for a guy that came in here last year and didn't always understand how to do things the Wildcat way, which is the right way all the time. He did the right things some of the time, but now he's starting to understand how to do things right all the time."
If all that means Robinson will come anywhere close to matching his nine-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown effort of the spring game in games this season, UK fans might be talking just as much about the sophomore wide receiver very soon.
Surprisingly, Phillips had time in his post-practice comments to talk about more than just Robinson. Watch the video below to see what he had to say about an injury-free fall camp, UK's tight ends and a couple dynamic freshman wide receivers.
Martavius Neloms is transitioning to his original cornerback position for his senior season. (Bretty Marshall, UK Athletics)
One of the toughest pieces of news the Kentucky football team received before fall camp was that cornerback Marcus Caffey would not be eligible for the 2012 season. It wasn't anything that head coach Joker Phillips wanted to dwell on, preferring to focus the guys who would be playing for him this season.
And with good reason.
While they will be playing a man down in the secondary, it's the unit's depth that made Phillips and his staff comfortable with a decision to reassign safety Martavius Neloms to cornerback. It was a move that may have galvanized an already tight-knit defensive unit.
The change brought initial disappointment to Neloms. After all, he was a cornerback earlier in his career before shifting over to safety. But his team-first mentality helped him to eventually accept the decision with open arms.
"I was a little sad because I had gotten used to playing safety," said Neloms. "My heart was at safety. But I'm a big team guy, so whatever the team needs; I'm willing to do it. If they want me to play defensive tackle, I'm going to go out there and do it."
Neloms grew into the role last seasons as the "quarterback" of the defense. He was in charge of getting his teammates in the right place, calling signals and lining everyone up. Now his role changes to corner where he finds himself on an island, forced to use his natural ability to help stop opposing offensive threats.
But a team can never have enough leaders. Though the secondary is deep and has experience, its core is still relatively young. Neloms knows that while his position on the field has changed, his role as a leader is just expanding.
"I feel like I still have to be a leader because we have a lot of young corners, so I have still have to a leader for them," said Neloms, who will wear the No. 1 jersey this season. "I still have to know what I'm doing at corner as well as safety because with the safeties they have back there, they have great players, but I still know the safety role, so I can help them out too."
Had Neloms never played the position previously, the staff may have opted to go in a different direction when it came to replacing Caffey. But even before the news broke, plans were in place to start Neloms' transition in the event of an injury to either of the starting cornerbacks. For first-year defensive backs coach Mike Cassity, the position switch is really a non-issue.
"We said if, number one, Caffey didn't develop into (the cornerback position), Martavius would have been the next guy to move there," said Cassity. "But if Cartier (Rice) and Caffey, playing well, would have got injured, we would have moved him. That's been in the plans. Everyone's making a lot more out of it than they should. DBs are DBs."
Neloms is just one piece of the defensive backs unit that has a solid mix of experience and youth. Mikie Benton, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on who has fought his way to the top of the depth chart, provides a veteran presence with Neloms in the backfield.
Benton feels his greatest strength as a leader is assisting the younger defensive backs in understanding the reality of the position. Sometimes you get beat. Other times you do the beating. Regardless, it's important to be focused on the next play.
"Basically the whole process of being overwhelmed," said Benton of what he helps his teammates with. "The whole playbook, just trying to tell guys to take it piece by piece. Try not to over think things. Just try to break it down in the smallest ways in the easiest form. Just the situations, if you're out here on the field, for example, you make a bad play, just not to get down on yourself. Out here, as a (defensive back), you have to have short term memory."
Benton's been at Kentucky for some of the great times in program history. He now, after last season, has seen the lows. But he and his fellow seniors realize that there time as Wildcats is diminishing by the minute, so it's up to them to get this program back on the right track.
"Honestly, it just means a lot," said Benton of his senior year. "With some of the guys that have been here five years with me, we kind of just sit back and we're like, 'Wow, five years has just come and pass. This is our last year.' Honestly, we just feel like we've got to buy in. We definitely want to go out our senior year on a good note, definitely getting back to a bowl game. That's what are mind is set on. We've got to work hard and pull the young guys with us. This season means a lot to me."
A lot of the early excitement out of camp has come from the defensive front. The linemen seem to be the bright spot, not only on the defense, but the entire team. It could be the team's greatest strength once the calendar hits Sept. 2.
But the defensive backs aren't jealous of the attention. As long as the defense is getting attention, that is a positive in the eyes of sophomore Ashely Lowery, who is currently projected as the starter at the safety spot vacated by Neloms.
"I think it's good the defensive line's getting a lot of attention," said Lowery. "To the fans, it will be a surprise what we can do on the back end. But to us, we're working hard every day, and we know what we'll be like once we step on the field September 2."
The defense has united, starting way back during summer workouts and now heading into fall camp. They've rallied past adversity and have come together early in camp. It has Lowery excited about the possibilities of his defense, his teammates, and a group that he now calls his brothers.
"The commitment, the enthusiasm," said Lowery. "I was in the weight room with the defensive players when we worked out in the summer and we all come out and run. We would run together. If it was the defensive line running, we were all pulling for them. If it were the linebackers, defensive backs, everyone was pulling for each other. We weren't trying to leave anyone behind. No man left behind. We're a band of brothers."
It's no secret bond either. These guys are outwardly supportive of each other on and off the field, and their coaches are very much aware.
With moving parts, a diverse group and a little bit of youth, the defensive backs could be the biggest surprise of the upcoming season. A dedicated, close, hard working group that has some size and ability, they are essentially a coach's dream. It has all the makings of core group that could be a strength of the defense for years to come.
"Number one, they work hard in practice," Cassity said. "They're a close-knit group. They're an enthusiastic group. Give me guys that work hard, that are enthusiastic, and play together, then you've got a good nucleus."
Jeremy Jarmon probably didn't figure he would be doing anything like this in his first job after retiring from the NFL.
Kentucky football's assistant director of player personnel became an ice cream man on Wednesday after UK's fifth practice of fall camp. Head coach Joker Phillips wanted to reward his team for their hard work in near-three-hour session, and Jarmon was charged with handing out the treats. Here's video:
After playing in all 12 of UK's games as a freshman, Darrian Miller is projected as the starter at left guard entering the 2012 season. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Following a freshman season in which he defied convention and played meaningful snaps as a newcomer, Darrian Miller devoted himself to building strength and refining his technique. It didn't take long for Miller to realize that his hard work over the offseason had paid off.
Just three practices into fall camp, Miller felt the transformation during a pass-protection drill on Monday. Considering he was going up against a defensive line billed as the strength of this year's Kentucky team, that was an especially good feeling.
"Rather than catching (defensive players) and letting them get into my body, I'm able to push them off of me now," Miller said. "It's not fighting to get them away, it's just, 'Get off me.' "
Miller was unable to recite his weight-room gains on command, saying only he is now "a whole lot stronger." While others might get bogged down in reps and max-out weights, Miller is taking a cue from his coach and focusing on how he puts his increased power into practice.
"I've had guys that could move the weight room, but got run over top of when a defensive lineman pushed on them," offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "Darrian's got the ability to position his body so that he can maximize all the strength that he has. He can maximize his power because of his footwork and athletic ability. I see his functional strength show up on the field in these one-on-one drills."
A season ago, Miller was a talented freshman forced into duty earlier than expected. Injuries along an experienced offensive line put him in a difficult position and there were inevitable moments where he was overmatched by his Southeastern Conference opponents. Other times, he looked like UK's bright future in the trenches. All along, Miller acted like he belonged, remaining unfazed and unsurprised by the controlled chaos around him when he had every reason to come unhinged.
"The fact that we had to force him into action last year was not good for last year's football team, but it was good for his personal development," Summers said. "He made a lot of mistakes when he went in there last year, was put in some really big-time scenarios where he had to think and move and do things that most freshmen shouldn't have to do."
With that experience under his belt, Miller - projected as the starter at left tackle - has a whole new mentality. He's undergone a sort of baptism by fire going up against the best defensive lines the Southeastern Conference and, by extension, the nation have to offer. Now, he'll have no trouble going eye-to-eye with any defensive end or blitzing linebacker that comes his way.
"Not intimidated in the least," Miller said. "I've gotten a lot better over the offseason technically and physically. I'm pretty confident coming into the season."
Though still soft-spoken and thoughtful, Miller is unmistakably brimming with self-assurance. Miller knows how hard he has worked, he knows what he is getting into and it's showing every day on the practice field.
"The confidence that he's shown so far in his pass protection has come out in the intensity of his play," Summers said. "I'm not proclaiming him All-American four days into it, but I'm encouraged with what I see and encouraged with the development I've seen from him over the summer and what I've seen from him on the field."
Zach West would be hard-pressed to match Miller's confidence having not yet played a college snap, but the redshirt freshman has made significant progress since being listed as the starter at left guard this spring.
"There's a big difference, I think, in both of us," West said of himself and Miller. "We definitely have a lot more confidence in the offensive system. We're louder. Coach Phillips always said we were quiet in the spring, but I feel like, over the summer, we really worked hard on communicating and knowing what was going on in the defense before really everything happened."
West spent his redshirt year watching classmate Miller go through the process of lining up along a college offensive line for the first time. There's no avoiding some of the growing pains associated with that and West still bears the "freshman" designation for a reason, but he has an indisputable leg up after sitting out a season.
"Zach is stepping in now kind of in the same scenario that Darrian was last year in terms of experience, but he has had a year to be with us," Summers said. "And he practiced with me all last year on the second team even when we held him out of playing. His knowledge is where it needs to be. We just need to get him reps so he understands the speed of the game."
Recognizing his potential as well as the dire situation along the offensive line due to injury, Summers not only put West on the second team, but also had him travel with the team on all road trips beginning around midway through the season.
Every step of the way, West was there to learn. He observed the habits of the veterans and watched as Miller coped with playing so early. What he picked up more than anything else is that asking questions is a good thing.
"(Miller) learned a lot from the older guys really quick," West said. "He asked everything he could from the older guys and that's what I'm doing now. (Seniors) Larry (Warford) and Matt (Smith) have been here a long time and that's what I'm trying to learn from them."
Making it ever easier for West to learn from Miller's example was the fact that the two Lexington natives quickly developed a close bond. Was it a shared hometown that brought them together? Playing the same position?
None of the above.
"We're pretty strange people," Miller said. "I'm pretty sure I've said that before, but we're both pretty strange."
Miller couldn't quite put his finger on what makes the pair strange, but he had no trouble identifying what that tight relationship can mean on the field.
"It's great, actually," Miller said. "I room with him this semester, and being able to know where the other person may fall short or where their weaknesses are, it just helps a lot to know the strengths and weaknesses of the player beside you and not being in the dark."
Reflective of their like-mindedness, West's answer to the same question was remarkably similar.
"We know each other's weaknesses and our strengths," West said. "We're together a lot of times. We live together so it's definitely a big opportunity to be with each other."
Arriving on campus as classmates, Miller and West thought quickly about the possibility of manning the left side of UK's offensive line in the future. The fact that it's happening so early has to come as somewhat of a shock though.
"It's not really surprising," Miller said. "But, then again, I don't really get surprised by much."
A record-setting 22,144 fans packed Rupp Arena for ESPN College GameDay during the 2009-10 season. (UK Athletics)
It was just a matter of time before the College GameDay crew made a return trip to Lexington.
The last time ESPN's popular pregame show came to Kentucky, fans packed Rupp Arena in record numbers. On Feb. 13, 2010, 22,144 Wildcat faithful shattered GameDay's previous attendance record, leading ESPN's panel of experts to rave about the environment.
Just over three years after the memorable event, UK fans will have a chance to break their own record. College GameDay will be in Rupp again on Feb. 23 for a game against a yet-to-be-announced Southeastern Conference opponent.
Below are this season's GameDay sites:
Butler - Jan. 19
North Carolina State - Jan. 26
Indiana - Feb. 2
Notre Dame OR Cincinnati - Feb. 9
Kansas - Feb. 16
Kentucky - Feb. 23
UCLA - March 2
GameDay destinations for the remainder of the year are being announced on the @ESPNHomeCourt Twitter account.
It's no surprise that he and the Wildcats feel much better about the position this preseason. Two heralded freshmen have joined the top four rushers from last season, who combined for 1,128 yards.
"Because of the amount of experience we've had at that position ... then the quality of the two guys coming in, that's why we were so excited about that position," head coach Joker Phillips said. "It just made that position a deeper position."
"Everybody is trying to learn names right now and the quickest thing they can go to is 'Little Newton' or 'Morgan's little brother' or 'Lil Newton,'" Langston said. "So right now, it's funny to hear all the variations of 'Little Newton' you get."
If Langston has his way, it won't be long before UK fans start thinking of him independent of his relation to Morgan, who has started 17 games in three seasons for UK and is competing for the starting quarterback job this fall.
He has the talent to play several positions and is the forgotten player most of the time on the team's quarterback depth chart. Yet there's no doubt in Jalen Whitlow's mind about what his best position is.
"Quarterback. That is my best position. My natural position is quarterback," said the Kentucky freshman from Prattville, Ala. He says he could play receiver, Wildcat quarterback or even cornerback or safety "if they (UK's coaches) made me" in certain situations.
However, he knows where he wants to play and believes he will play despite the presence of senior Morgan Newton, sophomore Maxwell Smith and true freshman Patrick Towles, Kentucky's Mr. Football last season, on the quarterback depth chart.
In a simple world, Morgan Newton would be the obvious choice. He's the heralded recruit, he's a senior with years of experience, and he's familiar with the system. Unfortunately for Newton, there's the whole issue of last season. Newton was miserable at best and that misery was only shortened by injury before sophomore Max Smith took over. Smith didn't exactly excel, but he performed more-than-admirably for a freshman, and turned some heads in the process. Morgan Newton's starting position shouldn't even be in question, it's just common sense. If it weren't for performance on the field, that is.
University of Kentucky royalties from licensed merchandise sales rose 40 percent in the past year, helped largely by the school's eighth college basketball national championship.
Merchandise royalties at the Lexington-based school, which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament title in April, grew to $6.73 million in the 12 months ended June 30 from $4.80 million the previous year, according to Jason Schlafer, the senior associate athletic director for corporate and university relations.
Dawson, along with Jack Butler, became the latest Steelers inducted into the Hall of Fame, with a Pittsburgh crowd on hand to cheer him on.
"I am almost at a loss for words being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Dawson. "This is an incredible honor and I feel very privileged and humbled. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be standing here before you on this stage in Canton, Ohio among all of these great players."
Since arriving in Washington two years ago, John Wall has been unable to persuade President Obama to watch him play at Verizon Center but the Wizards point guard is still prepared to help the Baller-in-Chief stick around for another term. Wall will join Michael Jordan and several current and former NBA stars in fundraiser on Aug. 22 for Obama's get reelection campaign.
The Obama campaign announced on Tuesday that it would hold a benefit shoot-around at New York's Chelsea Piers sports complex featuring several NBA stars, followed by a fundraising dinner hosted by Jordan later in the evening.
Fall camp is in full swing after Kentucky football practiced for the fourth time on Tuesday. Joker Phillips reported that the team's tempo continued to improve on yet another near-perfect late afternoon.
As will be the case every day until a decision on a starter is made, Phillips was asked about competition at quarterback. He still has no detailed evaluation, but after the first scrimmage on Saturday, that could change. Returners Max Smith and Morgan Newton will get the majority of snaps in the scrimmage, while freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will split the remainder.
Phillips was able to talk a bit more about his special teams though, saying UK now has more "big, strong athletes" for the punt coverage team who also happen to have more experience.
"This is our third year in this system, in the shield punt, so we got guys that understand it a little bit better," Phillips said.
As for who will be doing the actual punting, the battle for the starting role is underway. Freshman Landon Foster figures into that mix and Phillips reports he is the "fastest we've ever had" at getting punts off.
The kick and punt return units haven't gotten much work yet, but one player is already beginning to stick out in that area. Sophomore Demarco Robinson fielded a handful of kicks and punts last year, but had well-documented issues with protecting the football. A year of experience looks to have made a world of difference.
"I'm excited about the confidence (of) Demarco Robinson back there catching them," Phillips said.
Phillips talks more about the special teams, among other topics, in the video below. Also, keep an eye out for a story on Wednesday about Darrian Miller and Zach West, the two young roommates being asked to anchor the left side of UK's offensive line.
No matter what, Kentucky fans turn out in droves to buy the latest Wildcat-related gear. UK ranks among the top schools nationally in merchandising royalties annually, but took even another step forward in 2011-12.
Buoyed by men's basketball's eighth national championship, UK's royalties grew by 40 percent, moving the school to No. 3 from No. 7 nationally according to the College Licensing Co. (CLC), a division of IMG Worldwide.
UK earned $6.73 million in the 12 months ended June 30, up from $4.80 million, trailing only Texas and Alabama among schools licensed by CLC. The athletic department manages the licensing program and annually splits income half and half with the university. Bloomberg Businessweek has the story, complete with quotes from UK senior associate athletic director for corporate and university relations Jason Schlafer.
Believe it or not, women's soccer is just 10 days away from opening the 2012-13 UK Athletics year. The Wildcats face Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24 at the UK Soccer Complex. This week, the team held its annual photo day. Here's a video look at what it was like to be there.
Kentucky football held its third practice of fall camp on a beautiful Monday afternoon. The Wildcats aren't going through full-contact drills just yet, Joker Phillips is getting new information about his team each day.
"Between the first two days and today, you get to see who will put their face on people," Phillips said. "It's still not full-speed tackling, but you are getting to see who can play behind their pads and who puts their face on people."
Phillips also discussed the quarterback battle after practice, saying he had seen plenty of both encouraging and discouraging things from his four potential signal callers. The coaching staff won't rush to a decision on a starter among Morgan Newton, Max Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. Phillips wants to have a decision within about two weeks, meaning it come soon after UK's second scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 18.
A number of other topics were touched on as Phillips spoke with the media, ranging from the lofty expectations on the shoulders of Alvin Dupree to Martivius Neloms' move back to cornerback to Dakotah Tyler's return to the team. Here's video of Phillips' comments.
La'Rod King enters his senior season with 86 catches for 1,218 yards and 13 touchdowns. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
During his playing days, Joker Phillips was a wide receiver. He understands the mentality of players that line up at the position of wanting the ball all the time. He understands the confidence it demands.
What he doesn't get is the line of thinking that good offensive teams must have one predominant threat at receiver.
"I don't understand what a go-to receiver is," Phillips said. "I've been in this business for a long time. That's a cliche that you, as media, (use and) sometimes I hear coaches saying. There is no such thing as a go-to receiver. You better have three guys out there that can make plays for you."
Take a look back at Phillips' tenure as head coach and offensive coordinator at UK, and you begin to see what he means. Dating to 2006, the 2011 season is the closest the Wildcats have come to having a so-called go-to guy. That year also happens to be the one that ended Kentucky's record streak of five straight bowl games.
La'Rod King led the way with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns, accounting for 50.3 percent of the yards gained by UK wide receivers in the passing game. Before 2011, the highest such percentage came from Steve Johnson in 2007, when his 1,041 yards made up 41.5 percent of yards gained by UK receivers.
When UK needed a big passing play, King was more than likely going to be the target.
"On third down if you've got a go to receiver, I'm going to roll coverage to him," Phillips said. "I'm going to put somebody underneath him. I'm going to put somebody over top. Now somebody else has to make a play for you, and your quarterback's over there patting the ball, waiting for him to get open. He's not going to get open."
More often than not, that was exactly the scenario faced by UK in 2011, whether it was Morgan Newton or Max Smith under center. The Cats converted just 29 percent on third downs a year ago and scored touchdowns on just 50 percent of red-zone trips.
At least on the face of things, it was a dream scenario for King. He had the ball thrown his way more than he could reasonably hope and ample opportunities to make plays. Unfortunately, he learned quickly the chances he was getting were not of the highest quality.
"At the end of the day, it takes other receivers to step up as well," King said. "If you know you only have one receiver to guard to shut down the offense, you can double team him and see what the other guys can do. If they don't produce, you have an issue. Our biggest issue is to create multiple threats across the board so the playing field's even."
In 2010, King was the third option alongside Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. Those two got the lion's share of the targets, while King benefited from single coverage to catch 36 passes for 478 yards and five touchdowns, statistics that don't look all that different from 2011.
Taking over as wide receivers coach for Tee Martin, Pat Washington's task this offseason and now in fall camp is to put together a unit much more similar to the ones that kept Southeastern Conference defenses off guard in 2006-10. One of the two newest members of the staff, Washington is not one to sugarcoat things and his primary objective proves it.
"Making them understand that we're not considered a good group at this point," Washington said. "That no one is giving us credit for anything because we haven't earned any credit. Therefore if we want credit, if we want people to recognize us, we got to do it on the field."
That process has made for some, at times, unpleasant conversations.
"There's always things to critique," King said. "Every receiver has their bad habits and that's his job to point that out. He's not trying to bash anything, but (he is saying), 'This is what you need to work on. This is your strength and this is your weakness.' He's trying to balance you out and he's really good at that."
Washington's sometimes blunt messages might fall on deaf ears if not for Washington's sense of humor and approachability, traits both King and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins likened to the coach he replaced.
"It's not something you can take as personal because it's just criticism, but it's positive criticism," King said. "When you mature, you get that. When you're immature, you might get mad and that's when your issues come up. At the end of the day, he knows what he's talking about. His thing is he knows how to relate to you, so he's going to come at you to make you mad."
"He's a character," Collins said. "He's pretty much like Coach Tee. We joke around, but when it comes business time, he's all about it."
Granted, it was just a scrimmage, but the Cats appeared to show progress during the spring game. With a now-healthy King recuperating from injury, Collins, E.J. Fields and especially Demarco Robinson (nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns) showed flashes.
"From the beginning of the spring to the end, they began to have a confidence in themselves, not necessarily because of me," Washington said. "I think it's because of what they were doing on the field. They were making some plays in some situations we didn't make plays last year. Coaches were encouraged by what they did and they kind of let them know."
With King, the 6-foot-4 leader of the group, back on the field for fall camp, UK looks to have a deep, versatile corps of wide receivers. Sophomore Collins and Robinson have speed to burn, while seniors Fields and Aaron Boyd have experience. Redshirt freshman Bookie Cobbins has dedicated himself fully to the position after moving from quarterback, while true freshmen A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat have the combination of size and speed that makes them look like SEC players. The issue now becomes taking that depth from theory to practice to actual in-game situations.
"On paper," Washington said. "Hopefully they can do it on the field, but on paper you think you have a chance to have guys that can do some different things for you. You got guys with good quickness, some guys with size."
An early obstacle facing the group in that task is uncertainty at the quarterback position. Washington and Phillips both say making a decision as quickly as possible is important to developing chemistry between thrower and catcher. King agrees, but he has no preference between Smith, Newton or freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
"My opinion is I don't care who's back there as long as they get the job done," King said. "Whoever controls the offense and can be a leader in that position is a guy I would like to be there."
Once a starter is named, UK will focus on developing that chemistry. In the mean time, the wide receivers have plenty they can work on.
Among those tasks will most certainly not be identifying a No. 1 receiver, but that does not mean Washington doesn't want all his guys thinking like one.
"From my experience, the best receivers I ever coached were the ones that want the football," Washington said. "When (the defense) brings a blitz, they want to score a touchdown. They want the football. They want to make plays. I'm OK with that as long it's not overboard."
It's a story I'm sure you've heard before, but also one you won't mind hearing again. Josh Nadzam and Luis Orta from the Kentucky track and field and cross country teams have led shoe collections for Soles4Souls each of the past two springs. Kyle Scott from WLEX had a segment on Sunday's news about it.
With rain in the forecast, the Kentucky football team moved its second practice of fall camp to the Nutter Training Center. The weather ended up staying dry and head coach Joker Phillips reported improvement from a sloppy opening practice on Fan Day.
"A lot sharper today, but not anywhere near to line up and play, but it shouldn't be," Phillips said. "We got time."
With just under a month still to go before UK's season opener against Louisville on Sept. 2, fall camp and two more weeks of practice after school starts will give the Wildcats a chance to make plenty more progress.
The group likely with the toughest task in practice is the freshmen. UK's newcomers are trying to adjust to the speed of the college game and learn a new system and Phillips said each progresses at his own pace.
"There is usually a point in camp where you see a light come on," Phillips said. "Today's not the day. Heads are still swimming. The tempo of how we're trying to practice gets to them."
Phillips talked more about that topic after practice and also touched on the running back and quarterback position and senior wide receiver La'Rod King. Watch his time with the media on Sunday in the video below.
Dermontti Dawson joined George Blanda as the second Wildcat in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. (UK Athletics)
This weekend, Dermontti Dawson joined one of the most exclusive fraternities in sports. The former Kentucky and Pittsburgh Steeler great was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
The six-time All-Pro center learned he would become a Hall of Famer back in February and didn't wait long to begin thinking of what he would say at his induction. The final product was an 11-minute speech that began with him trying to put in perspective what the accomplishment means to him.
"I'm almost lost for words being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Dawson said in his speech. "This is an incredible honor and I feel incredibly privileged and humbled. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be standing before you on this stage in Canton, Ohio among all these great players."
During ESPN's broadcast of the ceremony, experts lauded Dawson for revolutionizing the way the center position is played. Dawson, though, was well aware that he is far from the only person responsible for his bust joining those of the best players in NFL history.
"Very few things in life are entirely the work of just one person," Dawson said. "And this is no exception, so I must pay tribute to the enormous contributions made by my parents, family, coaches, teachers, fans and Steeler organization, without which none of this would have been possible."
Included in that group was Dr. Steve Parker, the man who presented Dawson for enshrinement. Parker, now Associate Dean for Academic and Student Services at UK, discovered Dawson in a high school hallway. Then the head coach of Bryan Station High School in Lexington, Parker kick-started Dawson's football career.
"If it were not for Coach Parker coming up to me in the hallways of Bryan Station Senior High and asking me, 'Son, where have you been all my life?' I never would have played football and definitely would not be here today," Dawson said.
He went on to thank high school teammates Marc Logan and Cornell Burbage, two high school teammates, both of whom would go on to play alongside Dawson at UK and in the NFL.
Dawson chose to come to Kentucky to continue his football career because he would also have the chance to compete in track and field there, but just as importantly because of the education he knew he would receive. He would go on to earn a degree from the College of Education at UK
"I want to thank the University of Kentucky and its administration for allowing me the honor of attending a great educational institution," Dawson said.
Dawson's growth was restricted to the classroom at UK. Under the guidance of coaches like John Devlin, Pat Etcheberry and Jake Hallum, he went from a player without a position to an All-Southeastern Conference performer and a second-round pick of the Steelers.
With incredible athleticism for his size, Dawson always had the potential to be great, but it wasn't until after years of hearing then UK head coach Jerry Claiborne's message of "Be the best" that he reached it.
"I heard that for five years when I attended UK and one day a light went off in my head and said, 'Why am I out here if I'm not going to be the best player on the field?' " Dawson said. "That's what my goal was no matter the task and that became my purpose."
After adding the Hall of Fame to his resume, it's safe to say he succeeded.
Kentucky football had a big day on Saturday, doubling up with its first practice and Fan Day in Commonwealth Stadium. The team's execution was spotty, as is to be expected during the preseason's first official session, but head coach Joker Phillips and his players were excited to be back on the field.
After practicing without pads for roughly two hours before fans in attendance, Phillips spoke to the media about getting started before heading to sign autographs. Here's video:
Andre' Woodson is in his second season on the UK staff after starring on the field for the Wildcats. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If you scan "The Football Staff" section of the 2012 Kentucky media guide and see several familiar names, it's no coincidence. Over the last few years, head coach Joker Phillips has reached out to some of the program's former players to come back in a coaching capacity.
The purpose is to give back to the players who gave so much to the program and give them an opportunity to begin their coaching careers. In turn, it gives the coaching staff some youth and makes relating to current players perhaps a little easier.
It is a very important development that should help get the coaches' point across in a more efficient way. Former Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson was brought on to the staff to do just that last season to work with the offense and quarterbacks.
"I think it's huge because a lot of times younger guys have a harder time relating to coaches or sometimes even communicating," said Woodson. "Now that you have younger guys on the staff, graduate assistants, student coaches, volunteers, or whatever it may be, now these guys are able to communicate and say, you know, what is coach trying to tell me or what should I do to get better?"
Woodson, now a Graduate Assistant, has the experience to give out the proper advice and guidance to the current players. He put up huge numbers as a Wildcat, won some of the biggest games in program history, and had a short stint in the NFL. Those credentials earn respect amongst his pupils.
"The quarterbacks will always listen because they know I've been there," said Woodson. "Everything I've accomplished here at UK, they know, and because of that, they're more willing to listen to everything I have to tell them. To the same point, they know I've been in the NFL, I've played the position, I had a chance to be in there for three years. Because of that, they kind of look up to you because you've been in the place they're trying to get."
Braxton Kelley, Jeremy Jarmon, and Glenn Holt also join Woodson on the staff as former players with NFL experience. Tyler Sargent and Sam Simpson have also made their way back to Kentucky after their playing days to start a new career in the coaching world.
Kelley enters his first season on staff with Kentucky while trying to finish his degree in kinesiology. When his NFL career came to an end after suffering a right knee injury while with the Denver Broncos in 2010, Kelley already had an idea what he would like to do next. He put in a call to one of his former coaches and told him his plan.
"Coach Phillips, when I gave him a call and told him what I wanted to do, he welcomed me with open arms," said Kelley. "He really wanted me to come back and work with the guys as it is. So it just means a lot to come back here, my alma mater, and come and try to finish my degree knowing that I played here and help the guys on the team."
In his short time on staff, Kelley is already taking a liking to his new role as coach instead of player. He is not only looking to give back to his university, but helping individual players get better every day.
"The on-the-field time is like no other," said Kelley. "I love being on the field. I love coming out here, helping those guys, correcting little mistakes they may make while they're playing. Correct those mistakes and seeing them make plays, there's no better feeling in the world besides doing it yourself."
While the young coaches certainly are beneficial to the staff, the game planning and true leadership undoubtedly comes from the top. In his seventh year at Kentucky, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, understands that while he and the other coordinators and older assistants may have the most knowledge of the game, the younger coaches who have played for them and been in the system may be better at relating to 18 and 19 year olds.
Sanders and Woodson now work closely every day, as they once did during Woodson's playing days. Having someone who has been in the program and who knows what is expected is invaluable.
"It's valuable to me," said Sanders, "Because I've got a couple of guys that sat in the meeting room with me for three years or five years and know how I like things and what I need to see. It provides an extra set of eyes out there not only on the practice field but on the game field."
But for Sanders, he especially takes pride in the fact that some of his former players have come back to work in the coaching profession.
"It's nice to have guys that you've coached that want to get into coaching," said Sanders. "The eagerness to be football coaches and keep this profession going the right way because it's always nice to have good people get into it. They bring a lot of perspective."
The feeling is mutual.
For Woodson, it was the opportunity to come back and work with his former his quarterback coach in Sanders and offensive coordinator in Phillips that led him back to his alma mater. Woodson gained much of his football knowledge under the tutelage of those two men. Now he hopes to learn how to coach like them as well.
"Guys like Coach Sanders and Joker Phillips, having that opportunity to really build that bond with them when I was here at UK," said Woodson. "Then when I got to the NFL, I always knew at some point I'd like to come back and coach. I didn't think it would be so soon, but those guys openly offered me to come back and asked me if I'd join the staff. It's been a blessing for me because now I get to work with guys like Coach Sanders who's been in the SEC for 20 years now."
What seems to be happening is a realization of tradition at Kentucky and keeping it in the family. It's a place where players want to come and play, but once they are finished they don't want to leave. They want to come back and give back. Kelley believes that having former players on staff could help lure more players to Kentucky in the future, knowing that potential opportunities down the road may open up in their favor.
"I think it's a good look," said Kelley. "When recruits come in and see that once they're done playing, if they want to come back and coach, they can actually come back here and do that. The University of Kentucky is giving them a real good opportunity to do that."
And coming back always feels like home. Kelley says he felt like he never left. After his senior season and trying to get into the NFL, Kelley was always back in Lexington working out or talking to his coaches, trying to get ready for his next season.
Now, he's back in a new role with new goals in mind. He is clearly happy to be back in the place where he grew up and got his education. The place where he starred on the field and made some of his best friends. A place where he just felt welcome.
"You've got to love it because there are plenty of other places we could have gone, or we could have chose not to come back here," said Kelley. "But we felt welcome here. All the fans always treated us well and this organization has always treated us well. So we felt welcome to come back, and we're just happy they allowed us back.
"Working with the guys that you played with basically for a whole four years of your life and being able to come back and be with them is just like you never missed a beat. The same old conversations you used to have, they start right back up just like that. It's a blessing to be able to come back here and start coaching."
Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague are back in Lexington this weekend participating in the John Calipari Prasco ProCamp. On Saturday morning, they spent a few minutes answering questions from the media about being back at Kentucky and their professional careers.
Cameras from UK's Sports Video Department were all over at Media Day on Friday, capturing footage of players and coaches as they spoke to reporters. Take a look at some of the things they captured: Joker Phillips talks to Kentucky Sports Radio
Mister "PC" Cobble is projected as a starter at defensive tackle for the 2012 season. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
For years now, Mister "PC" Cobble and Donte Rumph have been the symbols of Kentucky's future along the defensive line. The hulking defensive tackles have tantalized coaches and fans alike with their upside, giving visions of a prototypical Southeastern Conference defense with two anchors at the line of scrimmage.
For stretches during the 2011 season, that upside was clear. The pair combined for 64 tackles and six tackles for loss and played an instrumental role as the Wildcat defense turned in its best two efforts of the season, allowing just 593 total yards against Georgia and Tennessee.
With some meaningful experience behind them, Cobble, Rumph and the defensive line at large are no longer the future. They are the here and now.
"The defensive line should be the strength of our defense, should be the strength of our football team," head coach Joker Phillips said.
Juniors Cobble and Rumph are joined along the front line by projected starters at end Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham and a promising stable of reserves, most of whom are sophomores and freshmen. With plenty of talent, experience and size, Phillips is asking for the line to set the tone for everything the Wildcats do this season.
"Everything on our defense starts up front," defensive line coach David Turner said. "That's the group that's got the most experience and that's the group that's going to be able to handle it."
With stalwarts like Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ronnie Sneed gone from the linebacking unit and secondary and off to NFL training camps, UK is much shorter on experience farther from the line of scrimmage.
"Somebody's got to do it and why not us?" Turner said. "That's what I tell the guys. Why not us? For us to be any good on defense, we've got to be better up front. That's plain and simple. I tell the guys we don't worry about who we play, we don't worry about when we play or where we play. We got to handle us. It starts with us. Don't worry about anything else but us getting better. If we do that, we'll be a better football team."
Cobble and Rumph, in particular, have heard about how they are supposed to transform the UK defense throughout their careers. Because of that, they are having no trouble taking their coach's cue.
"I don't really like to look at things like that, to try to speculate what may happen," Cobble said. "I just like to just look at it now, take it day by day. As of now, me and Donte's main focus for this camp is just to get the team better. To get the defense better, to get the offensive line better."
Due to academics, Cobble had to wait a long time before finally suiting up for UK. He spent most of his first two years on campus working to improve in the classroom, learning the system and trying to become better conditioned. With all that on his plate, serving as a leader was the last thing on the mind of the 6-foot, 328 pounder. Now that he's settled in on the field and in the classroom - his grade-point average is up to 2.6 - he's also coming into his own as an example for his teammates.
"It's been a slow learning process for me," Cobble said. "Coming into college, I had my ups and downs but as time went on I started to just learn and take time to adapt. It all just came to me one day and I feel like I have a better understanding of what's going on around me. I feel more inclined to do more things."
In spite of their size, Cobble and Rumph have always been soft spoken, which means they are more comfortable leading by doing.
"To show how to walk the path, you must walk the path yourself," Cobble said. "So yes, doing things right all the time will be a main thing but, at the same time, you also have to teach the people how to do it. And by doing it, like I said earlier, they have to see you doing it."