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August 2013 Archives

Video: Season-opening Cat Walk

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Video: Mark Stoops - 'Born a Blue-Collar Coach'

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Live blog: Volleyball vs. Illinois

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Live blog: Volleyball vs. Florida State

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The Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in team-building exercises this week. (Charlie Healy, UK Athletics) The Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in team-building exercises this week. (UK Athletics)
A day before the first official practice of the 2013-14 season, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team participated in a day of team-building exercises.

Led by Jason Cummins - the director of the UK Athletics Impact Leadership Program - and staff members from the ROTC program, the Wildcats joined together to solve mental and physical challenges and obstacles.

"It was great to get all the team together, with such a large and diverse team," UK head coach Lars Jorgensen said. "The best time of the year is at the beginning, to bring everyone together, we don't often have that opportunity while we're training, so it was a good way to start out our training. We want to thank Jason Cummins and the ROTC staff for helping us out."

Swim-TeamBuilding3.jpg The purpose of the team building activities was to get the team to think and work together. Each station was different, and the lessons learned on each event varied. Thought processes or methods didn't carry over from station to station. The team learned to move together and communicate better on various exercises.
"I think what we got out of the team building exercises was firstly that we learned a lot about ourselves, what our strengths and weaknesses are," senior Maclin Simpson said. "Most importantly though, we learned about each other. We learned how to get to know one another in order to find out our teammates' strengths and weaknesses so that we could utilize them in order to come together.

Swim-TeamBuilding1.jpg "There was a station that involved a circle with a white line around it. There were strategically placed cinder blocks and we had three wooden beams, all different sizes. We had to get everyone across the pit, just using the beams without touching the grass. We had to figure out which beam to use, how to pass it around and how to get across. The most important thing about that was communication, how to communicate effectively with one another. That's incredibly important in a team sport."
Other stations included pulling a teammate on a tarp for a strength and endurance event and two puzzles with different shaped pieces of wood.

The goal was to get the team working and thinking together before they begin the season Sept. 25 at Georgia.  The 2013-14 campaign, which lasts six months, will be a demanding test for the 'Cats. The team-building exercises before the season began hopefully will make that road to March a little easier.

Cally Macumber won the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championship. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Cally Macumber won the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championship. (Michael Rivera, UK Athletics)
It's a journey that began on July 9, 2012 when Edrick Floreal was named the University of Kentucky's track and field head coach. With the first year behind them, the beginning of the cross country season signals the beginning of year two of Floreal's bid to shape UK into a national power.

As Floreal and the UK cross country program begin their second season together, they do so with greater familiarity, but also with plenty of additional pieces.

A cast of 19 new student-athletes joins the program this year, in addition to first-year men's cross country coach Sean Graham. The foundation that returns from last season, which includes Floreal, several additional assistant coaches and 13 returning student-athletes, will be the base as the Wildcats continue to build.

"Pretty simply, this is year two of the little journey we began last year," Floreal said. "We're looking forward to moving forward to cross country, getting our team to do better than last year, which is our goal from year to year, just keep improving from year to year and putting a product out there that's worthy of what the University of Kentucky deserves."

The cross country season acts as the perfect springboard into track and field in the winter and spring for the Wildcats.

In year two, despite the arrival of numerous newcomers, the learning curve won't be as big for the coaching staff and the student-athletes. As Floreal works to mold the team in the way he sees best, his idea becomes clearer.

The goal, simply, is to have people take notice of Kentucky. Competing in one of the nation's toughest conferences, that is no easy task.

"We want to be relevant, which is my goal," Floreal said. "People say competitive, but that can kind of be a fluffy word, with whatever that means. To me, I want to be relevant.

"Relevant is, if we go into a cross country championship at the SEC, if we don't show up, I want to make sure that our presence is felt. Sometimes you don't come and nobody will know if you were there or not. But for me, relevant is that people see us walking in, and they know, 'OK, these guys are here to do business, they're going to give it their best shot.' "

Last season was a step in the right direction. Cally Macumber helped make Kentucky relevant when she won the SEC Cross Country Championship. It was the first individual conference title for any UK woman since 1989 and the second championship in team history.

As a team, the Wildcat women finished fifth, while the men placed sixth in 2012. This year, the expectations are to do better.

"Summer training went really well," said Macumber. "I know the other girls' summer training went really well and we're just excited to be back, ready to train and ready to start the year out fresh."

Macumber finished sixth at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

On the men's team, Graham's hiring as assistant coach and cross country coach on Aug. 19 is the newest piece to the puzzle.

Graham, who spent last year as an assistant coach at American University, was an Olympic Trials finalist in the 5,000 meter in 2004. He has trained with both the Nike Farm team and the Oregon Track Club Elite after competing collegiately for the College of William and Mary.

"We feel that Coach Graham has all the necessary abilities and qualities that we look for in a coach, and he's absolutely in love with the idea of coaching here at UK," Floreal said. "That was very important to me, I wanted somebody that saw this as an opportunity of a lifetime, that just adores the chance to work with our kids and to service them and be a mentor to them."

Graham's attitude and enthusiasm is sure to rub off on the UK runners. While it will be a new philosophy and set of ideas from their coach, the Wildcats should have no problem finding the energy.

When year two begins in Nashville at the Belmont Opener on Aug. 30, it will start another leg of Floreal's journey at Kentucky.

Video: Brown breaks down the Air Raid

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Kentucky fans have a unique relationship with the Air Raid offense. Ever since the sirens at Commonwealth Stadium during Hal Mumme's time as head coach, the pass-happy attack has resonated with the Big Blue Nation.

So when Neal Brown - once a wide receiver at UK during the first Air Raid era - was named offensive coordinator back in December, there was naturally a lot of excitement.

Brown, however, is running a modified version of the offense. Injecting a frenetic pace and an increased emphasis on the running game, he has had great success with the Air Raid in previous stops at Troy and Texas Tech. Kyle Tucker from the Louisville Courier-Journal takes it from there:

There will be differences from the version of this offense Hal Mumme popularized at UK in the late 1990s, when Brown was a wide receiver for the Cats. Brown features more ground game than many other incarnations of the Air Raid. His first year at Texas Tech, when he replaced former Kentucky coordinator and Air Raid wizard Mike Leach, the Red Raiders jumped from 84 to 141.3 rushing yards per game.

"We do know how to run the football," Brown said. "There's a lot of things positive about Coach Mumme, but he wasn't real interested in running the football."

The biggest change, though, from the Air Raid born a decade and a half ago in Lexington and the one Brown brought home: tempo. Texas Tech played at a more furious pace than any team in the country in three seasons under Brown, averaging 79.9 snaps per game. By comparison, Kentucky averaged 65.8 last season.

"Coach Mumme made most of his calls on the line of scrimmage," Brown said. "We're going to try to do it really fast."

For the story, Brown also broke down three staple plays of the offense: Four Verticals, Jailbreak and Stick. Take a look.

Head coach Mark Stoops

At the beginning of his first game week as Kentucky head coach, Mark Stoops said he wasn't sure whether the final days before his team faced off against Western Kentucky University would go by quickly or slowly.

With the countdown to UK's season opener in Nashville at less than 48 hours, Stoops has his answer.

"It just seems like there's never enough time in the day to do everything you need to do, so it still goes relatively fast," Stoops said. "Maybe it will slow down now, but there's just always things to do. We need a lot of work. So we're getting it done."

UK went to work at its final practice of the week on Thursday and once again turned in a productive day.

"It's just cleaning it up, you know, confidence boost," Stoops said. "We do things in series like game-like situations and move the ball offensively and drive it into the red zone and all those different situations, same thing on defense and kicking game. Just covering your bases on a lot of things, so it's a lot of cleanup."

It's been a rare occurrence for Stoops to be unhappy with his team's effort during fall camp and now game-week practices. That's a credit to the Cats.

"These guys, they're eager to win," Stoops said. "They've prepared the right way. I was very encouraged with how focused they've been the last two days."

Following Wednesday's practice, Stoops summoned Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow for a meeting to discuss UK's quarterback plan. Fans will have to wait until the first offensive series on Saturday to learn who will start, but Smith and Whitlow now know.

"They were both fantastic just like we knew they would be," Stoops said. "They've been great through this whole process. They're team guys. Sure, they're competitors, but they want to win. They're all in."

The next decision the coaches will have to make before Saturday is naming captains. Stoops announced Thursday that the staff will name rotating game captains each week, though none have yet been chosen for WKU.

Mark Stoops will coach the first game of his UK tenure on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET vs. Western Kentucky University. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops will coach the first game of his UK tenure on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET vs. Western Kentucky University. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Each of the last three seasons, Kentucky and Western Kentucky University have faced off, breeding familiarity between the two in-state foes.

But as UK and WKU prepare to play a season-opening game - the final one of a four-year agreement between the two schools - few are talking about how well the Wildcats and Hilltoppers know one another. With new staffs and styles of play on both sides, it's actually quite the opposite.

On one sideline will be Mark Stoops, who will take the field for the first time as a head coach. That first experience can be an overwhelming one - particularly for someone like Stoops who has waited so long for the opportunity - but Stoops has too much faith in the work he's done these last nine months to let that get to him.

"Just like I tell the players: There's no need to be nervous or anything like that because of your preparation," Stoops said. "We've worked extremely hard as a staff."

Stoops has thought through all the details of game day, from the way the team will dress in sport coats to coin-toss strategy, but unknowns are inevitable considering his coaching counterpart. Bobby Petrino - returning to coaching after a year off - will coach his first game at WKU on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Nashville's LP Field.

"Both of us are in the same situation, I think," Stoops said. "They've had a little bit more time if they wanted to get creative and change some things up certainly between years. But it will be a great challenge. Very good offensive mind, very good defensive mind (in defensive coordinator Nick Holt) over there at Western. We'll have a lot to prepare for."

In getting ready for the WKU offense, Stoops and UK's defensive coaches have exhausted every possible source of information. They've watched tape of Petrino's offenses at previous stops, including Arkansas, and plenty of film of the Hilltoppers' personnel.

Jumping off the page in the latter half of that preparation is running back Antonio Andrews. The 6-foot senior racked up an NCAA-best 3,161 all-purpose yards in 2012. He rushed for more than 1,700 yards and caught 37 passes for 432 yards and his role in the passing game could expand in Petrino's offense.

"I'm sure they'll lean heavily on the running back," Stoops said. "He's a fantastic player, Antonio Andrews, and just a great player. So he's somebody that we got to keep an eye on."

As detailed and varied as UK has been in its preparation for WKU, neither the coaching staff nor the players are directing their focus too far outside themselves.

"I have a mix-match of things I look at to determine what we're going to get," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "But ultimately I'm just worried about us. My concentration has been on the Kentucky defense and how we play and how sound we are fundamentally."

The same goes for the UK offense. The Cats began practices specifically tailored to prepare for WKU last week and Neal Brown has settled on a more stripped-down attack for Saturday.

"I guess we've been repping Western Kentucky since last Thursday, Wednesday or Thursday. So we've got a lot of reps in the things we're going to do," Brown said. "We're going to be relatively simple, so they've been sharp, especially (Tuesday and Wednesday of this week)."

However, it's not as if UK will be a breeze to prepare for on offense. Stoops and Brown haven't yet announced a starter at quarterback, but the plan is for both Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow to play.

"I think they both played very well throughout the summer camp and both deserve the opportunity to play," Stoops said. "So I hope it can be to our benefit."

The combination of a more traditional pocket passer in Smith and a dual-threat quarterback in Whitlow could give UK's offense an added dimension come game day, but it's already helped UK's defense. WKU has named Brandon Doughty as its quarterback starter, but athletic redshirt freshman Damarcus Smith could see time as well.

"It'll help us tremendously because have seen an athletic quarterback on practice with Jalen and then we'll be prepared if they decide to go that direction," Eliot said.

That's just one of many areas in which UK can only guess what WKU will do, and the same goes for the Cats themselves in many ways.

"I think we're a team that's still growing, a team that's still learning and trying to put it all together," Stoops said. "Again, I've said it all along. I've been pleased with their attitude and their work ethic and the way they're going about their business. The character of the team to see how much of a chip on our shoulder we have and how we go out there and play and how confidently we play is yet to be seen."

Confidence is still very much a work in progress for Stoops' first team, but not for Stoops himself. He believes in his plan, and more importantly, he believes in his team.

"We can be a very good team, and we can shock a lot of people," Stoops said. "We've just got to do what we can do and do it to the best of our ability, and that's what I want to see out of them."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Fall classes began on the University of Kentucky campus Wednesday. 

The start of the academic semester may have added a new dynamic to the Wildcat football team's preparations for Saturday's season-opener, but once the team stepped onto the Tim Couch Practice Fields for Wednesday's practice their focus appeared to be squarely on WKU.

The Wildcats could focus almost exclusively on football the previous 24 days since reporting for fall camp. Balancing a fulltime students' schedule with the responsibilities that go along with playing on a Southeastern Conference football team will now come into play.

At least through one day, the Wildcats are answering the challenge. 

Considering the start of classes, that it was a hot humid day in Lexington, the fact that the Wildcats have been in "game week" preparations since last Thursday and Eric Korem's High Performance player tracking, Mark Stoops worked his team out in just helmets, shoulder pads and shorts on Wednesday.

"It was just good work today," the UK head coach said. "We just lightened up a little bit and went in just uppers and had about an hour and a half workout and again just worked a lot of situations and just getting ready to go."

Midway through Kentucky's first game week preparations under Stoops, UK's top two quarterbacks have been among the most impressive Wildcats by the coaching staff's accounts.

"They've practiced really sharp," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. "It's kind of the way you want it to happen. When you kind of get centered in on what you're going to do, they're getting a lot of reps, especially the first game.

"I guess we've been repping Western Kentucky since last Wednesday or Thursday. So we've got a lot of reps in the things we're going to do. We're going to be relatively simple, so they've been sharp, especially the last two days."

Much of the external focus around UK's 2013 offense has centered on quarterbacks, but Brown is quick to point out the running game's importance within the team. UK's offensive coordinator wants his Air Raid attack to pose just as much of a threat to opposing defenses from the ground.

Brown's track record backs up his desire to balance his pass-happy scheme with an efficient rushing attack. Texas Tech rushed for 135.7 yards per game and scored 52 rushing touchdowns during the past three seasons with the current UK coordinator at the offensive helm. 

Texas Tech finished last season second nationally in passing offense, while TTU's primary backs averaged 5 yards per carry to complement the lethal pass offense.

"We need to run the ball," Brown said. "That's going to be the case for most of the year. Those guys that are out there, whoever we put at wideout, we're going to have trust in them and have confidence in them that they can make plays. We're not going to alter from a play standpoint what we did at Texas Tech. We gave those guys an opportunity to make plays at Tech and we're going to do the same here and have full trust in those guys."

After some speculation over the summer, Stoops also confirmed that the Wildcats will take on a new look when entering stadiums before games this fall. 

"We're wearing a sport coat and khaki pants and a button-down shirt," Stoops said. "Tie's optional, but it's a nice, clean-looking shirt, button down and all that. So we should look good."

With the questions about Kentucky's pregame sartorial choices answered, attention may turn to the uniform UK chooses to wear at LP Field. That question, however, may not be answered until Saturday evening.

Floreal is quickly becoming a household name around UK Athletics.

Edrick Floreal is entering his second year at the helm of UK track and field and cross country, fresh off a season during which the Wildcats opened a new outdoor facility and made significant strides as a program. Now, his son will be joining another Wildcat team.

E.J. Floreal will play on John Calipari's 2013-14 team. The high-school track star accepted a walk-on spot with the men's basketball team and on Wednesday got the treatment.

The story talks a lot about the Floreal family's athletic background, but the following excerpt spells out how he ended up at UK and why.

Of course, wanting to go to UK and actually playing there were two different concepts.

Floreal had options to play other places. He turned down Santa Clara and Cal Poly. Western Kentucky showed interest. Even Tennessee and Arkansas took hard looks at Floreal, and both were potential spots had Floreal not had his sights set on UK. When Floreal weighed all his possibilities, the place that would push him the hardest and force him to improve is what appealed most to him.

"I wanted to be the best I could be," Floreal said. "I wanted to play with the best, practice with the best, work out with the best. This has the best trainers, best facilities, strength coaches, so this is the best place for me. I also wanted to get some experience with a team that's winning, not a team that's rebuilding - a team that's going to go deep into the tournament."

Still, Floreal had to find a way on to the team.

Just because his dad was the track coach at Kentucky and had become friends with John Calipari didn't mean he had a spot on the team, nor did his dad's prior relationship with assistant coach Kenny Payne. Those factors certainly didn't hurt, but Floreal couldn't just walk on without being able to hold his own.

It was after the Kentucky state tournament, after Floreal had averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and roughly five blocks as a senior in his first and only season at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, that the UK coaching staff told them there was a chance he could walk on.

"They pretty much just said that we have to wait and see how the rest of our recruits fill out," Floreal said. "When it was all said and done, there was a spot. I went back and talked to them and they said, 'Do you understand what you're getting into? Do you understand how hard this is going to be? Do you understand this and that?' I was like, 'Yes, I understand, this is what I want to do. I just want to get better and there's no place to get better than Kentucky."

Check out the full story on UK's newest walk-on right here.

UK getting down to details as opener approaches

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Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

It's now a matter of days before Kentucky kicks off the 2013 season against Western Kentucky University.

With the opener looming on Saturday, the days of fall camp installation are long gone. Moving to more detailed preparation for WKU, UK got in a good practice on Tuesday focusing on various situations.

"A lot of third down, you know, we worked a lot of third and medium yesterday, third and long today," head coach Mark Stoops said. "We worked two-minute situations at the end, good against good. And then just all of the normal situations, normal down and distances, things like that. We tied up against each other quite a bit on Tuesday and Wednesday."

In his first season, Stoops has targeted third-down efficiency as an area for immediate improvement. On the heels of a season during which UK ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in third-down defense, Stoops is looking to continue his habit of quick defensive turnarounds by bolstering that facet of the Kentucky defense.

"I think you've got to spend a good amount of time on it and you've got to be, again, you've got to be multiple," Stoops said. "You've got to change things up. You've got to pressure. You've got to play coverage. You've got to mix your coverages up, mix your pressures up and you've got to be able to execute them."

Therein lies the reason UK spent the bulk of Monday and Tuesday working in third-down situations. Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot know what it takes to get off the field - Florida State ranked third nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 27.3 percent of attempts in 2012 - but how well they impart those principles to players will determine UK's success in 2013.

"As coaches, we could stay in here all night and draw up so many different things -- a lot of good things -- but then what can your players execute and that's what it comes down to: great execution," Stoops said.

UK had to execute on Tuesday in the same kind of weather it will face in Nashville, as temperatures reached the 90s after an unseasonably cool camp. Though the heat may be relatively new to this team, Stoops doesn't have any doubts about how the Wildcats will hold up. That's why they worked so hard over the summer.

"We can see data, see what we've done the past three years at Florida State, see where we're at," Stoops said. "Obviously, any time it's super-hot and humid, you always need depth, especially with the amount of plays that will probably be played in this game. You've gotta have depth. You've gotta be in great shape as well."

With his team in such good shape, Stoops is comfortable easing up on the throttle the rest of the week. After a physical practice Tuesday, UK will now begin to curtail the physicality of its work the rest of the week, heeding the counsel of High Performance Coach Erik Korem.

"I'm going to start cutting back now," Stoops said. "We've been going at it pretty good and I got some reports from Coach Korem as I was walking off the field. Yeah, we'll obviously still have a pretty good practice tomorrow and in pads and all that, but we'll start tapering it."

Men's soccer looks to build on successful 2012 campaign

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Men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren, Jack Van Arsdale and Tyler Riggs spoke to the media during fall sports media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren, Jack Van Arsdale and Tyler Riggs spoke to the media during fall sports media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Entering his second year at the helm of the University of Kentucky men's soccer program, head coach Johan Cedergren will look to lead his squad to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in men's soccer since UK went to three-straight tournaments from 1999-2001.

If you ask Cedergren, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances should be expected at Kentucky, not just once every so often.

"It's not good enough to just make the tournament every now and then," explained Cedregren. "We're expecting great things from all programs and for us it's either time to put up or shut up, so we want to do it again this year." 

Kentucky reached the tournament for just the fifth time in school history last season and first time since 2003. 

With plans to get back to the NCAAs, this year's team will call upon just four seniors to lead the group. Defenders Brad Doliner and Steven Perinovic, goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale and forward Tyler Riggs will carry a lot of responsibility for a team that features 21 underclassmen (13 true freshmen). To put that in perspective, there are 26 total players on the roster.

Cedergren has called upon his group of four seniors to lead a young, talented team, a task that doesn't always come naturally to student-athletes.

"What you find a lot is that you have maybe one or two that are just born leaders on your squad and they only come along every four to six years," Cedergren said. "Then you have that junior class that has to transform into a senior class and sometimes that can take a little work, but you have to be proactive as a staff and find ways to get them more involved. Tyler (Riggs) isn't much of a talker, so we have to get him to be a little more vocal. Jack (Van Arsdale), that comes a little more natural to him. He doesn't mind talking. You give them different roles so that the whole group becomes one big leader."

Doliner, Perinovic, Riggs and Van Arsdale return for their final season in Lexington looking to leave a lasting impression on the program. Riggs, a three-time All-Conference USA honoree, enters the season fourth in school history with 23 goals scored and sixth in points with 55. In each of his first three seasons, Riggs has led the team in scoring. He is the first UK player to do so since 2002-04. 

A 2013 Preseason All-Conference USA selection, Perinovic comes into the season following a breakout 2012 campaign in which he earned numerous accolades (All-Conference USA First Team, NSCAA All-Midwest Region Second Team and All-Conference USA Tournament Team). The athletic center back emerged in Cedergren's style of play and he started all 21 games.

Van Arsdale, a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth University, was named second team All-Conference USA last season. The Richmond, Va., native collected 58 saves, while allowing just 21 goals in 18 starts. 

Having only played in Cedergren's system for a year, the seniors have already noticed a dramatic change for the better.

"I think it's been a huge shift in terms of the culture," Van Arsdale said. "There is an excitement whereas in the past it was kind of a grind. It's not so much of a job anymore, it's a privilege now and there is an excitement about mimicking the success we had last year and going forward, but at the same time it's a completely different transition in terms of the culture and the attitude around the locker room and the field."

Riggs echoed his teammate's statement.

"I believe it's more of a professional atmosphere," said Riggs a Louisville, Ky., native. "Everything that we do is for a purpose, whether it is eating with the team or practicing or just going through a simple walkthrough. Coaches set the new standard high and where we were last year we want to go further and further. I would say the overall atmosphere is just at a higher level."

In order to return to the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky will have to face a challenging schedule that features seven teams that made the tournament last season. With the addition of four new teams to the Conference USA, the competition is expected to be that much greater. 

"With all the realignment, we've got New Mexico, Old Dominion, Charlotte and FAU coming in, which I would say puts us in the top two or three in the country, in terms of conferences," Cedergren said. "Seven teams out of the 10 in our conference made the NCAA Tournament last year, so it will be a brutal conference schedule, but that's what we want. We want to play against the best." 

Aside from the grueling conference portion of the schedule, a rematch with Xavier looms large on Sept. 13 in Cincinnati. The Musketeers eliminated UK from the tournament last season, 1-0, to end the Wildcats' season.

"Xavier has been kind enough to offer a rematch," said Cedergren, who led UK to a 10-9-2 record in his first season. "They knocked us out of the tournament last year, so we're going to go up and play them there (Cincinnati), which I'm really excited about. I really respect Coach (Andy) Fleming and what they do up there. I think they've gone three years in a row to the NCAA Tournament, so we want to be just like them and we get a chance to play them again."

Cedergren's young team will face its first test in the season opener on Friday, Aug. 30, versus Wright State, but he likes the team he has and looks forward to what the season brings.

"We're very excited and we feel like we're in a good spot," Cedergren said. "We're very, very young, but we're also hungry, we're driven and we have a lot of talent, so it's going to be interesting to see what we can do with that."

Video: Neal Brown mic'd up at second scrimmage

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Video: Behind the scenes at UK Hoops photo day

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UK released its first official depth chart of the fall on Monday and Max Godby was listed as the starter at center. For a player who came to Kentucky a walk-on, that's a pretty substantial piece of good news.

For Godby, however, it's not even the best news he's gotten in the last five days.

At the end of UK's practice last Thursday, Mark Stoops gathered his team around for a set of announcements. Godby listened intently as the first-year coach gave the kind of routine updates you would expect, but could hardly believe his ears when Stoops snuck in the announcement that Godby would be awarded a scholarship.  

"It kind of just threw me off," Godby said. "I thought he was talking to someone else so I was looking around seeing if maybe he meant someone behind me."

Very quickly, Godby realized Stoops was talking to him and him alone. Then, any doubt was removed by the way his teammates reacted.

"(Offensive tackle Jordan) Swindle about shook me till I had a seizure," Godby said. "Swindle was sitting right next to me and he almost tackled me. I kind of wanted to keep my head down because the news kind of rocked me a little bit. Swindle was making sure to pull my neck back to make sure everyone could see me."

Godby - a Louisville, Ky. native - had been one of the stories of fall camp even before the news, taking advantage of an opportunity created by an injury to Zach Myers and demanding playing time with strong performances and a steady presence. Godby has worked tirelessly in practice and the weight room since he arrived in 2010, and the way his teammates responded on his big day says everything about him.

"Constantly throughout the whole day I had guys congratulate me about five different times throughout the day," Godby said. "I absolutely love these guys. From the first time I stepped on campus to right now to 40-50 years down the road I absolutely love these guys."

But as much as he wanted to share the moment with his teammates, Godby needed a moment alone to process it all.

"I just had to sit down and say a prayer, but luckily I was able to get to the offensive line room," Godby said. "Somewhere just peace and quiet where I could process what had just happened. It was awesome. I thank Coach Stoops, the coaching staff and I thank God for it."

The next people on his list to thank were his parents Jeff and Giovanna. He called his father first.

"He was a guy who wanted to play Major League Baseball one day," Godby said "My dad was a really good shortstop. He was All-State, but with the scholarship situation back then where they weren't able to give out baseball scholarships he didn't get to fulfill his dream so my dad wanted to make sure I could fulfill mine."

That shared father-son dream may be fulfilled, but Godby isn't resting on his laurels. He's worked too hard for this opportunity to not capitalize on it.

"(Receiving a scholarship) was a milestone, but you still have work to do," Godby said.

UK will play the first game of the Mark Stoops era on Saturday vs. Western Kentucky University. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) UK will play the first game of the Mark Stoops era on Saturday vs. Western Kentucky University. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
This offseason has been a long one for Kentucky football. From a coaching change to spring practice to summer conditioning to fall camp, it likely seemed at some points as if UK's trip to Nashville for its season opener would never come.

But in just five days, it will be finally be here. For Bud Dupree, even that's not soon enough.

"I wish we could play tomorrow," the junior defensive end said. "We've been going through a lot. We went through a lot last season and doing a lot of things this offseason, so it feels like we haven't played a game in forever."

Mark Stoops understands the feeling.

Ever since the end of his playing days - and probably even before - Stoops has been working toward an opportunity be a head coach. When he steps on the field for UK's game on Saturday against Western Kentucky University, even the process-oriented Stoops admits he'll have to take a moment to soak it all in.

"I think maybe briefly or at the beginning," Stoops said. "Certainly, I mean, I'm human, and it will be exciting for me."

He won't let his thoughts linger for long though.

"But then it's getting right back at the task at hand and getting your team ready to win," Stoops said.

Stoops' approach to his own feelings about coaching his first game mirrors the way he is handling his team. He's aware of the emotional side of things and believes the Cats will be raring to go, but his first priority is making sure they are mentally and physically ready to play.

"The energy is not going to win you the game," Stoops said. "The preparation, the team that's prepared and the team that's the best team is going to win, who makes the fewest mistakes and doesn't turn the ball over and things like that."

For that reason, UK got off to an early start in its WKU-specific work. The Cats have never been through game week with this new staff, so Stoops called for UK to practice on Friday and Saturday as if it were Tuesday and Wednesday during a game week.

"Coach did a great job getting us ahead of schedule with how he wants practice done and practicing in the afternoon," running back Raymond Sanders said. "We just want to prepare, execute and we think that we should be successful if we do that."

Sanders - expected to shoulder a heavy offensive load during his senior season - has no shortage of confidence in himself and his team, but not all of his teammates are there just yet. Stoops' solution to that is one you would expect.

"So I think with confidence, you've got to prepare," Stoops said. "If you prepare in the right way and go about your business the right way, I think they'll gain more and more confidence."

No matter how much work the Cats do leading up to Saturday, there's no knowing what will happen until kickoff.

"I think we're a team that's still growing, a team that's still learning and trying to put it all together," Stoops said. "Again, I've said it all along. I've been pleased with their attitude and their work ethic and the way they're going about their business. The character of the team to see how much of a chip on our shoulder we have and how we go out there and play and how confidently we play is yet to be seen."

What is certain, however, is the importance of the opener. Stoops isn't hiding from what a good performance could do to carry forward the momentum generated this offseason.

"I think it's very important," Stoops said. "There's a lot of excitement around our program and around the state, and nationally really. It's time for us to go out and prove it and see what we're all about. I'm excited, and I think our team will be as well."

That should provide plenty of motivation for UK to be focused and enthusiastic, both in its pregame work and come Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

"It could set the tone for the whole season if we perform well, if we execute well," offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell said. "It'll give us a lot more confidence heading into the rest of the season and give the fan base confidence in us."

Running back Raymond Sanders and offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell

Linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive end Bud Dupree

Video: Stoops first weekly press conference

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UK football week one depth chart

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Tight end
Jordan Aumiller
Anthony Kendrick

Left tackle

Darrian Miller
Jon Toth

Left guard
Teven Eatmon-Nared or Zach West

Max Godby
Zach Myers

Right guard
Kevin Mitchell
Jack Gruenschlaeger

Right tackle
Jordan Swindle
Shaquille Love

Wide receiver
Demarco Robinson
Alexander Montgomery
Jeff Badet

Wide receiver
Daryl Collins or Ryan Timmons

Wide receiver
Javess Blue
A.J. Legree

Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow

D.J. Warren
Cody Jones

Running back
Raymond Sanders
Jonathan George


Defensive end

Alvin Dupree
Farrington Huguenin or Jason Hatcher

Defensive tackle

Donte Rumph
Tristian Johnson

Defensive tackle
Mister Cobble
Mike Douglas

Defensive end
Za'Darius Smith
TraVaughn Paschal

Strong-side linebacker
Kory Brown
Blake McClain

Middle linebacker
Avery Williamson
Miles Simpson

Weak-side linebacker
Khalid Henderson
Josh Forrest


Cody Quinn
Nate Willis

Ashely Lowery
Glenn Faulkner

Eric Dixon
Daron Blaylock

Fred Tiller
Jaleel Hytchye

Special teams

Kelly Mason
Kyle Budde

Jared Leet
Landon Foster

Joe Mansour
Austin MacGinnis

Landon Foster
Joe Mansour

Kickoff returner
Raymond Sanders
Demarco Robinson
Dyshawn Mobley
Daryl Collins

Punt returner

Demarco Robinson
Daryl Collins
Javess Blue

Video: Women's soccer 2013 intro

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Cats getting ahead in preparations for WKU

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Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

After starting game week a couple days early on Thursday, Kentucky continued to prepare for its season opener vs. Western Kentucky University on Saturday.

UK went through the type of practice the Wildcats will typically hold on Wednesdays before games. Mark Stoops is looking to position his team for light work late next week before traveling to Nashville.

"It just gets us ahead a little bit," UK's head coach said. "The only thing it'll affect, it'll help us possibly taper a little bit earlier next week. I just wanted to get ahead of the chains this week for our first game and just be prepared and just put a little extra time."

Stoops was pleased with UK's work overall, while Neal Brown was particularly encouraged by the offense's day. The team is still getting a feel for how things will work under a new coaching staff as the season begins, but Brown sees the adjustment happening quickly.

"I thought today was much better than yesterday, and yesterday was not bad," Brown said. "But we did a Wednesday practice today and I think an in-season practice, our kids had a little better feel for it today. They knew what to expect and executed much better and knew what we expected of them."

Reporters were permitted to watch approximately 50 minutes of the Saturday practice, and they saw quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow split time during a walkthrough. Stoops and Brown expect them to do the same next Saturday.

"I don't see the reason to (name a starter), really," Stoops said. "I think both guys are working extremely hard, and there's probably no reason for me to name a starter."

Though UK's starter at quarterback remains a mystery, Stoops shed some light on how he and his offensive coordinator will work together on game day.

"He'll call all the plays, but obviously I'll make all the decisions, whether it's four-down territory or when to take a shot and have some input and things like that," Stoops said. "But he'll call the plays. But I'll just be there to manage it, and like I said make the decisions on four down or punting and going for it and just, you know, here or there."

Brown will call plays from the sideline, relying on wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord to be his eyes in the press box. Offensive coordinators have different philosophies on game-day positioning, but Brown has good reason why he wants to be as close to the action as possible.

"I think you've got a little bit better feel when to use tempo, when to not," Brown said. "I like seeing the quarterback when they come off. If they did something well or they did something poorly, I like to be able to immediately talk to them and discuss it."

UK will take a day off from practicing on Sunday before returning to the field the following day. On Monday, Stoops said he expects his team to be "pretty close to 100 percent" on the injury front, other than the bumps and bruises to be expected at the end of a grueling fall camp.

Video: Godby on being awarded scholarship

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Video: UK football on cutting edge with new iPads

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Defensive end Za'Darius Smith returned to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain early in fall camp. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Defensive end Za'Darius Smith returned to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain early in fall camp. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Za'Darius Smith is a pretty imposing presence, but his 6-foot-6, 254-pound frame has been relegated to the sideline for most of fall camp.

The defensive end sustained a high-ankle sprain two weeks ago and the UK staff has been cautious with the first-year junior-college transfer. The process hasn't always been fun, but Smith knows he has been trapped in treatment for his own good.

"They did what they had to do," Smith said. "I got a little frustrated at first just because they said, 'You're not going today.' That's the first thing they told me, 'You're not going today.' And I was like, 'What?' So I kept my calm and I kept my cool just to know that I gotta get better."

But on Friday, Smith made his long-awaited return to practice. Continuing to take it slow, Smith worked with the first team on a limited basis as UK began preparations for its season opener against Western Kentucky University.

"He looked good," head coach Mark Stoops said. "He's been close. He did have a high-ankle sprain, and those, you all know, are very touchy. Even when you're feeling good, you get in there and start pushing on people and it's a little bit hairy. So we feel like he's made good progress and feels pretty good right now."

In spite of the time missed, neither he nor his coaches seem to be worried about Smith falling behind. He played under defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh last season, so he is familiar with the techniques he teaches. Besides, it's not as if Smith was sitting on his hands while he was away.

"I've been on the film and on the field watching them guys do everything, so I'm good," Smith said.

Listening to Smith speak, it makes sense that defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot describes him as a "good technician." Smith's four-star ranking according to most recruiting services was built largely on his physical gifts, but he uses terms like "six technique" and "A gap" freely. Having coached him at both East Mississippi Community College and during spring practice, Brumbaugh knows Smith to be an eager learner.

"He wants to be good," Brumbaugh said. "He listens. He doesn't talk back. And when you try to tell him something, he says, 'OK Coach, I understand,' and then he tries to go and fix it. When you have that with a guy, you have a special player."

Smith, however, is yet to realize his potential. Brumbaugh, having played in the trenches as a defensive tackle at Auburn, knows there's no substitute for in-game experience in the Southeastern Conference.

"This is a different league," Brumbaugh said. "Across the country, it's a different league. I played in it and I know it's a different league. The guys are physical and athletic and what you have to do is get in there and see where you are and compare your game."

Smith is surely eager to just that having been deprived from practicing for two weeks. Briefly, Smith's status for the opener seemed in doubt, but he's not thinking about that.

"That wasn't up to me," Smith said. "That was up to the coaches and how they wanted to play that out. But now I know that I'm back and we got eight more days until the game, man, I'm just preparing for it."

Cats have productive first day of WKU prep

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Head coach Mark Stoops

Don't tell the Kentucky football team it isn't game week yet.

UK began preparations for Western Kentucky University in earnest on Friday, shifting from camp to in-season mode with its season opener eight days away.

"We treated today like a Tuesday practice for Western Kentucky, and very pleased," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "I thought it was a very good day. It was the first time we went through this format, where we go scouts and then we go against each other for part of the period. So overall, very pleased. Thought it was very good work."

During the fall, Stoops and his coaches have been doing work in the background to prepare for WKU, but Friday was the first time they brought it to the practice field. The staff has been balancing the evaluation of the Hilltoppers' personnel with scouting Bobby Petrino's teams at his previous stops, though Stoops has never coached against his WKU counterpart.

"It's hard to judge scheme-wise," Stoops said. "We can't look at that. Really you're just looking at personnel and just different people. The first thing you look at is (running back Antonio) Andrews. You look at No. 5 and you just see an absolutely fantastic football player. He's a very good player, does everything for them, and he deserves all the accolades he's been getting."

The defense that will try to limit Andrews next Saturday got a boost on Friday with the return of junior-college end Za'Darius Smith. Smith has missed the majority of camp with a high-ankle sprain, but practiced for the first time in more than two weeks. Watch video of Smith talking about coming back to practice here and look out for a story on him later on Friday.

Also getting good news on Friday was Max Godby. The junior has played his way to the top of UK's depth chart at center and has been awarded a scholarship after walking on before the 2010 season.

"He looked emotional and, you know, you feel good about that," Stoops said. "He's worked awfully hard, and he deserves it. We're excited to give him one."

Even outside of the Smith and Godby news, Stoops had a lot to get to in his question-and-answer session with reporters. Here are a few leftover roster and depth chart notes:

  • Stoops gave some insight on UK's special teams personnel on Friday, saying senior placekicker Joe Mansour is the leader in the clubhouse, though a starter won't be named for another few days. Stoops cited his clutch kicking in fall camp as a major reason why. "When we've done two-minute drill in the stadium in scrimmage-like situations, he's hit two 50-plus(-yard field goals) to win the game, to win the scrimmage, to win that situation; let's put it that way," Stoops said.
  • Demarco Robinson will be UK's primary punt returner, Stoops said, due in large part to his consistency in taking care of the ball. Though steadiness may be why Robinson beat out his younger competition, Stoops is looking for playmaking in the return game as well. "I hope overall the special teams - we've worked extremely hard," Stoops said. "Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto has done a great job. We've put an awful lot of time into it, so hopefully we'll see some results."
  • Stoops learned during practice that defensive tackle Patrick Graffree tweeted Friday morning that he will transfer to Eastern Kentucky. He had only good things to say about the redshirt sophomore. "We wish Patrick the best," Stoops said. "You can't ask for a better person. I've really learned to appreciate Patrick and all the work he's done for us, and I wish him nothing but the best."
  • UK will also be without wide receiver Rashad Cunningham on the field this fall. Stoops announced the sophomore will not play in games but will continue to practice with the team.

Video: Football summer workout highlights

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Video: Women's soccer season pump up 2013

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UK Women's Soccer captains Arin Gilliland, Kayla King and Ashley VanLandingham. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK women's soccer captains Arin Gilliland, Kayla King and Ashley VanLandingham. (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Coming off what was by all accounts the best season in the 21-year history of Kentucky women's soccer in 2012, junior captain Arin Gilliland doesn't mince words when it comes to looking forward.

"Every year you step out on the field at a university you want to be better than the year before," Gilliland said. "When we bring the freshmen and the newcomers in we set a standard for them. The standard this year is to get further than we were last year."

The Wildcats reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 for the first time in school history on a dramatic extra-time golden goal at home. As important and emotional as that breakthrough was, matching that success won't be enough in 2013.

Such is the way head coach Jon Lipsitz operates. 

"We are continuing to try to move the group forward," the fifth-year coach said. "We're continuing to challenge them, as we always do as a part of our culture, to get better every day, which gives us a chance to every year do better than the year before. That's part of how we've been building this program: day by day."

Fight from day one

The 2013 Wildcats will waste no time measuring themselves against the caliber of squad they're likely to face come NCAA Tournament time. UK travels to play a team ranked as high as No. 10 nationally in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Friday for the season opener.

"We gave them a huge challenge at the beginning of this year," Lipsitz said. "We're going to play Wake Forest, who is a top-15 team. They are going to be (ranked) a lot higher than that at the end of the year. I know their roster very well, I know (Wake Forest head coach) Tony (da Luz) well, so I wanted to start there right away and challenge us."

The UK players have proven themselves willing to embrace any obstacle, even when that challenge entails long road trips to face the best. The Wildcats chose the term "fight" as their official team slogan for the 2013 season. Given the opportunity to face elite competition, the Wildcats are more than eager to step inside the lines and put their mantra into practice, wherever it may be.

"This first game against Wake Forest is going to (help) decide our season," Gilliland said. "It's really going to give us the push we need to see where we stand when we get to the SEC (portion of the season)."

Indeed Kentucky's unprecedented expectations aren't just coming from within the team. The league's coaches picked UK to finish second in the SEC Eastern Division this season, the team's highest predicted finish since Lipsitz took charge of the program five years ago.

The Wildcats aren't paying attention to voices outside the team going into the season though. Instead, they're looking forward to testing the work they've put in this offseason right off the bat.

"If we are going to achieve in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, we've got to find out from the beginning what our strengths and weaknesses are," Lipsitz said. "This is the way we do that. I believe the players come here to want to play a great schedule, and so what a great way to start the season,"

Squad takes shape

At first glance, the 2013 UK defense might look to be a glaring weakness. Two starters from a season ago graduated and both were center backs. Contrary to initial analysis, however, Lipsitz considers his defense among the team's strongest units.

Lipsitz's confidence is inspired largely by the fact that his two active captains - senior goalie Kayla King and central defender Gilliland - will ply their trade at the heart of the defense. 

Instead the UK coach's biggest concern heading into 2013 is where the goals will come from.

"Even though we lost those two starters it's a very new identity this year," Lipsitz said. "We're still working on that. We have to challenge them to find out where we are. I know that we're going to be very tough at the back with Kayla in the net and Arin at center back. 

"I think we're going to be extremely strong there. What we're finding out in training is how we're going to score goals."

Despite Lipsitz's concern, UK does return plenty of attacking firepower.

Including Gilliland - who played forward for much of the 2012 season, but will start 2013 as a defender - UK's entire 2012 front line returns in 2013. Gilliland, Kelli Hubly and Caitlin Landis contributed a combined 17 goals and 16 assists in 2012. 

Still Lipsitz will be the first to tell you a soccer coach is always looking for more goals. He will have plenty of options when he looks for more players to chip in when it comes to the goal count. Seven of the nine the starters returning to the lineup are underclassmen.

Leading the way ... from the back line

Lipsitz has established a culture of constantly challenging his players, but he's not the only one in the program doing so. He relies on his team's veterans to hammer home his message throughout the team, especially with so many underclassmen on a young squad.

In 2013 those responsibilities will fall to seniors King and Ashley VanLandingham and junior Gilliland. Lipsitz' described the process of selecting his standard-bearers as "a no-brainer."

Each of the three will take on different responsibilities, which - at least in Lipsitz's opinion - should work out because all captains have different leadership styles.

King has a unique vantage point of everything occurring across the pitch in front of her, and like many goal keepers, she uses that to her advantage as an on-field leader. 

"We try to keep (the young players) accountable," King said. "Jon has stressed details, as he always does. I know if they don't listen to those details it's also my job to tell them to step it up."

But King also serves as the team's inspirational leader both vocally and by example. Wildcat players and fans alike can briefly look at King's college career path and take encouragement.

The senior goalie started at UK as a walk-on and by her head coach's accounts, not a very good one at that. Following two years of not seeing much game action, she decided to change her ways. 

King started that change by focusing on her fitness.

She invested in the staff's workout and diet regimen and, perhaps more importantly, committed to what her coaches were telling her to do while in the goal. The changes paid off in 2012 as she started 16 of 18 matches and emerged as one of the top goalkeepers in the SEC.

As important as her vocal leadership will be in 2013, UK's players will also have King's overall path within the program as a source of inspiration.

While the Wildcats may look at King's path as an unlikely route to success with Gilliland they can follow a player who performed throughout her career at the lofty levels expected of her.

And she sets quite the standard. 

Considered one of the nation's top players entering the season, Gilliland has carried the flag for UK at some of the highest levels of the game. The All American's experience includes having been called up to the United States U20 and U23 National Teams as well as having trained this past summer with world-class players like Alex Morgan at the Portland Thorns.

"Arin Gilliland is only a junior, and it's rare for us to have junior captains because a lot of loneliness goes along with being a captain," Lipsitz said. "You are isolated when you're a captain. You have to hold people to standards, but Arin is our standards-bearer. She is the example for achievement. 

"She's also our fiery leader. She's the one who on game day will get into you if it's not happening. Arin has learned to have more of a gentle style at times, but I don't want her to change. She is who she is, and if you're not working as hard as she is, you're going to know about it."

Gilliland will be able to rely on her vast top-level experience as she steps into a heightened leadership role. 

Kentucky will also look to VanLandingham, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury, as a captain.

"She has this unique ability to lead by pushing and by cheerleading," Lipsitz said. "There's a gentle balance between that because people need someone being their cheerleader to support them no matter what. Typically people are either one or the other, but she has this unique way of giving you a kick in the butt while she pats you on the back."

By her coach's estimation the senior defender - in spite of a hard-luck injury situation - will still be able to bridge the gap between King and Gilliland's leadership styles. It will just be something she does from the sidelines this season.

Training to face the challenge

The Wildcats have made no bones about the high expectations they set for themselves for 2013. UK is facing a long and tough stretch of hurdles, beginning the first weekend of the season, so they're being smart about how they prepare.

In fact, they're taking a scientific approach.

So-called "High Performance" training, which focuses on sports science to devise the right intensity to impart in workout regimens, has become a major topic of conversation across Lexington in recent months. 

The new UK football coaching staff's High Performance program is making in waves across college football, but Lipsitz and his staff have relied on similar principals of player development for the past four seasons.

Wildcat players rarely go through their paces without being tracked by heart-rate monitors, GPS units and overhead camera systems. The cutting-edge technologies give the staff tons of data, which helps them manage the team based more on facts than outward appearances or gut feelings. 

"Our strength and conditioning staff is amazing here," Lipsitz said. "The involvement they let me have creates a very special relationship. I trust them, and they listen to me. It's their job to implement it. 

"We like to individualize everything here for players' development, it really clicked with us and it's made a big difference."

King may be the prime example of that difference in action. 

When she began to work on improving her fitness, maintaining key factors for effective goalkeeping was paramount. But holding on to the skills needed to be a good goalie while working to get in better shape is easier said than done. 

Conventional wisdom dictates a goalie should avoid endurance activities. Such exercises are often detrimental to the short burst-style workouts designed to develop the explosiveness expected of quality net-minder. 

That has not been the case with King's offseason training regimen. Instead the UK senior has thrown in multi-mile runs every week to build a base fitness level. Indeed the data shows that the right endurance work does not harm athletic explosiveness as mainstream thinking may suggest.

Such outside-the-box thinking has become a hallmark of the UK women's soccer strength and conditioning program.

"I've done a huge amount of research and what I don't want is our players going on these hard long runs because it absolutely kills their fast twitch muscle fibers," Lipsitz said. "We want someone like Kayla training either at about 60 percent heart rate or above 90 percent. That middle ground does nothing for her.

"We want her going out for long slow runs, which just deepens her base fitness. When it's time to go hard the next day she's in what we call the 'red zone,' which is 90-to-100 percent heart rate for her explosiveness. It's a balance. We devised something that works for her."

Kentucky will need to continue striking that balance starting Friday. UK will play two matches nearly 400 miles apart in three days this weekend, quite the undertaking in a sport as physically demanding as soccer. 

Yet just like all the other challenges they've faced so far, the 2013 Wildcats expect to meet the task head-on. 

Video: Football's leader reaction course

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Video: Tour UK's newest residence halls

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Whitney Billings led Kentucky with 365 kills during her junior season in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Whitney Billings led Kentucky with 365 kills during her junior season in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In less than four months, Kentucky will be one of four schools to host an NCAA Volleyball Regional.

The event - like growing attendance numbers and summer camps that have quadrupled in size - is proof of the program's progress under head coach Craig Skinner. The event - like UK's eight straight NCAA Tournament berths and three Sweet 16 trips in four years - is proof of UK's emergence on the national volleyball scene.

"It's certainly a sign of respect," Skinner said. "The NCAA sees our venue and our program has the ability to host an event like that."

When Skinner looks at the big picture, those are all major positives. Skinner, however, isn't in that mode right now. His team - ranked No. 17 in the preseason - is in the midst of preparations for the 2013 season and just days away from stepping onto the court in Memorial Coliseum for its annual Blue-White Scrimmage on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.

That makes the December regional an objective, not an achievement.

"There's obviously no guarantee that we're in that regional and so we have a long way to go before we can say that we're a part of it," Skinner said. "But obviously that's the goal here."

That goal may be in the back of Skinner and the Wildcats' minds, but you wouldn't know that from watching the team in training.

"I haven't really heard any mention other than what we we're going to do today in practice and how we're going to get better today," Skinner said. "I think that's a sign of a mature team."

Skinner relies on seniors Whitney Billings, Alexandra Morgan, Jessi Greenberg and Desirre' Wilkerson and captains Jackie Napper and Morgan Bergren to set that tone. The group has been talented from the start, but leadership hasn't come naturally for all of them, particularly Billings, UK's two-time All-America right side hitter.

"I'm not the biggest talker on the court, but I feel like I can lead my team in action," Billings said. "I can show them what to do and how to pick the team up or just go after it in the games."

Morgan, a middle blocker, has taken time to develop as a leader as well. She appeared in just 16 matches before a breakout junior season, but has become more comfortable setting an example for her teammates.

"I know when we split into position drills in practice, the younger middles like to look up to me and kind of mirror what I do," Morgan said. "I always take note of that and try to work that much harder to be sure that they're all successful and that we're all successful together."

Considering the seniors who departed following another Sweet 16 trip in 2012, UK will certainly need Billings and Morgan's presence. The Cats lost second-leading hitter Ashley Frazier, setter Christine Hartmann and all-time digs leader Stephanie Klefot to graduation, meaning a great deal of production will have to be replaced. To do that, Skinner isn't asking his players to be anything more than the players they already are.

"Jackie Napper right now is our libero; I can't say, 'Be Stephanie Klefot,' " Skinner said. "She needs to be Jackie Napper and she's very good at what she does. Morgan Bergren is a different kind of setter than Christine Hartmann and she does things better than Christine. Christine may have done things better than her in certain areas. But overall, what I see is people don't even really think about that. They're just trying to make themselves really good."

Even with players stepping into new roles, Skinner sees plenty of reason for optimism as UK prepares for yet another top-level schedule in and out of the Southeastern Conference.

"What I know about this team is I think we have a very high IQ of the game, understanding how to play, when to do things, what spots of the floor to be," Skinner said. "I think we have some nasty competitors in this group that want no part of the opposite side of successful."

Those "nasty competitors" have gained an additional edge this fall following the installation of a new Taraflex playing surface. UK is one of just four schools nationally to play on the floor, which is also used in Olympic competition.

"I think the first time our team walked out there for practice it felt pretty big-time," Skinner said. "You felt like you were in a special environment, that something great was going to happen when we played on that surface. Because of the look that it gives you, the feel of landing and performing on it, it's an elite-level performing floor."

UK will start the season away from that new floor with three matches in three days from Aug. 30-Sept. 1 against Florida State, Illinois and tournament host Long Beach State. The Seminoles are ranked No. 18 and both Illinois and Long Beach State are receiving votes in the preseason poll, but Skinner believes his team has everything it needs to compete at a high level immediately.

"It's a very physical team at the net," Skinner said. "All positions I think we can be athletic, physical. I think this team hits the ball extremely hard at almost every position. I think team defense and serving has always been a theme of this program and that starts with our serving then our blocking. Our floor defense has always been good."

If Skinner sounds like he has a clear view of what he wants his team to be good at, that's no accident. In fact, it hints at one of his guiding philosophies as a coach.

"I'm a big believer in you want to train and make your strengths exceptional," Skinner said. "It's easier to do that than make a weakness good. So we're going to spend a lot of time on our strengths to see if we can make those some of the best in the country."

Putting that approach into practice, UK has made a habit of contending for SEC titles and playing deep into the NCAA Tournament in recent years. Billings has been around for much of that success, but she believes something even more special could be in store - maybe even a couple games in Memorial on December 13-14.

"It's a possibility for this team to be the best team since I've been here," Billings said. "We have the talent and everything. We just have to put everything that we need together."

Kentucky Football Yearbook available

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Football season is nearly upon us, which means you're likely scrambling for everything you can find to read up on Mark Stoops' first Kentucky team. If you haven't picked up a copy of the official Kentucky Football Yearbook yet, it's a perfect option.

The magazine is available at participating Kroger stores, as well as To get an idea of the kind of content you'll find in the yearbook, check out my story on assistants Neal Brown, Chad Scott and John Schlarman returning to Kentucky.

Stoops on board with UK-U of L move

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UK's annual rivalry game against Louisville will move to the final weekend of the regular season beginning in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK's annual rivalry game against Louisville will move to the final weekend of the regular season beginning in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops has some experience coaching in rivalry games.

The last four years, he has helped lead Florida State into a showdown with out-of-conference foe Florida. Played on the final weekend of the regular season, the game is one of the premier rivalries in college football.

When Stoops arrived at Kentucky, he cited his experience coaching in the game when asked about the Wildcats' own in-state rival - Louisville - as evidence of his understanding of what it means to fans. UK-U of L, however, represented a change for Stoops because it has historically been played early in the season.

But no more, as it was announced Wednesday that the battle for the Governor's Cup will move to the same weekend Stoops became accustomed to facing Florida. He's just fine with that.

"Why not?" Stoops said. "I just left a pretty good rivalry at the end of the year."

Unlike Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown has firsthand experience with the UK-U of L rivalry. He was born in Louisville, grew up in Bardstown and eventually landed in Danville before going on to play at Kentucky. Based on an intimate familiarity with the game, Brown believes the move will do nothing but good for the two schools.

"I think it's going to be - there's not as many games that week, you know - so I think maybe on the earlier in the season, we get lost in the shuffle a little bit," Brown said. "Some people may disagree with that, but later in the year, playing on that rivalry weekend, I think it will be good for us."

Brown, however, understands that the debate over when the game should be played is relatively meaningless. The decision is made and it's now up to UK and U of L to make the best of it.

"It doesn't matter anyway," Brown said. "We're going to play it at the end."

The change was made at the request of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference. Both leagues will have 14 teams starting next season and wanted to shuffle around the schedule for the good of all of their members. Kentucky and Louisville acquiesced, paving the way for a UK schedule that will finish against Tennessee and Louisville with an open week sandwiched between in 2014.

"It will be an exciting way to complete the regular season with rivalry games against Tennessee and Louisville," Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. "Playing an in-state rivalry game on the last weekend is a popular tradition shared by many prestigious football programs."

As Stoops knows, Florida-Florida State is among that group. Neither he nor anyone on the Louisville side of things would mind seeing UK-U of L grow into a football rivalry that generates similar national interest.

"The Florida-Florida State game is pretty big, a pretty big deal at the end of the year," Stoops said. "From my understanding, that was what was best for both conferences, so that'll be great. That'll be a lot of fun."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Wednesday's Kentucky football practice marked the final day of the "preseason" portion of fall camp. The Wildcats turn their attention exclusively to preparing for the season opener against Western Kentucky next Saturday, Aug. 31.

Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, the first game week of the 2013 season - at least in the eyes of the Kentucky coaching staff and players - begins on Thursday.

Wednesday's practice session saw the Wildcats looking to improve from the second full scrimmage of fall camp, which took place the day before in Commonwealth Stadium. 

"Went a little lighter than usual today and really just wrapped up some corrections from the scrimmage yesterday," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Just cleaning up things, and we'll get started on Western tomorrow. So overall, pretty mellow day. Wasn't a whole lot to talk about as far as anything major happening out there today. Just some basic clean-up work."

With game week getting under way on Thursday the team's attention will shift from honing broad principles of scheme and technique to executing a game plan for Western Kentucky. 

Stoops admitted his staff will take into account film of the Hilltoppers from last season as well some of the teams that first year Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino led.

"We'll get started on that tonight," Stoops said of looking at opponent game film. "But yes, that definitely comes to mind. I want to say both coordinators have had a lot of time to kind of reinvent themselves if they choose . . . It will be somewhat of an unknown.

"I think both of them have some staples that they've done throughout their careers and been very successful. So we'll have to prepare for a lot of things. And the good thing is with our offense, they've done a lot, whether it be through spring and through here, trying to always look for new wrinkles. So we've seen a lot of different styles through camp."

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown reflected on his unit's performance for the first time since the second scrimmage.

"We played much better," Brown said of Tuesday's workout in CWS. "We didn't make the mistakes that hurt us the week before. We didn't have the unforced errors. I don't think we turned the ball over, either with a pick or a fumble . . . Our penalties were way down. And we didn't have the dropped passes."

In the two days since the coaching staff announced the quarterback battle was down to two signal callers - Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whiltlow - who are both likely to see action in the season opener, Neal Brown elaborated on what factored into the decision.

In the staff's eyes the two quarterbacks have plenty of time to separate themselves, and Brown singled out production as the biggest factor in naming a starter.

"There was some separation there, as far as, we've basically been tracking everything they've done,"  the offensive coordinator said of narrowing down the quarterback competition to two. "I guess it was 31 or 32 practices, I think. Basically chart any competitive situation we've been in. We charted how they've done with the ones, how they've done with the twos, completion percentages, any statistic you can possibly think of. And those two, their numbers were better and their productivity was better."

Stoops and Brown also intimated that a lot of young wide receivers will see the field this season, with freshman Ryan Timmons pushing Darryl Collins for a start at the "H" spot as a receiver spending a lot of time in motion and out of the slot.

"A lot of the wideouts, they're going to play," Stoops said. "Whether they start and all that, we'll figure it out. We're still battling through that."

Indeed much of the Wildcat depth chart, including the quarterback position, remains fluid with just 10 days remaining before the Wildcats come out of the tunnel at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.

On Wednesday, UK released its 2014 football schedule. As always, there's plenty to talk about during the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule, but there's no confusing the biggest news.

Kentucky's annual Governor's Cup showdown with Louisville is on the move.

The Wildcats and Cardinals will face off on Nov. 29, 2014, the final Saturday of the regular season, in Louisville. Since the renewal of the series in 1994, games have been played early in the season, so this marks the start of a new tradition.

The move comes at the request of the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conferences. Both leagues will have 14 football-playing members beginning next season, necessitating scheduling adjustments. With UK and U of L playing on the final weekend, there will now be four in-state SEC-ACC matchups to end the season. Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech will also be played that weekend.

The new post-Thanksgiving date for UK-U of L does mean other schedule changes had to be made. After UK and Tennessee played their final regular-season games against one another every year since 1953, the game will move to Nov. 15, 2014. UK's game against Vanderbilt also moves from November to Sept. 27, 2014.

SEC schedules remain at eight games for 2014, meaning UK will once again face six opponents from the Eastern Division and two from the West. The Cats take on permanent opponent Mississippi State on Oct. 25 in Commonwealth Stadium and will travel to Louisiana State on Oct. 18. UK's nonconference games will all be at home: University of Tennessee at Martin on Aug. 30, Ohio University on Sept. 6 and University of Louisiana at Monroe on Oct. 11.

UK will have two open dates in 2014 and they seem to come at good times. The Cats will be off on Sept. 20 following an always-tough trip to Florida on Sept. 13 and prior to a home game against Vandy on Sept. Later, UK will be off between its games at Tennessee and Louisville.

For more on UK's 2014 schedule, here's the complete release.

Link: K Week to kick off academic year

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There's excitement in the air around Lexington as students return to campus for the start of the 2013-14 academic year. Classes begin on Aug. 28, but first comes K Week.

Starting on Friday, Aug. 23 and lasting through Aug. 31, K Week is the best way for students to get their year started. UKnow takes it from there:

For nearly 5,000 students, Friday, Aug. 23, marks the beginning of their collegiate career at UK, either as an incoming freshman or as a transfer student. It also kicks off one of the most exciting times on campus - K Week.

K Week runs from Friday, Aug. 23, through Saturday, Aug. 31, and is a popular UK tradition - a week filled with more than 250 events and activities that help students get oriented with campus, get involved with student life and get connected to the city of Lexington. K Week is known as "the best way to get started at UK," and is a great opportunity to make new friends, explore all the university has to offer and have some fun along the way.

Make sure to check out the complete K Week breakdown here and the video from last year's event below.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

With Kentucky's season opener versus Western Kentucky University now less than two weeks away, Mark Stoops shifted around the Wildcats' fall camp schedule on Tuesday.

Just three days removed from the first scrimmage of fall camp, Stoops brought his team into Commonwealth Stadium for another competitive session.  In a reversal from Saturday's action, it was the offense that had its way during the afternoon scrimmage.

"I just felt the need to get out here," Stoops said. "Much better day. The offense executed very well, had great enthusiasm. They executed well, did some really good things."

The defense, however, did not perform as well as it had in recent days. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said the unit's execution and tackling was not up to par and did not force turnovers as it did just a few days ago.

"The good thing about this camp is it's gone back and forth," Eliot said. "There's been the back and forth, back and forth. The last few days, we played well and we did some good things on defense and then the great thing about this game is you can be humbled in a minute."

On the other hand, Stoops was "encouraged" by the way the offense responded following such a turnaround. Leading the way were quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. Stoops confirmed on Tuesday that the sophomores are the last two quarterbacks standing in the race to start against WKU.

"We have narrowed it to two and I think both of those guys will play in the first game," Stoops said. "I know both of those guys will play in the first game. I don't know who's going to start."

With Smith and Whitlow emerging, Patrick Towles moves to No. 3 on the depth chart. Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have already discussed the decision with Towles, who responded to the news well.

"Patrick has been very good, has continued to work extremely hard," Stoops said. "He's got as much talent as any quarterback we have on campus, but it's just a matter of letting him grow into the situation a little bit. And he's open to the idea, if the opportunity presents itself, to redshirt."

Other than the quarterbacks, UK was without a few players at the scrimmage. Defensive end Za'Darius Smith, cornerback Cody Quinn and center Zach Myers sat out with lingering ankle injuries, while the coaches held out cornerback Nate Willis. Willis is less than a week removed from arriving on campus and Eliot said his absence was just a matter of the coaches bringing him along slowly.

Video: Men's soccer media day press conference

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Video: Volleyball's media day press conference

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Live stream: Fall sports media day

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At 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, coaches and student-athletes from four UK fall sports teams - volleyball, cross country, women's soccer and men's soccer - will preview their upcoming seasons at fall sports media day. Here's the schedule:

1:00 p.m. - Volleyball head coach Craig Skinner and student-athletes Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan
1:15 p.m. - Cross country head coach Edrick Floreal and student-athletes Cally Macumber and Matt Hillenbrand
1:30 p.m. - Women's Soccer head coach Jon Lipsitz and student-athlete Kayla King
1:45 p.m. - Men's Soccer head coach Johan Cedergren and student-athletes Tyler Riggs and Jack Van Arsdale

You can watch it all live below.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

After a day of meetings on Sunday, the Kentucky football team returned to the practice field on Monday morning for the first time since Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium.

Working on the hottest day of the first two-plus weeks of fall camp, head coach Mark Stoops liked what he saw.

"Good practice today," Stoops said. "We got a lot of good work in today. We were by no means perfect on either side of the ball, but got a lot of work done. Much better enthusiasm. Good, physical practice. Got some good situations worked offensively, defensively, special teams. Just a lot of good work. Long practice."

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown was even more pleased. During the second half of that Saturday scrimmage, the defense dominated. With two days to regroup, the offense reasserted itself.

"I thought we really competed on offense," Brown said. "Did a lot of situation work where we made some mistakes, but good learning points. But I thought our kids really bounced back from not playing well the second half of that scrimmage on Saturday, competed and made lots of plays. We caught the ball today, which we really have all spring with the exception of on Saturday."

After reviewing tape from the scrimmage, one lesson stood out to Brown. To the offense's credit, the Wildcats took it to heart on Monday.

"I think that's the thing that we took away from that on Saturday, the second half of that scrimmage, is that offense, it's team," Brown said. "And 10 guys can do the right thing and one guy can do the wrong thing and it's still not a positive play."

Helping to make sure the message was received were Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller, two players Brown has observed stepping up as leaders on the offensive line.

"I think that the two guys up there that are giving us leadership are Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller," Brown said. "Kevin because he's a senior, Darrian because he's probably our best guy up there. Those are kind of the people you look for to be leaders. I'm really proud of how Darrian stepped up and assumed that leadership role because that's really not his personality so to speak."

Brown was also asked about leadership among UK's wide receivers, but said the youth of the group is preventing a vocal presence from developing. But because of the leaders surrounding them, that's not a problem.

 "There's really not right now and, to be fair, I don't know if there has to be," Brown said. "I don't know if there has to be. I think the guys that--with whoever the quarterback ends up being, I think Ray Sanders, Jonathan George, Miller, Mitchell, I think those guys can kind of spread it out."

On the subject of the quarterback battle, Stoops and Brown confirmed on Monday that the contenders for the starting role have been narrowed to two, though neither named names.

"I think we have to get our reps focused in and we gave two guys the majority of the reps today," Brown said. "We'll continue with that. I think if one of them jumps up and takes it, then that'll be our guy. If not, we'll have to get used to playing with two."

Video: Highlights from first fall scrimmage

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Defense takes over late in first fall scrimmage

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UK held its first full scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) UK held its first full scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
In some ways, it feels like Mark Stoops has been the head coach at Kentucky for quite a while. Some days, his introductory press conference seems to have taken place much longer than eight months ago.

Leading UK through its first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Stoops was reminded that he is still not far removed from his days as a defensive coordinator.

"It's always a little bit new for me to be the head coach, because one side or the other has to do good and one side has to do bad," Stoops said.

The scrimmage began with the offense asserting itself, as the first- and second-string units led multiple long drives. Led by solid blocking by the offensive line, UK was solid in the run game in scoring at least one touchdown and "a couple field goals."

But as the afternoon in Commonwealth Stadium wore on, the defense stiffened. Using pressure from the front four, the defense dominated the latter half and situational portions of the scrimmage.

"We played a little bit better fundamentally," Stoops said. "We played a little bit better up front. We were able to incorporate a few more wrinkles within the defense. But some of that was just poor execution by the offense. We had some dropped passes show up again today, which we haven't seen too much of through camp, so that hurt, and some turnovers."

The turnovers came through the air, as the defense intercepted four passes. Sophomore linebacker Kory Brown took credit for one - though he said he should have had two more - and one of the Blaylock twins, a cornerback and Marcus McWilson had the others, according to Brown.

"I thought one of them, the wide out had a chance to make a play," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "The other three were probably-well I know they were definitely bad throws."

Brown credited UK's secondary for making life hard on the wide receivers, but refused to make any excuses for the group. Outside of a Fan Day practice in Commonwealth last week, the receivers had been relatively sure-handed during fall camp, leading Brown to wonder what happened Saturday.

"It was an epidemic in the spring," Brown said. "I thought we had kind of been over that and then we kind of took a step back today."

A week of two-a-days could certainly have played a role - particularly considering the burden placed on receivers in UK's high-tempo attack - but Brown isn't interested in hearing about that.

"You can make an excuse and say, 'OK, well we're two weeks into camp,' " Brown said. "Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Everybody else that's playing college football is at the same point where we are."

But as much as Brown would have liked to see more plays made in the passing game, he knows to withhold judgment.

"I think it's hard to see 'til you watch the video," Brown said. "There's going to be some wide outs that played better than I thought they did and there's going to be some guys that made movements that I didn't see for whatever reason - the ball didn't get thrown their way or whatever it might be."

Taking a look at the tape will be key as the staff begins to make decisions about the depth chart in the coming week, especially at quarterback. Brown said the picture is becoming clearer at the position, but neither he nor Stoops were willing to talk specifics.

"We're gonna sit down here today and we'll go through it as a staff and see where we're at. And if we make any decisions, we'll let you know," Stoops said. "But we're gonna work through some of that for sure this week."

As the two-week countdown before UK's season opener vs. Western Kentucky University begins, moving toward starter decisions becomes more pressing. The offense and defense must be tailored to the players who will be playing the majority of the snaps during that time.

"We're better than we were in the spring," Brown said. "I don't want to be here doom and gloom because we're a lot better than we were in the spring. A lot better. I think we're picking it up, but what we've got now, we've got everything we can do in. Now what we've gotta do is figure out what we're good at."

Even more importantly than that, Stoops is looking for his team to show more of an edge. The Wildcats were unquestionably better in terms of intensity than during a disappointing Friday morning practice, but Stoops is still looking for more.

"I think our players mean well and they care," Stoops said. "I think we've got to continue to develop an attitude on both sides of the ball and special teams. I think I see some guys that are trying to make plays, that mean right, that just don't have the attitude that we need right now."

But as Stoops was reminded on Saturday, he's still not long into his UK tenure.

Scrimmage leftovers

  • At running back, senior Raymond Sanders saw his carries limited during the scrimmage, but not due to injury. "He's got a lot of carries in camp so far and we've got a good feel for what he can do," Brown said. Sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and freshman Jojo Kemp took advantage of the opportunity as both played well. Kemp, however, did not finish the scrimmage due to an ankle injury that Brown called "nothing major."
  • With Zach Myers out of action, Max Godby got the majority of the first-team reps at center. Zach West and Teven Eatmon-Nared shared time at left guard.
  • Just four days after his arrival, cornerback Nate Willis played extensively during the scrimmage. "He played quite a bit, and he did some good things," Stoops said.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Linebacker Kory Brown

Running back Jonathan George

New arrival Willis jumping right in at corner

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To start this week, Nate Willis was awaiting word on whether he would even be allowed to follow through on his commitment to come to Kentucky.

Having finished up his coursework at Arizona Western College, the Pahokee, Fla., native got the good news he was hoping for on Monday when he learned he had qualified. He scrambled to pack his things and book his flight and was in Lexington two days later with scarcely a moment to consider what life would be like at UK.

"I really didn't know what to think," Willis said. "I just came here ready to get to work, just ready to help."

By Friday afternoon, Willis had already practiced twice with his new team. By lunchtime on that same day, Willis had met a throng of reporters to talk about his journey to UK and the impact he hopes to make at cornerback. What he hasn't had time to do is unpack, and that's partially he has been so eager to get back to football and get to know his new teammates.

But as anxious as Willis may be to get started, his coaches might be just as excited to have him. Willis - the No. 3 junior-college cornerback in his class - plays a position where the Wildcats need all the help they can get. An injury to sophomore Cody Quinn, though minor, depleted an already thin group and made Willis's possible arrival even more important.

Positional needs and high expectations have combined to create a potentially pressure-laden situation for Willis - who had six interceptions in two junior college seasons - but he knows not to fall into that trap.

"It's not really a savior deal," Willis said. "I'm just here to do my part. It's really a team matter. It's 10 other guys, so everyone has to do their part and the defense come together. It's really not a savior deal, because I really can't do it by myself. As long as 11 play together, everything should be good."

Though he is just one part of a greater whole, Willis has been impressive in his first days on campus. During an otherwise "disappointing" Friday morning practice, the newest Wildcat caught his head coach's eye.

"I did see some good things from Nate," Mark Stoops said. "I do. I think he's got some good ability. It's good to see."

Missing both summer conditioning and the first week-and-a-half of camp puts Willis at a disadvantage, but not one that's impossible to overcome.

"That's the good thing about corner," Stoops said. "It's very hard in application, but really pretty easy in theory, really. You're not reinventing the wheel as far as assignments with cornerbacks. But if they can cover somebody they can help us."

Willis - along with Fred Tiller, Blake McClain and Jaleel Hytchye - is already getting first-team snaps.

"He's got good length, he's got good ball skills, very quick in and out of his breaks," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said of the 6-foot, 180-pound Willis. "He's very instinctive, meaning that he can anticipate routes, he understands leverages and he's got ball skills once the ball's in the air."

Perhaps Willis's most important immediate task is addressing his conditioning. He was working hard while he waited in Arizona and says he is in "fair shape," but is still adjusting to the tempo with which UK plays.

 "You can never (duplicate) what's going to go on out here in practice," Willis said.

Once his body is right, Willis will keep things simple.

"That's my job: come here and cover, play my part in the defense and just try to help the defense get better at what we do," Willis said. "And that's stopping people."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

Nearly two weeks into fall camp, Mark Stoops has left the practice field to address reporters nine times. Of course there were things that needed work, but before Friday he was happy with his team all but once.

On Friday, Stoops put to rest any notions he was putting on a false front of optimism. Stoops was "disappointed" and "frustrated" by what he saw during the morning practice, and he didn't try to hide it.

"If I'm happy, I tell you," Stoops said. "If I'm disappointed, I tell you. There's no game, there's no reason. I don't have it on my calendar to be mad today."

With UK's season opener barely two weeks away and much work still left to be done, Stoops said his players saw a side of him they had not previously seen.

"I was loud," Stoops said. "I was not happy, put it that way. Like I said, just - we've got to have some more pride about what we do. We've got to have some more leadership. We've got to have some more toughness. And we didn't have any of that today."

The next 24 hours will be perhaps the Wildcats' greatest test of fall camp in terms of toughness and leadership. Even the best teams have bad days, which means UK will truly be measured by how they respond in the afternoon half of Friday's two-a-day and in Saturday's first full scrimmage of the fall. With that in mind, Stoops expects to see an angry group.

"If they're not, then we've got real issues," Stoops said, "because I've said all along: I believe we have good kids here, and they mean well, but we have to have some toughness to us, some fight about us, or we're going to have a long year."

Both Stoops and D.J. Eliot agreed that the response must begin immediately and should be spearheaded by UK's leaders on both sides of the ball.

"I think that we have a group of guys that will do that," UK's defensive coordinator said. "I'm confident that will happen."

Senior linebacker Avery Williamson says there is "no doubt" he is part of that group.

"We'll get together, me and other guys on offense and defense and we'll make sure that we have a better one this evening," Williamson said.

UK led the nation with an average attendance of 23,099 during the 2012-13 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK led the nation with an average attendance of 23,099 during the 2012-13 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
UK couldn't pull off a successful defense of its eighth national championship in 2012, but it had no problems keeping the national attendance title in Lexington yet again.

For the eighth straight season and 17th time in 18 years, Kentucky led the nation in home men's basketball attendance. An average of 23,099 fans attended UK's 18 home games, beating out Syracuse by a comfortable 660. Rupp Arena's listed capacity is 23,000, meaning UK has filled the venerable venue past capacity in all four of John Calipari's seasons at the school.

Since Rupp Arena opened for the 1976-77 season, UK has ranked either first or second in attendance every season. Only Syracuse has ranked ahead of Kentucky during that time.

To provide a little perspective on UK's remarkable attendance, the Chicago Bulls led the NBA with an average attendance of 21,876 and were one of just three teams in the league to average more than 20,000 fans.

To the Big Blue Nation, thank you.

Since Mark Stoops arrived last winter, Kentucky fans have hung on his every word. He's said (and done) all the right things in his first months on the job, but on Wednesday he issued a soundbite that has to shoot to the top of the list of his best quotes.

Fielding a question about the dimension freshman running back added by Jojo Kemp, Stoops broke out the hyperbole.

"He's a pit bull," Stoops said. "We do board drills over there and I thought he was going to pull a knife out of his sock and stab somebody. He's a pit bull. I love it."

Told of Stoops' description, Neal Brown laughed.

"I don't know about all that," UK's offensive coordinator said. "I hope not."

Nonetheless, Brown understood his meaning. Kemp, competing for immediate playing time, has asserted himself. In fact, Brown sees some of his position coach in Kemp.

"He attacks, and that's a little bit of Coach (Chad) Scott's personality coming (out) in him too," Brown said.

Kentucky fans will surely remember that Scott - a Florida native, like Kemp - rushed for 611 yards in his first season as a Wildcat in 2000 when he was named to the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team. Kemp surely wouldn't mind duplicating that success.

"He's not a follower," Scott said of Kemp. "He's driven. He's a kid that'll dictate the tempo. He'll set the tempo."

Though Kemp may not be a follower, Scott was quick to point out that veteran leadership will be important to his development. Fortunately, the running back atop the depth chart - Raymond Sanders - is more than willing to step up in that regard.

"More than anything, what's going to help him is a guy like Ray Sanders to teach him how to slow things down and actually see what's going on and do things accurately as opposed to doing it real fast," Scott said.

Stoops sends care package to former Cat

Matt Smith is one of a number of former UK football players participating in NFL training camps. Smith - a three-year starter at center for the Wildcats - is with the Atlanta Falcons looking to earn a spot on the roster.

As he goes through that grueling process, Smith got a little pick-me-up from a Lexington address. Stoops sent him a care package with some UK gear and a hand-written note, which Smith tweeted about this morning.

Harmon returns to team

Last week, Stoops said that sophomore cornerback J.D. Harmon was not practicing and was not expected to be with the team this season. But on Wednesday, UK announced that Harmon is with the team again and will practice. Harmon, however, will not play in games in 2013.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Mark Stoops was all smiles as he left the field at the Nutter Training Facility on Wednesday morning.

His team had just concluded the first half of the second two-a-day of fall camp and the first-year Kentucky head coach saw positives on both sides of the ball.

"I'm in a good mood," Stoops said. "Good practice. Very pleased. I thought we did some really good things. Offensively, had a very good practice, the best they've been in blitz pick-up and a lot of drills, then didn't have a great team (period), but I think the defense had a better team period today."

In addition to the blitz pick-up drill, the offense was solid during the practices run segment, while the defense asserted itself during the second half of the session. Even though he's an offensive coach, Neal Brown concedes that that kind of tug-of-war is ideal.

"There was some give and take, which is positive because you never want to be where offense completely dominates your preseason or spring or defense completely dominates either," Brown said. "So today we really had our best day."

Bad injury news threatened to derail the day when Zach Myers - one of two main contenders to start at center - went down with a foot injury early in practice. Stoops said the initial diagnosis is that the injury is "nothing major," but it still underscores the balancing act coaches must undertake in structuring practice while building depth.

"It's a very physical league," Stoops said. "You have to be tough and you have to be physical, but yet we're not very deep. So we're still going about our business, trying to find that balance. But we've been very physical. (Myers) got hurt on a physical drill at the beginning of practice, but we need that. We can't slow down."

UK got a boost at a position where depth is particularly problematic as cornerback Nate Willis arrived on campus. The junior-college transfer completed coursework at Arizona Western College this week and flew into Lexington Wednesday morning. He filled out paperwork and got a physical this morning, but will practice with his new team this afternoon. Willis will likely be thrown into the fire quickly with Cody Quinn sidelined by an ankle injury.

Quarterback update

Another day passed at fall camp without any official announcement about a depth chart at quarterback, but Brown confirmed Stoops' comment that the race is becoming clearer.

"We're getting closer," Brown said. "Nothing we're going to talk about, but we're getting closer. We're getting some separation there, which I think's good because I think anytime you get separation it means people are starting to play well. That's been a positive."

Stoops said on Tuesday that contender Jalen Whitlow, due to his athleticism, will likely have a role even if Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles or Reese Phillips wins the job. Brown agrees with that as well.

"I thought Coach Stoops voiced it very well: He's going to play at some point," Brown said. "If he wins the job, he wins the job and plays all the time. If he doesn't, then he's going to play some."

The coaches still have given no official timeframe on a decision, but for the first time Brown suggested it could be made and not announced publicly.

"There's a good chance," Brown said. "I don't know, that's going to be up to Coach Stoops. But I figure, why tell Western (Kentucky, UK's first opponent)? Let them figure it out."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

There are no guarantees about how a team will respond to two-a-days.

After Kentucky's first such practice of fall camp, the early returns are positive. UK returned to the field on Tuesday following Monday's double session and turned in another solid day.

"Good day, good practice," Mark Stoops said. "Got a lot of good work in again. It was beautiful weather out here again so we could go good and long and good, physical practice. So got some good work in. Both sides of the ball were good at times. Inconsistent at times, just what you'd expect."

Inconsistency during the continuing installation process is to be expected, but Stoops reports that the Wildcats' conditioning has proven to be good after a summer working in UK's High Performance program.

"I feel pretty good about that," Stoops said. "The good thing is, again, we talked about the tempo of the offense, but there has been some very lengthy drives, some 12-play drives at times and so it's good to see the guys in shape and they can handle that."

Eager for any sign about the progress of camp's most high-profile position battle, assembled reporters asked which quarterbacks led those long drives. Stoops wouldn't take the bait, but he did mention later that Jalen Whitlow scrambled for a 50-yard touchdown.

"He pulled one and ran right in the end zone," Stoops said. "Not very good defense, but he looked good running down there."

The defense may not have been good on that play, but D.J. Eliot was otherwise fairly pleased with what he saw from his unit.

"We had our ups and downs, did some things good though which I wanted to see," the defensive coordinator said. "We played with an intensity, we played physical at times and we haven't done that throughout training camp at times and we did today."

Sanders serving as steady presence in fall camp

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Raymond Sanders rushed for 669 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics) Raymond Sanders rushed for 669 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
With almost every practice repetition, Raymond Sanders is likely to see a new face.

The senior running back is one of just a few players on the offensive side of the ball whom the coaches agree is the leader in the clubhouse to start at his position. Elsewhere, competition rules.

At quarterback, Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips are sharing time. Along the offensive line, regular shuffling is the norm.

"You've just got to go with who's out there and make sure that they're giving maximum effort," Sanders said. "It's not going to be perfect, but as long as those guys are giving a hundred percent, we can fix those things that they're missing."

In a normal system, the onus would be on Sanders to serve as a steady, veteran presence in fall camp. In Neal Brown's Air Raid, running back becomes even more important.

Sanders and his fellow backs are called upon to work with the offensive line to call out protections, a responsibility that normally falls solely on the shoulders of the quarterback and center.

"We just have to be loud out there and make sure that with the different protections we remember how Coach (Brown) wants it done," Sanders said. "Even if we're making the wrong call, we have to make sure that we're communicating with the line to make sure that we're on the same page."

Sanders was a quick study in the new offense during the spring, but is now even more comfortable with his expanded responsibilities. Not only that, Sanders has transformed his physique in the winter, spring and summer before his final college season.

"I think he has it all," running backs coach Chad Scott said in March. "I think he's really the total package. I think he's done a great job taking care of his body to put himself in position to be as good as we need him to be."

The 5-foot-8, 187-pounder has also flashed capable hands over his first three years, catching 39 passes. His versatility, experience and leadership would seem to make him a logical fit to carry a heavy load in the first year of a new offense, but both Sanders and his coaches know success will take a lot more than one back.

"In this league or any league, it's going to take four or five running backs," Scott said. "Right now at this point, we've got four. Right now, they're healthy. We hope they stay that way, but it's a rough, physical league."

The four backs Scott refers to are Sanders, senior Jonathan George, sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and true freshman Jojo Kemp. Added to the mix on at least a part-time basis is freshman Ryan Timmons, who has moved between receiver and running back during fall camp. Though Sanders is the presumptive starter, competition continues.

There's no shortage of opportunity at this point, because the coaching staff continues to run grueling two-spot practices. The Wildcats are split into four teams and there is continual action on two fields.

"I've never been around this two-spot practice," Sanders said. "We all dread it every day. We come in and ask the coaches, 'I know we're not doing two-spot today.' But it just helps us get a lot of reps. We see the usefulness of it. It's helping our conditioning being able to play four, five, six plays back to back, getting fast to the line and getting back to the line and being able to play a hundred percent each play."

As demanding as the practices may be, they have served as an immersion of sorts for UK's less experienced runners.

"They're catching on, they're getting it down pat and they're studying in the film room," Sanders said. "And they're also asking questions, which is helping us. Once you see that they know they made a mistake, you know that they're gradually understanding what they're doing."

Sanders has been around long enough to know that UK, at some point or another, will need all the depth it can find. For that reason, competition is healthy.

"We're running hard, we're pushing each other and we're making each other better," Sanders said.

Video: Volleyball photo day 2013

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Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

After a day of meetings and a walkthrough on Sunday, the Kentucky football team returned to the field on Monday for its first two-a-day of fall camp.

Just as the skies began to darken and the rain began to fall, Mark Stoops spoke to reporters about the Wildcats' first practice of the day on a "beautiful" morning.

"We have been getting lucky here with this weather," Stoops said. "This has been fantastic today. A lot of work in today again with a good physical practice. A lot of reps and a lot of good work. We were good on either side of the ball at different times. Overall, a good work day. Pleased with the effort and the execution at times. Obviously, we are a little inconsistent right now, but good day of work."

Uniformed officials with whistles in hand were there for the Monday morning session, watching closely for pre-snap penalties as UK continues to adjust to the fast-paced style of Neal Brown's offense. At this point, Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips are still splitting time running the attack, but Stoops and Brown said on Monday that he and his staff are closer to narrowing down the competition.

"We're going to let the process play out," Brown said. "We're not in an extreme hurry by any means, but I think we gotta start narrowing it down and getting the reps focused more in."

The quarterback battle may be getting the most attention, but it's just "1 and 1a" among positional tug-of-wars with the center spot. There, Zach Myers and Zach West are sharing first-team reps with Max Godby on the second string. Just like at quarterback, the staff must balance priorities as decisions are made about the depth chart.

"The quicker you can narrow it down, the quicker you can pick a guy, the better," Brown said. "At the same time, you don't want to rush and make a hasty decision."

At least for the rest of this week, the plan is for the timeshare arrangement to continue for the rest of this week leading up to the first full scrimmage of the fall on Saturday.

"Saturday will be a big day," Stoops said.

Junior defensive end Za'Darius Smith is still working toward a return this week before the scrimmage. He was wearing a walking boot and sat out once again with an ankle injury, but Stoops still said it is not major. Running back Braylon Heard - a transfer who will sit out this season - also missed practice due to a cut near his eye. Defensive tackles Mister Cobble, however, returned on Monday.

UK will practice for a second time later on Monday afternoon, beginning a week of two-a-days.

SEC announces agreements with nine bowl games

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Southeastern Conference announced today agreements with nine postseason bowls and a new process for the assignment of SEC member schools to bowl games, beginning with the 2014 season and extending for six years.
The new SEC bowl process coincides with the beginning of the new College Football Playoff that follows the 2014 college football season.  The SEC will also participate in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Discover Orange Bowl (in selected years).
"We are pleased to have established a lineup of premier bowl games that will give our student-athletes a wonderful post-season experience and our fans the opportunity to travel to venues in the geographical footprint of the conference," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.
Under the new SEC bowl system, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando (vs. Big Ten/ACC), a long-time SEC bowl, will have the first selection of available SEC teams after any conference schools have qualified for the College Football Playoff, the Allstate Sugar Bowl or the Discover Orange Bowl.
Following the Capital One Bowl, there will be a pool of six bowls comprised of renewals with the Outback Bowl in Tampa (vs. Big Ten), Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville (vs. ACC/Big Ten), Gator Bowl in Jacksonville (vs. ACC/Big Ten) and AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis (vs. Big 12), as well as new agreements with the Texas Bowl in Houston (vs. Big 12) and Belk Bowl in Charlotte (vs. ACC). 
In consultation with SEC member institutions, as well as these six bowls, the conference will make the assignments for the bowl games in this newly created pool system.
"This bowl process gives us the best opportunity to address several issues that impact SEC fans, including the creation of intriguing matchups, the accommodation of travel for fans, reduced ticket obligations for our schools and a variety of assignments to help prevent repetitive postseason destinations," said Slive.
The SEC has also renewed its relationship with both the Birmingham Bowl (vs. TBA) and the Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport (vs. ACC). The Birmingham Bowl will have the first selection of available teams following the pool of six bowls. The Advocare V100 Bowl will have the next selection of available teams following the Birmingham Bowl.

Release via

Once again, UK ranks among the top schools in the nation in merchandise royalties.

On Monday, the Collegiate Licensing Company released royalty rankings for the period from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. UK comes in fifth, trailing only Texas, Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan. A season ago, UK was a school-record third on the strength of the 2012 men's basketball national championship. UK is also one of six Southeastern Conference schools in the top 10 in the most recent rankings.

UK Athletics and the university share all merchandise royalties equally. UK Athletics is responsible for all costs associated with managing the licensing program and 90 percent of merchandise sold is athletic-related. Through the merchandise program, UK Athletics has contributed more than $10 million to the university during the Mitch Barnhart era.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

For the first time this fall, Mark Stoops was dissatisfied with the way his team practiced on Friday night.

The Wildcats, however, didn't have to wait long for a chance to redeem themselves. Not even 24 hours later, UK returned to the field.

"Good practice," Stoops said. "I really felt good. We got a lot of work in today. We got really good meetings, good walkthrough this morning, good physical, long practice today so I feel pretty good about the practice."

Stoops was particularly happy with the play of the offense, saying the unit was "much sharper" than Friday night when dropped passes and sloppy play were an issue at Fan Day in Commonwealth Stadium. With inside anchors Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble limited due to minor injuries, the defense is still adjusting to physical play in the second day wearing full pads, but the overall energy on Saturday was improved.

That didn't surprise Stoops.

"I've said it before: I really like this group's attitude, their mentality," Stoops said. "I feel like they care and are doing the things necessary to be the best they can and they responded today with a good practice."

Stoops also singled out wide receivers Alex Montgomery, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet and defensive end Jason Hatcher among the standouts among UK freshmen. Marcus McWilson, another newcomer, was a popular topic of conversation as Stoops met with local reporters. The freshman was rated a four-star safety out of high school, but has lined up in recent days at nickel back, a position that requires the kind of size, athleticism and versatility in Stoops' defense.

"We have to develop a nickel," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I think Marcus McWilson has the skills to be a nickel and that's where we've been practicing him the last two days."

McWilson won't work at nickel on Sunday, but only because UK won't practice. The Cats will be at the Nutter Training Facility for much of the day, but only meetings and a walkthrough as they rest for another grueling week of camp.

The Kentucky football team changed up its fall camp routine on Friday for Fan Day.

Prior to a late evening practice, Wildcat players and coaches signed autographs for thousands of eager fans. The line of UK faithful waiting to meet Mark Stoops was particularly long, with many arriving hours prior to the event.

After signing for more than an hour, Stoops and UK practiced in Commonwealth Stadium for the first time this fall in front of a good crowd that braved a spotty weather forecast and rain toward the end of the night.

"It was, once again, very good support," Stoops said. "To come sign autographs for a couple hours and hang around practice, it's great to see."

Maybe it was the altered schedule, maybe it was nerves and maybe it was even sitting and signing for so long, but UK turned in its first lackluster practice of camp.

"It's a little different to come out here and sign autographs for a while, go in, get dressed and then come out," Stoops said. "Doesn't matter. No excuses. It's just not acceptable practice and we gotta get better."

Nonetheless, Stoops believes the group fans watched on Friday is better than the one that took the field the last time the Cats were in Commonwealth.

"We're a lot better right now even though, again, this wasn't one of our better practices," Stoops said. "That's why we practice: We need to get better. But overall we're executing better than in the spring by far."

UK wasn't able to work on multiple fields as it does at the Nutter Training Facility, but still made the most of space and time by working two groups at both ends of the field for much of the evening. Stoops and his coaches will begin to whittle down its depth chart "pretty soon," but for now all that work is necessary.

"That's why getting all these reps is going to help us," Stoops said. "It's going to help us build depth for years to come."

Not participating in practice on Friday were defensive end Za'Darius Smith, who wore a walking boot to protect an ankle he turned on Thursday. Stoops, however, said the injury was not major and turned the junior-college transfer "day-to-day." Defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble were also limited, but reported little cause for concern.

"We need those guys to be healthy," Stoops said. "They'll be out there. They've been practicing. They're good. Nothing major there."

Returning to action was running back Dyshawn Mobley, who is working his way back from hernia surgery.

Video: Fan Day 2013 highlights

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Arantxa King trains as coach Edrick Floreal looks on. (Jake Most, UK Athletics) Arantxa King trains as coach Edrick Floreal looks on. (Jake Most, UK Athletics)
Even before the 2013 fall collegiate athletics season gets under way later this month, the wait is over for Kentucky fans ready for live sports action featuring Wildcats. The IAAF World Championships begin in the Russian capital on Saturday and UK will be well represented.

Current volunteer assistant coach and two-time Olympian Arantxa King will jump among the world's best athletes inside Luzhniki Stadium. In addition to King, three former Wildcats are also entered in the biennial track and field meet.

King will jump in Group B of the qualifying round, which gets begins at 11:20 a.m. ET. Select events will likely be broadcast on a delayed basis on NBC from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

King, a Stanford alumna who serves as a volunteer assistant coach at UK working with the jumps and sprints groups, will compete for Bermuda. She is coached by UK head coach Edrick Floreal, himself a former Olympian and World Championships competitor.

King boasts a broad array of major championship experience having competed in the past two Olympic Games despite just having finished her decorated NCAA career in 2012. 

She missed the 2012 Olympic long jump final last year in London by one spot and less than a centimeter on a tiebreaking procedure. King's top mark from three qualifying round attempts of 6.4 meters (just under 21 feet) tied her with Veronika Shutkova for the 12th and final spot in the final, but the Belarusian's second-best mark of 6.21 was 0.01 centimeters better than Kings'. 

King is coming off a silver medal at the 2013 Central America and Caribbean [CAC] Championships in Mexico last month. King owns an all-time personal-best long jump of 6.57m and a wind-legal best of 6.5m. Her 2013 seasonal-best is 6.45m.

The Boston area native comes from a family of top-class athletes. King's father Adrian is one of the best cricket players in Bermuda history. He represented the Bermuda national team as its top fast bowler and Arantxa's mother Branwen Smith-King also represented her country as a Pan-Am games level thrower.

Should King advance, the women's long jump world championship final is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. 

Former Wildcats Descend on Moscow

A number of former Wildcat athletes will also be competing over the course of the World Championships, which run from August 10-18.

Mikel Thomas, who won the Trinidad and Tobago National Championship in June, will represent his nation in the 110m hurdles. Thomas' fellow former Wildcat and countryman Rondel Sorrillo will also represent T&T in the 100m and 4x100m relay.

Jenna Martin will compete for Canada as part of the 4x400m relay pool. Martin was slowed by a hip injury for much of the season and did not qualify for Canada in the 400m.

Video: Fan Day 2013

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UK Sports Video is at Commonwealth Stadium for Fan Day and will be posting videos of the festivities throughout the night. Check this post to see them all.

"All for the fans"

Mark Stoops signs

Players and fans interact

Stoops gets a gift

Players prepare for practice

Jojo Kemp reports from Fan Day

Junior Demarco Robinson caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in UK's Blue/White Spring Game. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Junior Demarco Robinson caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in UK's Blue/White Spring Game. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
It was just two years ago that Demarco Robinson was a true freshman trying to find his way onto the field.

Now he's a junior and Kentucky's leading returning receiver, but he doesn't have to look far to be reminded of his former self. Midway through UK's fall camp, a crop of newcomers is competing for playing time, and Robinson can see himself in the likes of Alex Montgomery, Jeff Badet, Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue.

"I remember just being eager to get on the field," Robinson said. "I had a little butterflies sometimes, but I was just ready to get on the field."

But in reality, Robinson and his fellow returnees at wide receiver aren't in that different of a position from his first-year counterparts. Sure, he has two years' experience playing in the Southeastern Conference, but never in Neal Brown's Air Raid offense. And in spite of having more career receptions than the rest of UK's returning wide outs combined, he's still only caught 33 passes for 314 yards.

"I've never been in something like this, where there is no returning anything, really," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. "There's a lot of unknowns. We've got a whole bunch of guys in this group that we don't know a whole lot about. So I think it's more exciting than any group I've ever had, because there's so much that can happen in the next three weeks."

Much of what happens during those three weeks of camp, however, will be determined by the two months that came before. On campus for summer classes during that time, players did their best to simulate the tempo with which Brown wants them to play in 7-on-7 drills. Three practices in, the difference that's made compared to spring ball is plain to see.

"Everybody's a lot more in shape," Robinson said. "We don't have to focus so much on fundamentals. Everybody seems to be bringing what we learned in April to now."

Better isn't good enough for Brown though.

"It's been OK," Brown said. "We've gotta get a lot better. It's the hardest thing. When you've trying to get new guys - and we've got a bunch, as you all know - it's the hardest thing to get them accustomed to is the tempo we're playing at. And really probably, if you came out here and watched, it's not bad, but it's nowhere near what we want to do, it's not near the pressure we need to put on the defense."

Perhaps if UK were deeper at receiver that wouldn't be a problem, but with how heavily the new group is being relied on, Brown is anxious to get the youngsters up to speed. In an effort to aid that process, Mark Stoops has broken the Wildcats up into four teams with action on two fields at all times.

"It's a little bit more work on our part just because the video lasts longer, but it's good," Brown said. "Everybody gets an opportunity. Everybody that's suited up on offense and defense is getting evaluated."

It hasn't taken long for the new receivers to pop up in those evaluations. Stoops has already cited Montgomery, Timmons and Badet as standouts for their playmaking ability, something the veterans embrace.

"I love 'em all," Robinson said of the newcomers. "Everybody's coming in ready to work, expecting to play and fighting for a spot. That competition's going to help everyone."

Robinson is putting that sentiment into practice as well. He may be new to the offense, but the junior is working with the younger receivers as they adjust. And he's not the only one.

"That's the selfless part, the older guys trying to teach us what to do," Montgomery said. "They don't have to because they're not the coaches, but I appreciate them for trying to teach us what to do."

That's a wise approach because UK will need all the receivers it can get. In Brown and Mainord's last season at Texas Tech, 12 different wide outs caught passes as the Red Raiders rotated players frequently at the position. UK will be hard-pressed to develop that kind of depth in year one, but the Cats still believe the unit will be strong.

"We definitely feel confident," Robinson said. "We want everybody to feel like we can make any play and we want the quarterback to believe we can make every play so they have confidence to throw it to us."

Jalen Whitlow - one of the potential starters at quarterback - is already there.

"I think the group that was here all along got way better this summer," Whitlow said. "And of course we've got some talented freshman that came in that are going to help right away. So it's no question mark at receiver."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops injected an element of physicality into the third practice of fall camp as the Wildcats worked in shoulder pads and shorts on Wednesday.

"We got a lot of work in," Stoops said following the afternoon workout at Nutter Training Facility. "A little bit more humid today, we got the uppers on so it was a little bit more physical in practice and we really got a lot of good work so overall I'm very pleased."

The Wildcats will likely take it easy in practice on Thursday before heading onto the Commonwealth Stadium field for the first time this season on Friday as part of Fan Day. Friday's practice in CWS will be free and open to the public.

"We do want to have a good, full practice and let the fans see it," Stoops said. "They don't get many opportunities to see practice, and I know there's a lot of interest, so we'll be there. Really, what we want to get out of it is to be there for the fans, shake hands, give autographs, spend some time with the fans, let them see our practice."

Stoops is taking in his first fall camp as a head coach from a different perspective than he may have been used to as a coordinator. The UK coach has entered uncharted territory for a defensive-minded coach during 11-on-11 periods by watching from the offensive backfield.

"I've actually been spending more time standing behind the quarterbacks," the UK coach said. "When I coached the secondary and was the defensive coordinator, I was always in the defensive backfield. I'm maybe not as athletic as I used to be. I'm going to get run over back there. 

"With this tempo that they're going at, you got bullets flying everywhere. So I'm actually standing so I can watch the defense, but it also gives me a good feel for what the quarterbacks are doing, and really what the offense is doing. So it's a different perspective for me, to sit right behind the quarterback and watch the whole situation, but it helps me make adjustments in the secondary and make adjustments on defense but still get a feel for what everybody's doing."

Stoops outlined some of his defensive goals for the season, which include at least a +2 turnover margin and four three-and-outs per game.

Neal Brown addressed the quarterback competition for the first time since the start of camp. The offensive coordinator said the staff will not update the depth chart until the offense is fully installed the second week of fall camp.

Kentucky's practices have taken on a family-friendly atmosphere as many of the coaches' children have been spotted running around the side practice fields over the past three days. One of Stoops' sons could even be overheard playing with a whistle as the UK coach met with the media following Wednesday's practice.

Defensive tackle Mister Cobble (Chet White, UK Athletics) Defensive tackle Mister Cobble (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Conditioning is a priority for any football team, and Mark Stoops has put an especially high premium on getting his players in shape. 

The first-year head coach was especially impressed with how well-conditioned the Wildcats appeared upon welcoming them to preseason camp last weekend.  So much so that the team's fitness was the first topic he raised to the media at Monday's camp-opening press conference.

By all accounts, Mister Cobble is at the top of the list when it comes to the well-conditioned Wildcats, at least by defensive lineman standards.

The senior defensive lineman enters 2013 with a lighter frame thanks in large part to Eric Korem's High Performance regimen. The 6-foot senior is listed at a streamlined 338 pounds going into camp.

"I lost seven percent body fat and gained five percent muscle," Cobble said of his physical transformation in the offseason. "I actually lost 15-20 pounds. It just allows me to feel quicker, and I still feel really strong."

Cobble has been a stalwart on the UK defensive line for much of the past two seasons, playing in all but two games since the start of 2011. But three games into 2012, Cobble began suffering from an illness. He only missed two games, coming back for the final seven Saturdays of his junior season, but he struggled to regain the strength that is such an important part of his game.

A full offseason of High Performance training and nutrition has rejuvenated Cobble as he prepares for his senior season. 

The prospect of a lighter, but stronger Cobble bodes well for a veteran Wildcat defensive front that will be called on to lead a unit with inexperience at many other positions. Like many lineman, the senior relies upon getting off the ball quickly before asserting his power to disrupt opponent backfields.

With his strength and quickness reestablished, Cobble is now focused on mastering a new defensive system.

"The new system is very simple to learn, but it's effective," Cobble said. "It's so simple that we can go in, hear the call and just go after it. As we keep moving on and progressing we're learning more and more. Some mistakes are going to happen, but I feel like we're doing well at this point."

Cobble, who has accounted for 58 tackles the past two seasons, is also taking on a leadership role as a senior on a young team adjusting to a new scheme. The coaching staff has noticed.

"You've got to lead by example and guys like (Mister Cobble), who are vocal leaders, are doing that well," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.

Eliot has been pleased with his defensive front's progress this past offseason as he looks for the big men in the trenches to lead the way in 2013. Cobble has played a big part in that early success by displaying a willingness to put in the work off the field by revamping his physique. 

Plenty of challenges remain, but the senior lineman is off to an ideal start.

UK fans have surely gotten their fix on football coverage with fall camp starting this week, but Andy Katz has an item in his "3-point shot" on Wednesday that will quench their thirst for basketball information.

Overall, Calipari reports being pleased with the way the group has come together over the summer, pointing out a trio of newcomers as possible leaders of the 2013-14 Wildcats.

Calipari said freshman Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, "are going to be the leaders.'' He said Randle has already proven in summer workouts just how much of an impact he'll have for the Wildcats.

He doesn't lump Dakari Johnson in that group of leaders, but that doesn't mean Johnson hasn't impressed. In fact, he's been so good the Calipari expects UK to have a formidable duo at center.

"(Sophomore) Willie (Cauley-Stein) is going to have work for it,'' said Calipari about his returning big man getting challenged for minutes.

Katz has more with Calipari here.

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

The energy around the Nutter Training Facility was unmistakable on Monday. At the first practice of fall camp, the Wildcats were elated just to be playing again.

On Tuesday, Kentucky football settled into more of a routine. Though matching the enthusiasm of Monday was impossible, UK's second practice was productive nonetheless.

"Another good day," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "Good day. Just businesslike today. Not as much excitement, but I thought they were still very good, good energy and concentrating."

UK is in the process of mixing the old with the new this fall as a highly touted recruiting class joins returning Wildcats on the field. A few of those newcomers are impressing already in spite of the fact that they are still learning.

"(Wide receiver) Alex Montgomery jumped out at me, made a couple (plays)," Stoops said. "(Wide receiver) Ryan Timmons jumped out at me, made a couple nice plays. (Defensive end) Jason Hatcher's doing some really good things."

Meanwhile, the play of the veterans is still showing that the summer was well-spent.  

"The older guys are all much better than we were in the spring, so it's been good," Stoops said. "We're getting a lot of reps, we're getting a lot of work in, so it's good for those guys."

The coaching staff breaks the team up into four different groups, maximizing the efficiency of each practice. Even with so much activity constantly going on, UK has avoided any significant injuries through the first two days of installation.

Stoops, however, did announce on Tuesday that cornerback J.D. Harmon is not practicing and is not expected to be with the team for the 2013 season, but that won't deter the Cats.

"We've just got a next-man-up mentality," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Whoever we have for game one will be the guy that plays and we don't fret, our players know that. Whoever the next guy is just steps up and plays."

Newest Cats have confidence in common

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Kentucky's 2013 signees are a diverse group.

Some have been familiar with the UK program since a young age, growing up in the school's backyard. Others only came to know it through the recruiting pitches of Mark Stoops and his coaching staff.

Over the last two months, most of the members of that decorated signing class have gotten to know one another after they reported in June for summer workouts. The differences between the newest Wildcats are plain, but so too is one important similarity.

"All of us have our own different personalities we bring to the table," cornerback Jaleel Hytchye said on Media Day. "As a collective group, we all have the same goal: We all came here to win."

With that shared interest in mind, Stoops' first class has bonded. Where one UK newcomer goes, others will follow, whether it's to the weight room, the fields at Nutter Training Facility for drills or just to hang out.

"That's a good thing, because everybody wants to stay together in this class," Alexander Montgomery said. "With Stoops and the new staff, we want to bring something new here. If we're all apart, we can't be a team. If we're together, we can build that team."

Montgomery's words reflect another characteristic shared by the UK newcomers: confidence. They understand the work that lies ahead for them, but they are unwavering in their belief that the "process" Stoops emphasizes constantly will lead to results.

"We all have to come out with the right attitude," Montgomery said. "It's all about attitude. If you don't have the right attitude, you shouldn't come to practice at all."

It's with that attitude that they have approached the summer months.

"We've made a lot of progress, all the freshmen to tell you the truth," Montgomery said. "We have 7-on-7s to learn the plays. It helps a lot, it really does help a lot. We do it full-tempo, so you have to learn it or if you don't know it you've got to get out."

Particularly for Montgomery and his fellow wide receivers, that's important. Due to a lack of depth at the position and the nature of Neal Brown's Air Raid offense, the youngsters will need to step up.

Included in that group is Ryan Timmons. The Frankfort, Ky., native will start camp working at receiver due to the more complex technical nature of the position, but his offensive coordinator did not rule out the possibility of Timmons also playing running back. He lined up both in and out of the backfield playing in an offense similar to UK's in high school.

"It's great," Timmons said. "It's another opportunity to help this team out and be able to play. I'm familiar and comfortable with going in the backfield if I need to be, or slot receiver."

But just like with the rest of the class, Brown is quick to point out that contributing early at this level is not a given, regardless of how talented a player may be.

"I think everybody in the state is excited about Ryan and they should be but also you have to realize that these freshmen, they are 18 years old, and they are going to go out and play in front of 60,000-plus the first game and it's going to be like that every time," Brown said. "So I think our expectations have got to be realistic, but at the same time, if they are the most talented guys, we have got to take those bumps."

For that reason, the arrival of Javess Blue was a welcome one.  After two seasons starring at Butler Community College, Blue is more seasoned than the incoming freshman wide receivers. He didn't arrive in Lexington until a few days ago, but he is expected to compete for playing time regardless.

"We thought he was, if not the best, one of the top two or three junior-college receivers in the country last year," Brown said.

With that sort of praise comes high expectations, but Blue isn't feeling the pressure. His main concerns right now are learning the signals in a new offense and simply playing the game he loves.

"As soon as I landed Friday, I'm like, 'Where's the football? Somebody please throw me a football,' Blue said. "I'm ready to practice. I'm ready to go."

Another player looking to make an instant impact is Louisville native Jason Hatcher.'s eighth-ranked defensive end prospect was one of the crown jewels of the top-rated class in school history, and that was before he added 12 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame over the summer.

"There's even more weight that they say I'm going to put on," said Hatcher, who now weighs in at 256 pounds. "I don't know where or how, but they said it's going to come."

The "they" he refers to is UK's High Performance staff, led by Erik Korem. At first, Hatcher was a little overwhelmed by all the information at Korem's disposal ("It's like he has a Google search bar on the top of his head," Hatcher said). But now, he understands how powerful it can be.

"It's not what we want; it's what we need," Hatcher said. "They make sure that we're eating, that we're getting enough sleep. Coach Korem takes a lot of information that he's gathered over the years and it's proven."

Hatcher, who grew up a Louisville fan, was swept up in the momentum created by the hiring of Stoops and couldn't help but join. Because of that, Hatcher and his classmates believe big things are in store. But for now, the small stuff is what counts.

"We worry about today," Montgomery said. "Today is today. We're worrying about Media Day. Then tomorrow we worry about the first full day of camp. We're not worrying about Western Kentucky, we're not worrying about Louisville, we're not worrying about anybody during this season. We're worrying about getting ourselves better."

UK coordinators Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK coordinators D.J. Eliot and Neal Brown. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Possibilities abound. In fact, they sum up Kentucky's preparations for the 2013 football season.

For UK's coordinators those preparations began in earnest on Monday with the Wildcats going through Media Day before the real work began with the first practice of fall camp

With so many variables affecting a first-year staff, prioritizing becomes paramount. Both offensive coordinator Neal Brown and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot seem to agree: Establishing an identity on both sides of the ball takes precedence.

"We had 15 practices in the spring and we've got a couple of weeks here early in camp," Brown said.  "We've got to figure out who we are. Who our best 11 are and who our next best five or six are at the skill positions and then form what we're going to be around those people and their strengths."

"We're going to coach them with the expectations that they're going to be great. That's how we're going to handle them on a day-to-day basis. We want to be a great offense. Are we going to be there this afternoon? Probably not. When will it happen? I don't know. I tell them it's not if, it's when."

The approach is markedly similar on the other side of the ball. For UK's defensive chief it all starts with a select unit setting the tone for the rest of the team.

As of now that's the defensive line.

"I've coached on different teams where you had different strengths," Eliot said. "But having four good defensive linemen is important.  You don't have to cover somebody if they sack them, you know what I mean.  So it goes a long ways."

Establishing identity may start with one unit on the 2013 Wildcat defense, but as UK goes through Stoops' "process" a consistent approach across the board will become the standard. The Wildcats may lack such depth at the start of August, but ask any coach, that's what two-a-days are for.

Eliot was happy to break down where each defensive unit stands entering the fall on Monday.

"Each level, I think the defensive line, like I've mentioned before, is the furthest along right now," Eliot said. "We just need to continue to get better and continue to develop more depth there. And then at linebacker, we have got to make sure that we are not only making plays, but the linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense, that they are making the right checks and the right adjustments. In the secondary we need to improve fundamentally."

Both coaches are implementing new systems this season so Xs and Os are still very much in the air, but even before the Wildcats have practiced in full pads this training camp, rough blueprints appear to be taking form.

If that continues to happen as Stoops, Brown and Eliot plan in 2013, the Big Blue Nation is in for an exciting time.

 "We want to be exciting," Brown said. "We want to be high-tempo. I feel like this is a blue-collar state from east to west. We want to put a product out there that resembles the people in this state. We want to play with a high-tempo, be physical and we want to get after people.

Mark Stoops had gotten reports all summer that his team was getting faster and stronger through a High Performance training regimen. He had heard about all the work the Wildcats had done in 7-on-7 drills.

On Monday, Stoops finally got to see the results of a productive summer firsthand.

Following a busy day of interviews and photo sessions, Kentucky took the field for its first practice of fall camp on Monday afternoon and looked like a different team from the one that was on the field when Stoops last coached them.

"They're more explosive," Stoops said. "They're in better shape. It's nice to have more depth. We're a better football team than we left spring, that's for sure. So I'm encouraged. I thought we did some really good things. We look a lot better."

Stoops was also pleased with the organization and efficiency of the practice, even as UK operated differently in some drills than in the spring due to the depth added by the arrival of the 2013 signing class.  But even more importantly, Stoops likes the way his players are responding to coaching.

"The biggest thing is they've had a great attitude the past two days, so that's been evident," Stoops said. "And that's the biggest thing. If we can be consistent with that attitude, then we'll have a chance to get better and improve this football team."

UK stayed healthy through the first day of fall camp, though sophomore running back Dyshawn Mobley and freshman defensive lineman Regie Meant sat out due to preexisting injuries. Mobley underwent surgery on a hernia in July and is expected to return around Aug. 15. Meant was held out to receive treatment on an infected cut on his hand.

The Cats will return to practice on Tuesday afternoon, working once again without pads.

Mark Stoops addressed reporters at Media Day on Monday. (Pete Camagna, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops addressed reporters at Media Day on Monday. (Pete Camagna, UK Athletics)
Two-a-day practices. August heat. Late-night film sessions.

Fall camp may not sound all that great when described by its component parts, but to Kentucky special teams coordinator and safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto, it's about as much fun as anything could ever be.

"It's kind of like Christmas," Peveto said when asked about the first day of camp. "You wake up, you're excited. You say, 'Hey it's finally here.' You can't wait to get in the car and get here and get going."

First-year UK head coach Mark Stoops might be even more eager to get going than the always-energetic Peveto.

"To be honest with you, I didn't sleep very good last night," Stoops said at Media Day on Monday, hours before UK's first practice of the fall. "I was ready to go."

The last few weeks, Stoops has been on the luncheon circuit, delivering speeches to fans and boosters instead of his team. But on Sunday, student-athletes reported to campus and Stoops summoned the Wildcats to the Nutter Training Facility for their first official team meeting of 2013. He quickly learned he's not the only one who's ready for some football.

"We had a great meeting last night with our players, very attentive, and they are excited to get going, coaches are excited," Stoops said.

Since the Blue/White Spring Game in April, coaches have been prohibited from working with players. The staff has gotten good reports on the Wildcats' work over the summer in the High Performance program, but that's no substitute for actual practices.  

"We've been away from it for a long time," Peveto said. "In the summer we can't coach our guys, so to get back with them, get them all together and start getting into practices and meetings is a lot of fun."

The players feel the same way, particularly the newcomers. Save for a few January arrivals, the newest bunch of Wildcats didn't get to participate in spring practice and have had to wait a long time since their last organized chance to play football.

"It's go-time, finally," freshman wide receiver Alexander Montgomery said. "I haven't played football in pads since December. That's a big break. I'm ready. I'm tired of waiting around. I'm just ready to put on pads and play football."

The only way fall camp could be better is the Cats could get a guarantee from Mother Nature that every day will be in the low 80s and sunny.

"I hope every day's like this, to be honest," quarterback Maxwell Smith said.

Stoops talks goals

If you've listened to Stoops talk for more than a couple minutes, you've surely heard him use the word "process." That's no accident.

In rebuilding Kentucky football, he refuses to let anything distract him from focusing on each individual step. Unsurprisingly, he didn't let a question about goals for the season take him off track at his Media Day press conference.

"We talked a lot last night and throughout the summer, throughout camp, the message is just simply to embrace the process of getting better," Stoops said. "I know that's boring to hear sometimes but it's true."

If anyone was going to get bored at hearing yet again about the process, it would be defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. Kentucky is the fifth different coaching stop he's made with Stoops over the last 16 years, but Eliot has seen the approach work too many times to stray from it.

"When he says we are concentrating on the process and not the outcome, it's what did we do that day or maybe that rep or maybe that meeting to make ourselves better," Eliot said. "And then the outcome will fall into place."

With that same concept in mind, Stoops offered a definition of success in his first season that is both crystal clear and completely open-ended at the same time.

"Just improvement, drastic improvement," Stoops said. "I don't know exactly where we're at, we'll see.  We are going to go out there and we are going to get to practice today, and we're going to go about our business and we're going to grind hard each and every day to make this team better, and we'll see where that goes. We'll talk about that at the end of the year."

Lowery cleared to practice

After his hospitalization following a single-car accident in May, Ashely Lowery is on campus and cleared to practice as fall camp begins. Lowery was not available for interviews at Media Day, but Stoops said the junior safety will participate in all team activities during fall camp.

Lowery, however, was cited for driving under the influence after the accident in his hometown of Cleveland, Ga. Stoops said on Monday that he is monitoring the situation but is "not ready to name a penalty" for Lowery.

"He's gone through an awful lot," Stoops said. "We need to continue to go through the legal process, see what happens. I'm just trying to gather as much information as I can before we make any decision on his future, or suspension or anything like that."

Roster updates

The majority of UK's 2013 signing class - UK's highest rated ever since established its rankings - has been on campus this summer, but Stoops provided updates on four members who have not yet arrived.

Defensive end Alvonte Bell and offensive tackle Justin Day will not report to fall camp and will likely attend junior college in the fall. Stoops also said UK is "still waiting" on defensive lineman Melvin Lewis and cornerback Nate Willis - both junior-college transfers.

"We expect them to be here shortly, how long that takes, we'll see," Stoops said.

Quarterbacks keeping competition friendly

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From left to right, quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Maxwell Smith will compete for the starting role during fall camp. (Chet White, UK Athletics) From left to right, quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith will compete for the starting role during fall camp. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It wasn't created intentionally, but there is a quarterbacks wing at the locker room in the Nutter Training Facility.

There, players are assigned spaces based on their numbers, which means Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Jalen Whitlow - who just switched his jersey from No. 13 to No. 2 - naturally spend a lot of time together.

"All four of our lockers, they're right next to each other," Smith said at UK's annual Media Day on Monday. "So we're always talking to each other or we're always hanging out."

With fall camp set to start on Monday, that arrangement would seem to be a potential source of trouble. In the coming weeks, those four will campaign to be the starter at quarterback on Mark Stoops' first Kentucky team, but none of the parties involved are concerned what the combination of competition and proximity could do to their relationships.

"Keep everything on the field," Whitlow said. "Once we're off the field, we're friends, teammates. We hang out, we talk, laugh, joke. It's not a controversy at all."

The coaching staff feels the same way.

"I think it starts with the demeanor and how Coach Stoops and I handle it, and I think they are good people," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown. "I don't think any of those guys are jealous by nature. I think they are really good, solid human beings."

Though they may have that in common, the four contenders bring different strengths to the table on the field.

Smith is, relatively speaking, the veteran of the group. Even though Smith is still only a redshirt sophomore due to an ankle injury suffered last season, he has started seven games over the last two years. Particularly in 2012 - when Smith averaged more 320 yards passing in his three full games - he played well in a hurry-up offense slightly reminiscent of the modified Air Raid attack UK will run under Brown.

"I think he has potential to be really accurate with the football," Brown said. "And he has been productive when he's been healthy. Now, he has not been healthy a whole lot, which is an issue. But he's been productive and he's accurate with the football and he's done it against good people."

In spite of his previous injury problems, Smith reports he is feeling good after a spring and summer with UK's High Performance program.

"I'm the strongest I've ever been, probably the fastest I've ever been and the healthiest I've ever been," Smith said.

Even so, Smith won't be outrunning Whitlow anytime soon. The true sophomore, according to Brown, is one of the best athletes on the team and, due in large part to his running ability, Whitlow was effective at times after he was thrust into the starting role following Smith's injury. Whitlow was even better at the Blue/White Spring Game in April, throwing for 193 yards and two touchdowns to go with 49 yards rushing.

Whitlow has targeted the "little things" for improvement this offseason, namely footwork and knowledge of the offense. And as he has made the transition from freshman to sophomore, he has also embraced that playing quarterback is about much more than individual play.

"I think I've been more of a leader this summer, just trying to be more vocal," Whitlow said. "I'm not a big hoorah guy, but I try to be a little bit more vocal and serious once we get on the field."

Perhaps even more than Whitlow, Towles has tried to improve his footwork.

"I had May, June and July to fix that and I believe that I've made great improvements in that," Towles said. "And it's shown through the productivity. I feel like I've been throwing the ball way better than I had."

No one has ever doubted Towles' raw throwing ability.

"When you're talking about Patrick, he's got a strong arm and he's a big kid that runs better than most people think and he's got big-time arm talent," Brown said.

Towles showed flashes of that ability in five games last season, particularly in a 5-for-5 performance in leading the offense to a touchdown during his first-career drive against Mississippi State. After that, Towles experienced many of the growing pains expected of a true freshman pressed into service.

With Brown's help, Towles has come to realize that his struggles were psychological as much as they were physical.

"One thing Coach Brown talks about is no matter what decision you make, you've got to be fully confident," Towles said. "If you're fully confident, your feet are going to be in line and everything like that. When your feet slough off is kind of when you're wondering, 'Where do I go?' I developed that knowledge I need and it's going to fix everything."

Even though he is the lone quarterback not to have played a college down, Brown sees some of that confidence in Phillips - the wildcard in the competition. The freshman arrived on campus in January and "showed no fear" in completing 10-of-12 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in front of UK's record spring-game crowd.

Stoops and Brown will now go about the task of evaluating the foursome. Practice time will divided equally, as will first-team reps. The ultimate decision will be Stoops' - though Brown will have plenty of input - and there is no specific timetable set for it. Additionally, neither Stoops nor Brown ruled out the possibility of playing multiple quarterbacks, but they did make it clear their preference is for one to emerge and take hold of the job.

"This is going to be about we, not about me," Brown said, recalling his message to the quarterbacks in a meeting on Monday morning. "This is how the reps are going to be distributed and everybody is going to get an opportunity to prove themselves, and the most productive guy will win."

Video: Fall camp football pump-up video

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The UK Sports Video department has been producing great football content all season, but this video shown to players when they reported on Sunday is one of the best. Take a look.

Video: DEs Dupree, Smith have fun at Media Day

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Video: Coordinators Brown, Eliot at Media Day

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

Video: Stoops' Media Day press conference

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Live blog: Football Media Day 2013

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Mark Stoops spoke at the Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops spoke at the Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Few people who don't share his last name know Mark Stoops better than D.J. Eliot does.

The relationship began when Stoops was named defensive backs coach in 1997 at Wyoming. Eliot, then a junior linebacker, immediately noticed him.

"I was a player at Wyoming when Coach Stoops was a coach there and he's this young, fiery 20-something-year-old coach," Eliot said. "He was really confident and I (thought), 'He's almost too confident for his age.' "

It turned out Stoops' confidence wasn't unfounded. He took a secondary that had previously ranked among the nation's worst and shaped it into a unit that intercepted a school-record 24 passes in his first season.

Eliot, meanwhile, was forced by injury to give up playing football before his senior season. So while he completed his undergraduate studies, he got his coaching start as a student assistant, working alongside Stoops every day. They didn't know it at the time, but Stoops and Eliot were forming the foundation of a partnership that would reunite them at Houston, Miami and Florida State, duplicating the defensive success they had at Wyoming from 1997-99 everywhere they went.

Having spent eight seasons with him, it was only natural that Eliot would follow Stoops when he was named head coach at Kentucky. But for a brief moment, it looked as if the two might be separated.

"I thought Coach Eliot and I had a plan as we were going through this process," Stoops said. "I thought he was in the boat and then he started getting all these opportunities. That's what you want. You want coaches that have a lot of value, that have a lot of opportunities."

Ultimately, Eliot signed on as defensive coordinator, filling a role that would be vital as Stoops undertook the balancing act that is being a head coach for the first time.

"Coach Eliot and I have been to three, four, five stops together and he knows what I want to do defensively," Stoops said. "So that was very important to let me do all the things that I've been doing in the community, get out there and be in charge of the whole program."

On Friday, Eliot joined Stoops on stage at the Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon as he fulfilled the final of his face-of-the-program responsibilities before the Wildcats report on Sunday for fall camp. A sellout crowd of 450 was in attendance at the Patterson Ballroom of the Lexington Hyatt Regency, listening intently as Stoops, Eliot, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and special teams coordinator and safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto previewed the 2013 season.

Stoops interacted with all three as if he had known them as long as he has known Eliot, but the familiarity he has with each is actually quite varied.

Peveto, then a cornerbacks coach, was with Stoops and Eliot at Houston in 2000, but that's the extent of their relationship prior to their arrival in Lexington.

"He and I worked together at Houston for one short year, but he made an impression on me," Stoops said. "He makes an impression on everybody that he works with."

That - and his vast experience over 26 years as a college coach, one of which was spent winning a national title at LSU in 2007 - was enough for Stoops to reach out to Peveto when he was searching for a special teams coordinator. It didn't take long for Peveto to become interested.

"The thing that excited me the first conversation I had with Coach Stoops was that he's committed to special teams," Peveto said. "If you don't have that commitment from your head football coach, it's hard to succeed and be very good at it."

Peveto delivered his remarks in his characteristic Texas drawl, an accent Stoops has clearly come to enjoy.

"That was in New York, right?" Stoops joked when Peveto recalled his youth as the son of a football coach. "Did you grow up in New York? Where's that accent from?"

As for Brown, Stoops knew even less before hiring one of the game's bright young coaches. As he began the process of seeking out an offensive coordinator, Stoops kept an open mind.

"I had some other ideas in mind as Mitch and I were talking and I was very honest with (Athletics Director) Mitch (Barnhart) when I said, 'Nothing's set in stone. I understand that is one of the most important hires I can make because of my background on defense,' " Stoops said.

It was fortunate Stoops was willing to listen, because Brown wasn't even on his radar initially.

"After I was offered the job, somebody brought to my attention that Neal could be interested and he was from Kentucky and I didn't even know all that," Stoops said. "So I started looking at Neal on paper and looking at all the things he did."

Brown has coached some of the best offenses in the country at Texas Tech and Troy and has deep Kentucky ties as a player and native of the Bluegrass, so he looked good enough at first glance for Stoops to place a phone call. When he did, Brown was driving with his wife and two daughters from Lubbock, Texas, to Dallas. Accustomed to life with young children, Stoops was unsurprised to hear crying in the background.

"He's like, 'Coach, you know, maybe I could just call you when I get there,' " Stoops said. "I said, 'I have a couple young kids. If it's alright with you, it's alright with me.' We just kept that conversation going and I was very impressed with him on day one."

The rest of the coaching staff was in the crowd for the Kickoff Luncheon, serving as more proof that Stoops found the best possible coaches regardless of how well he knew each one beforehand. At one table was tight ends coach Vince Marrow, who has an even longer history with Stoops that Eliot after growing up with him in Youngstown, Ohio.  

"I had to bring my homeboy in here, right?" Stoops said.

Seated nearby was Jimmy Brumbaugh, with whom Stoops had coached at a camp.

"He coaches defensive line exactly like we want it to be taught," Stoops said.

Tommy Mainord, meanwhile, has worked with Brown, but never Stoops.

"His wide receivers were as tough as anybody in the country at Texas Tech," Stoops said.

But as different as each member of the coaching staff's background may be, they have the most important things in common.

"They're unbelievable workers," Stoops said. "Those guys just bring such great value."

Linnae Harper averaged 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals as the U.S. U19 team won a gold medal. Linnae Harper averaged 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals as the U.S. U19 team won a gold medal.
Linnae Harper hasn't even played a college game yet, but her trophy case is already crowded.

She led Whitney Young High School in Chicago team to four consecutive city championships, including a state title in 2012 with a spotless 34-0 record. Last season alone she was a McDonald's All-American, a finalist for both the Naismith and McDonald's National High School Player of the Year awards and was named Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.

Harper - the highest-rated UK Hoops signee ever - might be accustomed to winning and she might know how it feels to receive awards, but wearing her country's colors and having a gold medal placed around her neck will never get old.

"It's a different feeling than winning the state championship or winning a big award," Harper said. "It's totally different because it's not just your state and it's not just your city; it's your entire country."

Harper got to experience just that on Sunday.

Playing at the U19 World Championship in Lithuania, Harper helped lead the United States to a 61-28 victory over France in the gold-medal game, tallying six points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist. With Harper averaging 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals, the U.S. completed a 9-0 charge through the tournament.

"I think I was pretty consistent overall," Harper said. "My one thing was trying to the little things. Everybody on the team can score, everybody can play defense, but it's the little things that separate you."

That's something Harper knows from plenty of international experience. The gold medal she brought home this week is her third, as she played at both the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship. The latest team, however, was exceptional.

"One thing about our team: We had a lot of depth," Harper said. "All 12 players are very versatile, can play multiple positions when needed. This was a special team, very talented from point guard all the way to the post. I think each player had a specific role and played their part and that's how we ended up winning the gold."

The team was comprised of six current collegians, three players bound for college and three high schoolers. The competition, as you might expect, was as fierce in practice as it ever was in games.

"Everybody wants to win and they're very intense," Harper said. "It helped me a lot playing with some of the players who are in college."

UConn's Breanna Stewart followed up on her Final Four Most Outstanding Player performance in the spring by leading the U.S. in scoring en route to MVP honors. College stars Bashaara Graves (Tennessee) and Alexis Jones (Duke) were also on the team, generating some inevitable trash talk.

"Here and there we would all make little comments, but it was all fun," Harper said. "We all knew that we're going to be competing against each other this year and when we were down there we were strictly U.S.A."

Even though Harper's focus was primarily on the gold medal, that didn't stop her from keeping up with her soon-to-be Kentucky teammates and coaches, including friend and former high-school teammate Janee Thompson, who is entering her sophomore season at UK. Playing on the national team kept her from coming on campus for the summer, but Harper doesn't think she'll have any trouble catching on when she arrives in Lexington on Aug. 24.

"They're all pretty cool," Harper said. "They keep me updated on what's going on in the summer, so I'm not really that behind."

Anything she may have missed in terms of conditioning or bonding with her new team will likely be more than made up for by competing against and playing with some of the best young players in the world.

Though she hasn't witnessed it firsthand just yet, Harper knows how different college is from high school and believes learning to play a role on a talented national team is experience that will pay off.

"In high school, you carry the team and you have players help you," Harper said. "With U.S.A., you have 11 other players that can help and are on the same level. I think on Kentucky, it will be the same way. But of course it will be a different concept because I'll be with my main team."

Harper still has to wait a little more than three weeks before joining her new team and admits to having some "jitters" about moving on to college. Her first priority will be making the adjustment to her new surroundings, but she has an ambitious goal in mind too.

"Eventually, one of my main goals is to become SEC Freshman of the Year," Harper said. "But that takes time over months. I'm not really focused on that right now. I'm focused on getting myself ready so I can be an asset to the team."

Recent Comments

  • John Walter: I know him personally and he is very hard working young man, who deserves some closer attention! read more
  • Jeff in Florida: Dakari, Keep up the good work. I know BBN fans can be rough and we have high expectations, but just read more
  • Guy Ramsey: Dish Network has not yet signed on to provide the SEC Network to its subscribers. If and when it does, read more
  • Shirley Oneal: And just what is this SEC network going to cost Dish Network subscribers? read more
  • Shane Best: WOW...Dakari it sounds like you're really coming into being your own man.....and Cat fans can see that and they read more
  • norm hershfield: You guys looked a lot better against Louisville. Great game! I've got one request that could bring you the championship. read more
  • tom moors: That was a great game, enjoy the team time with Camp Cal. it will benefit the whole nation come end read more
  • Allen bryan: just keep up the hard work things will come togeather for the team Im very proud of my cats read more
  • TEXIZZ: I am the happiest liar in town. I thought the Cards would put it on the Kats! Kentucky played "Kentucky read more