In previous years, UK coaches have been reticent to so heavily rely on youth. Concerns over knowledge of the system and readiness to play so quickly at this level have historically kept talented newcomers off the field.
Joker Phillips has a new attitude about that.
"To heck with that," Phillips said.
Even with all those new faces, there are a few veterans rising up the depth chart. One, in particular, is demanding attention.
Aaron Boyd was once a highly touted recruit like many of the players seeing the field for the first time. Early in his career, fans clamored for the big wide receiver to play early. He made one start during his freshman season, but Boyd never made the impact so many expected of him.
Boyd had made six catches for 51 yards entering his redshirt senior season, and just one since he was a freshman. He watched as his classmate, Randall Cobb, developed into a star and is now playing for the Green Bay Packers. He watched as players like Chris Matthews and La'Rod King came in after him and evolved into featured receivers. He watched and watched from the sideline, but never once questioned whether Kentucky was the place for him.
"I never want to run away from things," Boyd said. "I never want to take the easy way out of anything. I wanted to do this the hard way and show my perseverance and show that I'm a tough kid and that I can actually get through this."
Two games into his final season as a Wildcat, Boyd's patience and persistence are paying off. In the opener, Boyd caught three passes for 36 yards. His coaches liked his contributions so much that they rewarded him with his second start against Kent State. He responded with a career game.
Capitalizing on the opportunities afforded him in UK's pass-happy no-huddle offense and the holes in the Golden Flashes' zone defense, he caught 11 passes for 100 yards and his first career touchdown.
"This offense is fun for everyone who's playing receiver," Boyd said. "There's plays to be out there for everyone. The biggest thing is, when your name is called, you got to make the play."
After four years of fielding questions about why he wasn't making plays, the days after his break-out performance have been a well-deserved moment in the sun. To make things even better, Boyd's brother and best friend, Shane, booked a last-minute plane ticket to Lexington when he learned Aaron would be getting his first start.
"This is one of those things I can't miss," the former UK quarterback said. "I made sure I got here and he showed out."
Shane can relate to his brother's journey as a Wildcat. Playing at UK from 2001-04, he threw for 2,484 yards, rushed for 845 yards and accounted for 26 total touchdowns, but fell short of his own expectations as a collegian before eventually going on to play professionally in the NFL and now the Arena Football League.
"I went through some adversity here, but I loved every second I was a University of Kentucky Wildcat," Shane said. "That's what I told him even before the season started. I said, 'Whatever happens, enjoy every day being a Kentucky Wildcat because it is an honor to put on this jersey whether you're playing or not.' "
Aaron took his brother's advice about enjoying his time at UK no matter what, but he followed another piece of Shane's advice this offseason and rededicated himself to his craft. Aaron also got a fresh start of sorts when Pat Washington took over as receivers coach in the spring.
"He's believing in me," Aaron said. "It makes it a lot easier to play when someone believes in you. I couldn't thank him much more."
Boyd's confidence has been rejuvenated under Washington, and it extends beyond catching the football. UK's new passing game calls on receivers to instantly transition from route runners to blockers when one of their teammates makes a catch. Boyd's 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame and his willingness to lay his body on the line have made him a major player even when the ball's not in his hands.
Boyd may not be a downfield burner capable of picking up huge chunks of yardage, but his blocking is opening the possibility for his teammates to do just that.
"The thing you have to be, if you're not real fast, is a physical guy," Phillips said. "You have to be a physical guy. And that's the thing that Aaron's bought into."
In the film, coaches cite Boyd's blocking as a model for his younger teammates, but that's not the only way Boyd is serving as a powerful example. Particularly with so many young players seeing the field so quickly, it's natural for players not cracking the lineup to feel left out. Boyd has been there before.
"It's a great teaching tool," Phillips said. "I have guys that walk on here in their second year actually, the first year. Come into my office and say, Coach, I don't know if I'm going to get an opportunity, or I just don't know if I'm going to be able to cut it."
Boyd is happy to provide an example of the virtues of hard work and patience, but he doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder.
"I'm not trying to settle on this game," Boyd said. "I'm trying to move forward and get ready for Western (Kentucky). I want to build on this."