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Floreal eager to show off changes in first home track and field meet

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Head coach Edrick Floreal makes his home debut this weekend at the Kentucky Invitational. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Head coach Edrick Floreal makes his home debut this weekend at the Kentucky Invitational. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Friday evening marks another important first for track and field head coach Edrick Floreal. Though the 2012-13 track and field season is already underway, this weekend's Kentucky Invitational marks Floreal's first home event since taking over last summer.

When Floreal arrived in Lexington, he knew changes had to be made and that a new era in the Kentucky program would begin under his leadership. It didn't take long him start making a serious impact on the program.

The cross country team went to new heights in 2012, including impressive seasons for Cally Macumber, Chelsea Oswald and Luis Orta with the assistance of coaches Jason Dunn and Hakon DeVries. Macumber and Oswald were both All-Americans and Macumber an SEC champion and sixth-place finisher at the NCAA National Championships.

With the rapid rate of improvement, it's fair to wonder if the track and field results will parallel the cross country success.

"I certainly expect so," said Floreal.

Floreal's success is tied to the desire and dedication of college-age student-athletes and motivating them to achieve greatness with so many distractions can be an ongoing battle.

"You're at the mercy of 18 to 22 year olds," said Floreal. "We are powerful, but we're also powerless because in the end 18 year olds have to deliver the goods. They have to deal with their own nerves."

The day-to-day realities of a college athlete can be overbearing. There are relationships, school, family and countless other variables that could affect performance. The challenge is finding ways to break through and continue to propel his athletes to greatness to meet his goals for the program.

So far, the plan to get there is right on schedule.

"The first goal was to change the culture to get our kids to believe and compete at the highest level of the SEC," said Floreal. "That they belong here. They belong in the SEC."

If the cross country performance last fall wasn't enough validation of that, the first indoor track and field meet of the season in Bloomington, Ind., should have sealed the deal. The Wildcats won nine individual events at Indiana including a record-breaking performance from Morganne Phillips.

Phillips broke a 25-year-old Gladstien Fieldhouse record in the 300 meters with a winning time of 37.70 seconds. Bradley Szypka and Isiah Kent each had huge performances in the shot put that day and their marks stood as the first- and third-best throws in the country respectively at that point.

Those three, along with another handful of athletes on Kentucky's men's and women's teams, would be categorized by Floreal as "elite." There are several more on the cusp of that status, but it's an ongoing process to get those in-between athletes to believe they belong.

Floreal likened his athletes to students who only see themselves capable of getting Cs in school. If they don't think they can be A students, then they never will be. Floreal is constantly pushing his athletes to see themselves as an A athlete before they can perform like one.

"You've got to see an A before I got out there and perform like an A," said Floreal. "Changing the image, the reflection in the mirror, is sometimes easy for some people and very difficult for others."

That change, not only for the program but for the individual athletes as well, can come from many different avenues.

Floreal - much like head men's basketball coach John Calipari, he explained - wants his athletes to fall in love with training just as Calipari wants his players to fall in love with the gym. Whether it's voluntary or forced isn't important. For the head coach, it's by any means necessary.

"Drag them, kicking and screaming, a swift kick in the butt to get them there, encourage them, and pat them on the butt," said Floreal. "Any way you can get the better result. There are no limits to what coaches will do."

Once they get there and commit to working hard, the hope is that it becomes a labor of love, especially once they start to see the results.

"Your hope is that by being in the gym so long shooting, after awhile it's like, 'Alright, fine. I'll just keep doing it,' " said Floreal. "Or you've got a guy that realizes that, 'I've been in the gym all these hours and my shot's beginning to fall.' So then they fall in love with time in the gym and it equals better points per game.

"Then the addiction comes because the guy thinks, 'More time in the gym, I'll hit the shots even better.'"

Another way the team improves is via the self-motivated athletes. Athletes like Macumber, Phillips and Szypka are raising the bar not only for themselves and the team, but at the national level. They are becoming the stars. The motivation for their teammates comes from trying to match or outdo their friends and teammates while creating a competitive atmosphere within the training process.

"They don't just help (the staff)," said Floreal. "They help their teammates because the bar is raised so high that anybody that aspires to be a star of the team, well this is the new bar. This is the person you have to take down. It's the biggest motivator."

What might prove to be a larger motivator would be a packed Nutter Fieldhouse this weekend when UK hosts its first indoor event of the season Friday beginning at 5 p.m. It's been Floreal's goal from the onset to build the fan base. The first home meet of the Floreal era is an important one in the continuing process of growing his program.

Floreal sees an improved fan experience as a way to get more fans to attend. More fans equal a better home atmosphere. A better home atmosphere could lead to a home field advantage for the athletes. It could be the extra push his athletes need to take their performances to the next level.

"People have to come because it makes the student athletes feel like, 'Oh my goodness. There are people in the stands. I want to perform for them,' " said Floreal.  "If there's nobody else there, it takes their zip away."

So how does Floreal hope to improve the atmosphere other than an improved team?

They've brought the bleachers closer to the finish line so that fans can "reach out and touch the athletes." They are bringing fans into the infield for a more intimate perspective. They've shortened the length of the meet so that it's no longer an all-day affair.

Floreal is excited, and anxious, to show off the culmination of all the changes they've made as a program to the home crowd.

"I think it's a mixture of excitement and nerves," said Floreal. "You want people to leave with a good impression of what you're trying to display, what you're trying to put out there from a Big Blue Nation track standpoint. I'm a little nervous because I want things to be perfect. It's a new era and we're trying to do things a little different."

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