Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics.
By Brent Ingram.
That first year in college can be a challenging transition for all student-athletes.
For Kentucky defender Charlie Reymann, that transition involved getting acclimated to the stress of playing every day as a true freshman and adjusting to the challenges of academic life.
A native of Worthington, Ohio, Reymann's adjustment in his debut season continued into the summer of his freshman year, when he joined nine UK student-athletes on a service trip to Ethiopia.
Reymann and the UK student-athletes worked with children, helped build homes, provide supplies and enjoy a life-changing experience.
"It is such a blessing to be able to experience a place like that," Reymann said. "As we arrived, the first observations we had were the amount of people on the streets and what they called their homes. In the U.S. a home like we saw would make people look the other way. The houses were made from mud, wood and tin roof. And they were just thankful to have a home, something I think we all take for granted."
Throughout the trip, Reymann was constantly reminded of the challenges of everyday life in Ethiopia and was deeply moved by his experience.
"In Ethiopia, everything is about relationships and I experienced that right when I got off the bus," Reymann said. "A little kid named Honuk, 10 years old, ran right up to me and asked me my name. I was very impressed with his English, and for the rest of the day we were best friends. He asked me questions about everything that had to do with America and told me as much as he could about his life. Listening to him talk about his life just made me want to help him in every way I could. I gave him one of the soccer balls we brought and he was so excited to get a new ball. As he was carrying the ball around all his friends you could tell he felt really special that he had the new Nike soccer ball.
"Throughout the day I kept finding myself thinking how smart this kid is and if there was anything I could do to help his life. He was so joyful and happy to be where he was."
Reymann's trip to Ethiopia came just a few months after his debut as a collegiate soccer standout for the Wildcats. His freshman season on the pitch was highly successful, as the 5-foot-9, 163 -pounder, played in all 20 games, seeing starts in 17 games.
"I learned that I have a lot of work to do before I can get to where I need to go," Reymann said. "I have a lot of things to improve on. Over the season, college soccer caught up to me, played against good players and that really showed and highlighted aspects of my game that I need to work on. Every part of my game needs to step up if I want to be the kind of college soccer player I can be."
Reymann saw time in the midfield but primarily as an attacking outside back as a freshman. He finished with two goals and one assist, serving as the primary corner-kick taker.
"Having (head coach) Johan (Cedergren) and (assistant) Chase (Wileman) give me quality coaching of where they want the ball to go, and when it should be there has helped me a lot because as you grow up you are just trying to get it to the big guy on the team," Reymann said. "But the structure we have here, it is so professional. Johan has made it very clear where he wants the ball to go on set pieces. Most of the time, I can get it there. It helps that those guys really teach us and the attackers know where the ball should be so we are on the same page."
One of the exciting elements of Cedergren's exciting style of offensive play is the ability of the outside backs to support the offensive attack, a role that perfectly fits Reymann's game.
"That was one of the reasons Johan recruited me, because I take pride in that part of my game," Reymann said. "I try to get forward as much as I can. Sometimes Johan and I joke around that maybe I get forward a little too much. The way we can be successful is to have out offensive guys be creative but if we can have our outside backs come up it will really help our offense. Sending in good crosses, that is probably one of the best parts of my game, just being able to pass the ball and distribute. Having that skill set should help our offense."
Reymann will join forces on a dynamic backline with center backs Jordan Wilson and Kaelon Fox. With an injury to his opposite member at outside back, Alex Bumpus, the back four will need to break in a new defender. Even with a new face, UK's defensive unit should be a strength of the team in 2014, including first-team All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving.
"We can be one of the best defending units in the country," Reymann said. "Jordan and I played a good amount together last year. Then having Kaelon Fox come in this spring to the backline, we all have a really good understanding of each other. In the first preseason game, we felt really comfortable with each other. We are starting to understand what each other likes and doesn't like. And having Cally back there, he is just a great leader, organizer. Everyone respects him and listens to him. Everyone being on the same page is going to help us a lot. Last year, with three freshmen coming in on the backline it is going to be a little different this year."
An important aspect of having a good back line in college soccer is constant communication amongst the back four and the goalkeeper.
"There are a lot of things going on at once," Reymann said "Especially against some of the teams we will play against this year, some really dynamic players. Just being able to communicate at a high level and knowing what each other generally likes to do. If Jordan wants to step here, or Kaelon is going to step up, we just have a good understanding of when we are going to do that. Against these good teams, we just have to react and know that your teammates are going to be there. Communication is just a huge part of us having success. Halfway through the year, we really started to communicate better. Now coming in with experience on the backline will definitely help."
With Kentucky coming off its season opener on Friday night at Wright State, the Wildcats now turn their attention to preparing for the home lidlifter on Sunday vs. Belmont at 5 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex, the grand opening of UK's sparkling new facility.
"Oh my gosh. There are no words," Reymann said about the excitement for the new facility. "Last year, we were watching it get built. We just hear rumors about how nice the locker room would be, or the lounge. The field is already the best I have every played on, that by itself is amazing but know that they got it all built it is just amazing. We are just so excited to just get out there and play in front of a huge stadium. Now we have to win at home and build up that fan base."
Patrick Towles had one of the best starting debuts for a quarterback in UK history on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Two years ago, a second-quarter 71-yard touchdown drive led by then-true freshman Patrick Towles impressed a fan base desperate for excitement in the midst of a disappointing season.
On Saturday he showed his talent in broader strokes as he turned in one of the best statistical debuts by a UK starter of the last 20 years.
Towles' 377 yards on 20-of-29 passing with one passing and one rushing touchdown gave him a 189.5 passer rating.
The line was on par with fellow Air Raid signal-callers Dusty Bonner (34-62, 446 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) and Jared Lorenzen (22-34, 322 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) in terms of yardage. His performance was certainly better in terms of efficiency.
"I was very pleased with Patrick," Mark Stoops said. "Very happy for him. The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions. You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field. I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that."
And yet Towles' first start will also be compared with his previous Commonwealth Stadium outing.
"Two years ago was kind of a flash in a pan in terms of having a good first series against Mississippi State before getting injured," Towles said. "It was important to come out today and play clean to build a solid foundation for the rest of the season. Two years ago certainly gave me confidence in terms of playing in front of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd."
The drive in 2012 brought an injury-plagued Kentucky team within a touchdown of then-No. 20 Mississippi State, but more importantly showed the Big Blue Nation the hype around a former Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year was justified.
This UK Athletics Department staff member won't forget tending to the CWS press box phone that day and taking calls from every major sports network on such basic questions as, "How do you pronounce Towles?"
But the excitement was quickly tempered.
Towles suffered an ankle injury on the ensuing drive and played sparingly the rest of a 2-10 season.
And then Towles did not play during Mark Stoops' first season at UK. Going into new staff's second season, the redshirt sophomore had to win a quarterback competition over formidable teammates Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and the experienced Maxwell Smith.
After winning the starting job, Towles entered UK's season opener looking to live up to a world of expectations given his performance in camp and his high school pedigree, not to mention the brief moment of brilliance he showed two autumns ago.
Saturday, facing an opponent admittedly not up to the level UK will face in Southeastern Conference play, Towles delivered on what his 2012 cameo appearance promised.
"Y'all know Patrick ... he doesn't lack for confidence, which is a good thing," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "That's a good thing. He thinks he can make every throw and he thinks he can make every run. That's exactly what you're looking for. I knew he was going to be ready to play."
Towles quarterbacked the UK offense to the fourth-best performance in terms of total offense (656 yards) in school history.
His game featured a 79-yard completion to Demarco Robinson on a first down from his own 13-yard line and a 22-yard touchdown run as highlights.
Towles' offensive coordinator and position coach was confident the player he placed faith in during the preseason would deliver, especially given the way recent practices had gone.
"On Wednesday he had his best practice that's he's probably ever--I know that he's had since I've been coaching, he had his best practice," Brown said. "Decision-making, throwing the ball. I sent him a text that next morning after I watched it and told him that same thing."
But Towles didn't enter the game completely assured of success.
"I was very nervous," Towles said. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I got some sleep, but not as much I would have liked to. I was just ready to go, I wanted to get out there and start playing.
If anything Brown was most impressed by his quarterback's response to adversity. After a turnover on downs to open the game, and some bad decisions early in the second half, Towles showed resilience.
The plays he made in response showed Brown he can depend on his quarterback when the competition gets tougher in coming weeks.
"The most important thing is he came out, first drive of the second half, and made two poor decisions," Brown said. "Made two poor decisions, then he came back the very next series and made two big plays. That's the thing: Bounce back.
"We've had this next-play attitude. That's what we talked about leading up to this game and I told you I preach it to myself more than those guys. But he did. He came out, had a bad series, bounced back, had a real positive series, had a nice run for a touchdown."
Looking back on his first start in a UK jersey, Towles' report card was good. But tougher tests remain.
"I felt like I did well as a whole," the UK starter said. "There were a couple bad decisions that were made by me but as you saw, I did what coach has been wanting me to and that was coming out in the next series and making two good decisions that canceled out my bad ones."
Towles certainly built off his previous CWS appearance on Saturday. The feat is not to be taken lightly given the excitement generated by his previous cameo.
And yet next week's test against a more competitive opponent in Ohio could go a longer way in showing UK's long-term outlook, if not just for the 2014 season.
Braylon Heard carried twice for 116 yards and two touchdowns in UK's 59-14 win on Saturday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
Throughout fall camp, Mark Stoops and his staff have preached the importance of making the simple play and executing assignments.
Braylon Heard's first two carries in a Kentucky uniform looked anything but simple.
The Nebraska transfer took the first 73 yards for a touchdown, sprinting through a big hole and slowing down only to make sure no UT Martin defenders were on his heels. They weren't.
On the next, less than four minutes of game time later, he found another seam and went 43 yards for another score.
The plays will surely end up on UK's highlight reel at the end of the season. And of course, they speak to the talent of the player who made them.
That doesn't mean they weren't perfect illustrations of what the staff has been saying.
"The two runs he had that he broke were extremely disciplined runs," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "... The thing that's going to be encouraging to me is we turn on the video tomorrow and here's Braylon doing the thing exactly the way we coach it. Exactly, to a T, the way we coach it. Boom, big play."
Heard was far from the only Wildcat to make big plays on Saturday. All told, UK had nine offensive plays of 20 yards or more in a dominant season-opening 59-14 victory, not to mention the defense's two interceptions and three fumble recoveries, one of which Khalid Henderson returned 89 yards for a touchdown.
In reflecting on the win, though, Stoops didn't marvel at his team's newfound game-breaking potential. Asked what single thing stood out to him about UK's performance, he gave an answer that was characteristically simple.
"Really just clean," Stoops said. "I think they were just--it was relatively clean."
The fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday left singing a slightly different tune.
After all, they had just seen the influx of talent that Stoops has brought to Lexington back up the hype bestowed on it by recruiting services more than at any point since the second-year head coach's arrival.
They watched Heard -- limited to two carries by an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game for precautionary reasons -- led a ground game that rolled up 243 yards and six touchdowns on 28 carries. They cheered a young receiving corps that caught deep balls and turned short passes into long gains in equal measure, just as true freshman Blake Bone did on a screen pass that became a 29-yard touchdown.
"Definitely impressed," quarterback Patrick Towles said of the receiving corps. "The ball I threw to Blake that he scored on was behind. That should have been farther in front, but he made a really good play. The receivers all around played awesome."
Towles, starting for the first time at Kentucky, deftly ran the show. He completed 20-of-29 passes for 377 yards and a touchdown, adding 30 yards and another score on the ground.
"The big thing was, to me, he was very poised and he made very good decisions," Stoops said. "You know, we know he has the talent to get the ball down the field. I think it was important for him to be efficient in the intermediate area and I thought he did that. He missed a couple, but overall, just very pleased with his poise."
Towles was in Lexington before Stoops' arrival, but he's in the minority among UK's top offensive contributors. Players recruited to Kentucky by the current staff accounted for 529 of the Cats' 656 yards from scrimmage.
"I was very pleased with the young guys in general," Stoops said. "You can see the ability of some of the guys that we've been talking about, all the freshmen running backs, the freshmen wide receivers looked very poised out there and made some good plays."
That poise has everything to do with preparation, says running back Mikel Horton.
"I don't even think our coaches look it like freshmen being played because how prepared we are," said Horton, who carried seven times for 45 yards and two touchdowns. "Each freshmen, each senior, sophomore , junior are very prepared and each can rotate in and know the plays. I don't even look at it as freshman anymore. I look at us as players. When you're well prepared and you don't have a class on you, you can go in and handle your business."
UK's defense didn't rely quite as heavily on newcomers, but its biggest star on Saturday suited up in blue for the first time.
Safety A.J. Stamps has drawn raves all offseason from Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. The first-year junior-college transfer didn't wait long to back up the talk.
After Heard scored his first touchdown late in the first quarter to give UK a 14-0 lead, Stamps came flying into the backfield on the first play of the ensuing UT Martin drive. Before Ladevin Fair could hardly see him, Stamps flipped him into the air with a big hit for a three-yard loss.
"A.J.'s a very talented player and I've said all along he's been a great addition to our defense," Eliot said. "He's a very athlete, a very good football player, but he's also a good leader and he's got a lot of good instincts."
Those instincts showed up again on the Skyhawks' next drive. Reading a deep ball by UT Martin's Dylan Favre, Stamps sped over and snared the pass with his right hand, making a play sure to be seen again on the SportsCenter Top 10.
"Everybody said I could have made it with two," Stamps said. "But hey, one hand looked better."
Stamps -- who finished with a team high-tying eight tackles -- clearly had some fun on Saturday. He wasn't alone.
"This is the most fun I've had in a football game since (November) of 2012, probably," Brown said, recalling a text message he sent after the game. "And here's the thing: It's been fun all camp. It really has. I've had a good time. I appreciate the way our guys have worked, how they've prepared."
During camp, Brown joked about the gray hairs he's spouting coaching so many youngsters. In a good mood on Saturday following a big win, he talked about the flip side of coaching an up-and-coming group.
"These guys really want to be good," Brown said. "Our talent's getting better. We haven't arrived by any means, but our talent's getting better. They're eager, really eager to do well and they've been a fun group to coach. Not just myself, our whole offensive staff. We really enjoy coaching this group and I really think you're going to see continued growth as we go along."
On Saturday evening, UK released the following statement on cheerleader Brooke Gibbs, who was was injured after a fall on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Brooke Gibbs, a sophomore on the UK Cheer team, has been treated and released from UK Chandler Hospital following a fall during the 4th quarter of Kentucky Football's victory over UT Martin. Brooke, her family and the cheer program are appreciative of the efforts and expertise of the athletic trainers, team doctors and paramedics who cared for her at the stadium, as well as the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital. She has heard of the outpouring of thoughts, prayers and concerns from the Big Blue Nation and can't wait to get back on the field with her teammates and the football team soon.
Anni Thomasson had 13 kills and 12 digs in UK's season-opening win on Friday night. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
In practice leading up to the 2014 volleyball season, kills were hard to come by.
What Craig Skinner wondered was whether that had more to do with the strength of Kentucky's defense or the offense's need to improve.
After a season-opening win over Wichita State, the former seems more likely.
Facing a team that reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago, the Wildcats were dominant on the attack in a decisive sweep of the Shockers.
"I'm very happy with the way we played in our first match," Skinner said. "Who knows what to expect. You know how you've been playing against your own team. Wichita State, even though they're a young team, they're always well coached and always very athletic."
It was a balanced effort that carried UK, with four Wildcats putting down at least six kills on the opening night of the Bluegrass Battle. Senior setter Morgan Bergren guided an offense that hit at a .372 clip with 31 assists as No. 19 Kentucky moved to 1-0 entering a Saturday doubleheader against Butler and Virginia Tech.
"I thought Morgan did a really nice job of finding the right people at the right time," Skinner said. "Everybody got involved in the offense. Wichita State had a hard time knowing who she was going to set."
Anni Thomasson was the most likely candidate to finish off points. The sophomore had 13 kills and just two errors in hitting .440.
"Anni's just a great volleyball player," Skinner said. "She figures out ways to score. When she can't pound it straight down, she's going to find a seam or a hole in the defense."
Not only does she find holes in the opposing defense, she also fills them in UK's. Thomasson added 12 digs in what figures to be the first of many double-doubles for her this season. Thomasson was one of UK's best players a season ago in receiving All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team honors, but she appears poised to be even better in 2014.
"No one outworks her," Skinner said. "She just is a grinder and wants to be really good and never takes a day off. When you're like that, it's hard not to improve."
The Newark, Ohio, native is an outside hitter, a position sometimes occupied by offensive specialists, but Thomasson is as much of a contributor on defense. That's a big reason why Skinner says this could be the best defensive team he's coached.
"There's not a position that's weak defensively," Skinner said. "Typically you'll have one, maybe two people that struggle defensively. I think we're going to make it tough for people to score, but we gotta do it every day."
That means practice too, where more intense offense-defense battles are surely in store.
To count down the days to the start of the 2014 season, the UK volleyball team and coaching staff talked about what Kentucky volleyball means to them as part of the Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball.
For head coach Craig Skinner, it's "a culture of great people that are striving to be the best." Junior Morgan Bergren added that playing for UK is about "being part of something bigger than yourself," while freshman Ashley Dusek said UK volleyball means "passion."
Comments from the student-athletes ranged from "family" and "commitment" to "determination and pride" and "the opportunity of a lifetime." Each answer was a different opinion of what makes UK volleyball a special program to be a part of and such a great place to play.
As the Wildcats prepared for the upcoming season, the daily feature, which coincided with updates on the team throughout preseason practice, gave the team a chance to reflect on what being a part of Kentucky volleyball and the UK community is all about. It was also an opportunity to look forward, as several student-athletes also talked about the opportunity to win a championship as they set their sights on the season.
An archive of "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason can be found here. Each day, a UK student-athlete was featured as part of the countdown, in correspondence with their uniform number in addition to the coaching staff.
The countdown also included updates, news and notes from UK's preseason practices. From preseason national rankings to the release of a feature film about the team's trip to China earlier this summer, it was an eventful month leading up to the 2014 season-opener.