Cat Scratches

Recently in Features Category

UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Neal Brown knows Kentucky football.

He grew up a UK fan and followed the program even as he moved up the collegiate coaching ranks as a bright young offensive mind at stops across the country.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown is well aware of the Wildcats' history with their opponent this weekend.

"I very much know what happened the last time they rolled in here to town, so we'll be ready to roll," Brown said.

That last time was in 2004, when the Bobcats came into Commonwealth Stadium and posted a 28-16 victory. UK (1-0) is in a very different place now than it was 10 years ago during Rich Brooks' second season, but the lesson learned on that day still holds true.

Accordingly, UK is intently focused on Ohio heading into a matchup at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, not that Mark Stoops needed a past game as a reminder.

"My team, myself, we definitely can't take anybody for granted," Stoops said. "We're at that stage where we need to play well no matter who we're playing."

If they don't, the Bobcats are likely to take advantage.

Ohio (1-0) opened the season with a 17-14 victory over Kent State, needing a last-second field goal to overcome the Golden Flashes. The Bobcats, however, had a 437-295 edge in total yardage and held Kent State to a paltry 31 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio. ... They're a team that's not going to beat themselves. They're just good and sound."

On defense, the Bobcats return eight starters from last year's team, a group that carried Ohio to a fifth straight bowl berth.

"They're not going to do a whole lot (unusual)," Brown said. "They will blitz their linebackers, but they play base defense, mix up their coverages. They tackle really well; their guys aren't out of position very often at all. I thought they played really, really well last Saturday night."

The same was true of UK's offense in its opener.

The Wildcats piled up 656 total yards - fourth most in school history - behind first-time starting quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles completed passes to nine different receivers in spite of throwing just 29 times and exiting before the start of the fourth quarter.

"It's just a testament to Coach Brown and his offense," Towles said. "There could be a play where five guys are open and the stat only shows the one guy who I threw it to."

The offensive improvement Stoops and Brown talked about all offseason was on display against UT Martin, but it's not clear exactly how much better UK has gotten just yet. Ohio's athletic defense will be another measuring stick.

"I think a lot more of the story will be told this week," Brown said. "See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe. But there were some moments -- we threw the ball and caught the ball. That didn't happen one time last year."

The UK defense was good too, pitching a shutout deep into the third quarter behind a strong starting group. In practice this week, the Cats have gone to work building depth. The second team, however, isn't alone in pursuing improvement.

Seniors Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are the cornerstones of the group styling itself the "Bad Boys," but the pair combined for just nine tackles against UT Martin, with none coming behind the line of scrimmage.

"I saw a couple instances when they were trying to do too much, and that's bound to happen when you have guys that want to be playmakers and they want to do is what they can do, make big plays," Stoops said. "But you have to do that within the scheme. Nothing earth shattering or anything like that. Nothing we can't get corrected. Simple little things that we'll get fixed."

Dupree and Smith will need to be on their game Saturday against Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick. The first-time starter was a terror against Kent State with both his arm and his legs, throwing for two touchdowns and 262 yards and running for 35 more.

"We have to execute the defense within the plan for athletic quarterbacks, but you don't have to do anything different," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You just have to be aware of what your responsibility is and aware that is a threat within the game."

Execution, in other words, will be the name of the game.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

Matsoso more comfortable in second year at UK

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Napo Mastsoso (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Napo Mastsoso (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Brent Ingram

For many freshmen, adjusting to the first semester of their collegiate careers, while also managing the strains of debuting on the soccer field, can be a difficult transition.

Kentucky sophomore midfielder Napo Matsoso managed that transition well as a freshman in 2013, immediately emerging as one of the top players in talent-laden Conference USA.

Matsoso hails from Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Matsoso's home country has a population of just over two million, with approximately 40 percent of the nation living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day).

As a youth, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire, a couple in Louisville, Kentucky. Matsoso joined his five brothers in Louisville, James (23), Lepe (22), Sunny (22), Marc (20) and Setho (19). During his high school career at Louisville's St. Francis, Matsoso totaled 72 goals in four years, earning all-state accolades.

Matsoso had four brothers playing collegiate soccer in 2013, with Lepe and Sunny completing their careers at Northwestern and Maryland, respectively, and Setho playing his debut season at Northern Kentucky University.

"It helps a lot because during the offseason, we get to hang out together and talk to each other about the experiences we all have through college," Matsoso said. "We all try to help each other as much as we can. My other brothers have a lot of experience and they share a lot with me about their college careers."

As far as his collegiate debut, Matsoso turned in a strong season as UK's lead attacking midfielder. Matsoso, a 5-foot-6, 138-pound speedster, started all 20 games for the Wildcats, one of only two players to start each game of UK's season.

"Being in Lexington has been really fun," Matsoso said. "Being around my teammates all the time has helped me a lot. We pretty much do everything together. One of my brothers goes to UK too (Marc), so it is like this is my third home. It has been good back home."

He ranked second on the team in minutes played, finishing with one goal and five assists, ranking second on the club. A member of the 2013 Conference USA All-Freshman Team, Matsoso finished with 32 shots fired.

"I learned it is all about the team," Matsoso said. "You have to put the team before yourself. If we work together as a team, then everything will work out how we want it to be."

Kentucky will need Matsoso's dynamic abilities as a scoring threat in 2014, as the Wildcats replace their top three scorers, including 11 goals between graduated seniors Brad Doliner and Tyler Riggs.

While UK must replace some goals, Matsoso and forward Justin Laird combined for 11 assists, and the Wildcats boast a bevy of talented midfield options alongside Matsoso.

"Our midfield has a lot of players that allow us to go forward and score goals," Matsoso said. "It will work out well this year because we have a lot of technical players that like to play and people that love to score goals and push forward more."

Matsoso appears to be an anchor in the midfield for the Wildcats, helping direct the UK attack from his attacking role.

"I like playing attacking mid because the ball basically has to find me," Matsoso said. "From there, I can help the team out a lot with playing with the forward and other players that play behind me. With the players we have, it will work out pretty well this year."

With Kentucky needing to supply some new faces to replace its goal-scoring punch, one question mark that doesn't need answering is UK's defensive unit. Returning preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving, and three of four starters on the backline, UK is poised to have one of the best defenses in the league.

"It will help the team a lot," Matsoso said. "Those guys have been playing with each other for a while now. They understand each other well. (Head coach) Johan (Cedergren) talks to them a lot; they have a lot of individual meetings with Johan and talk about their roles. That will help the team a lot, and that they are only sophomores, they still have a lot of development to go."

Now, two games into his sophomore season, Matsoso's comfort level is drastically different than at this point in 2013.

"I am more comfortable this year," Matsoso said. "Last year, it was a lot of freshmen coming in and now the freshmen that were here last year are still coming back. Everyone tries to make everyone comfortable to be around and play with. It is getting a lot easier for me to get used to everyone and spend so much time with them."

Kentucky (1-1-0) returns to action on Friday with a grueling weekend in South Bend, Indiana, facing the last two national champions in two games over three days. UK will face 2012 national champion Indiana on Friday, before concluding the weekend with defending NCAA Champion Notre Dame on Sunday.


UK going to work on building defensive depth

| No TrackBacks | 1 Comment

Following an otherwise strong performance, UK came out of its season opener with a clear area for defensive improvement.

This week in practice ahead of a Saturday matchup with Ohio, the Wildcats have gone to work.

"Did some good things," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're just concentrating on getting better fundamentally. So we have to get some depth, gotta establish some players at all positions for our backups. That's our emphasis."

Against UT Martin, UK pitched a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Afterward, the Cats allowed nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-14 victory. The UK backups, in other words, have some work to do to catch up to the starters.

Based on the way the first team played on Saturday, that won't be easy.

UK's starters handcuffed the Skyhawks to the tune of 164 yards through their first nine drives. Safety A.J. Stamps made plays all over the field, tying for the team lead with eight tackles on top of a one-handed interception that was No. 3 on SportsCenter's Saturday night Top 10.

"I really haven't seen it on SportsCenter yet, but I saw a couple videos," Stamps.

Incredibly, it wasn't even his personal top play, according to his coach.

"Well the best play that he probably made went unnoticed, but it was on a screen when he defeated a block, then the guy grabbed him from behind, then somebody else tried to block him and he got after it and he tackled him for a loss," Eliot said. "And they called holding on the play as well."

The blown-up screen and interception, together, show why Stamps is a perfect fit at his safety position. He played cornerback in junior college and has the athleticism to play on the outside, but also the physicality needed to play his current spot.

"We like to recruit safeties that could play corner," Eliot said. "That's what we saw in A.J. We saw a guy that was athletic enough to be a corner. He was a corner in junior college, but yet we knew he was big enough and strong enough and physical enough to be a safety as well."

It doesn't much matter to Stamps where he plays.

"As long as I'm on the field," Stamps said.

He doesn't have much to worry about there.

Wilson leads from the back

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Jordan Wilson (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jordan Wilson (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Brent Ingram

When coaches sit down and start conceptualizing their lineups, one of the key elements to a strong defensive unit is a set of vocal personalities.

Kentucky is blessed with a vocal center back to anchor the backline in sophomore Jordan Wilson.

"As a center back, being vocal is a part of the game," Wilson said. "You can see the whole game in front of you so it is your job to be able to call things out and let them know what you are seeing. Being a leader on the team, that is something that I have always been like. Even growing up in Scotland, I just liked to take on a leadership role, just try to get other players involved and get them moving forward.  We are all in this together, we have the same common goal, and we are just keen to reach that."

A native of Auchterarder, Scotland, Wilson stepped right into the UK lineup as a true freshman in 2013, starting all 17 games he played in.

"Playing a lot as a freshman, I can just take a lot from that as confidence going into this season," Wilson said. "Having had that experience and that extra knowledge when seeing the field can be a big help."

A 6-foot-3, 173 pounder, Wilson helped anchor a strong backline in 2013 that allowed 20 goals in his games. Wilson logged the fourth-most minutes on the club (1,531), despite missing three games.

Wilson helped lead the Wildcats to the Conference USA Tournament Semifinals, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.

Entering his sophomore year, a strength of the UK roster could be the defense. Led by first-team All-Conference USA keeper Callum Irving and three returning starters on the backline, UK's defense will be stingy.

"We have a really strong back four," Wilson said. "We played together a lot in the spring. A lot of the focus in the preseason has been on defensive structure and making sure that everyone coming in as a good base knowledge of how we play. We are working on getting that down first and then focusing on the attacking side of it."

In UK's first win of the season over Belmont last Sunday, the Wildcats started Wilson and sophomore Kaelon Fox at center back, along with fellow returning starter Charlie Reymann at outside back. Sophomore Matt Quick has slid into the outside back role opposite Reymann.

Fox, a 6-2, 155 pounder, has joined forces with Wilson at center back, giving UK a pair of athletic, physically imposing defenders. As a freshman in 2013, Fox played in 19 of UK's 20 games, seeing time all over the field.

"Kaelon is doing fantastic," Wilson said. "I really enjoy working alongside Kaelon. We have a good understanding of each other on the field and we are really good friends off the field as well. We think that partnership is good for the team. I really enjoy playing with Kaelon, he is a great player."

The Wildcat's defense as a whole will be looked to as a team-strength as the 2014 continues. UK has allowed one goal over its two games, posting a clean sheet in its home-opening win over Belmont, a 2-0 result.

Going forward, the Wildcats will hope Wilson along with Fox will anchor the team.

"When you look at Kaelon and Jordan we feel they are a really good partnership at the back," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. "You have Jordan who reads the game really well, and then Kaelon who likes to take chances and try to win balls. But he's fast so if he gets beat he can recover. Then with Jordan as that steady guy at the back, they play off each other well."

The Wildcats will return to action with a grueling weekend tournament in South, Bend, Indiana, facing the last two NCAA Champions, Indiana and Notre Dame. UK opens the weekend on Friday at 5 p.m. vs. Indiana, before concluding the tournament on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame, a team that went 17-1-6 a season ago.

UK carrying confidence into Ohio prep

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment

Solid Tuesday practices are no guarantee. With game day four days away, the urgency isn't always there.

Kentucky had no such issues this week, and that had something to do with the way the Wildcats played in a season-opening win on Saturday in Neal Brown's estimation.

"We had good work today," UK's offensive coordinator said. "A lot of good energy for a Tuesday. I think we're building some confidence after going out and playing well on Saturday, which we needed."

That's particularly true on offense, where UK gained 656 total yards, fourth most in school history, and scored 59 points against UT Martin. For a coach who grew accustomed to leading some of the nation's best offenses at Texas Tech and Troy, that was a welcome development.

"We threw the ball and caught the ball; that didn't happen one time last year," Brown said. "We threw the ball, we caught it, we were able to get it to them in a position so that they could run after the catch. Those things were positives."

A season ago, Patrick Towles was on the sideline as the Wildcats went through growing pains in the first year in Brown's system. On Saturday, he made his first start to the tune of 377 yards passing and another 30 on the ground, benefiting from the new dimension added by the 6-foot-5 Blake Bone and his fellow freshman wide receivers.

"It's super nice," Towles said. "It takes a lot of stress off me. Every ball I have doesn't have to be perfect. Coach (Tommy) Mainord always talks about, 'Hey, just get it in our zip code.' Blake really put that on display Saturday."

Bone's most impressive play came on a go route down the left sideline. Even though the defender shadowing him was flagged for pass interference, Bone jumped and made the play for a 36-yard gain.

Towles was able to make the throw because he had time. Relying on the protection of reigning Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week Jon Toth and his fellow linemen, the redshirt sophomore was not sacked on Saturday

"I'm extremely comfortable with those guys to not worry about it," Towles said. "Takes a lot for a quarterback not to have to worry about the rush. I take three steps back there and I'm not paying attention to what they're doing because I trust them to take care of it."

Instead of worrying about pass rushers, Towles is focused on working with Brown to fine tune his game after a solid debut.

"I think fundamentally there were some things he did," Brown said. "He was a little late on some throws that he got away with in that game that he won't moving forward. So getting the ball out on time. There's, like I said, a couple fundamental (things) - a little bit of some wasted movement in the pocket. We'll get those things corrected. But all in all, I was really excited about how he went out and performed."

That goes for the offense as a whole as well.

Throughout the offseason, Brown said that UK would be improved. It's clear now that was true, but the jury is still out on exactly how much. The Cats' next opponent, Ohio, will reveal a bit more.

"I think it's still to be determined, to be honest with you," Brown said. "I think UT Martin is a good football team, but we went out and performed like we needed to perform. I think a lot more of the story will be told this week. See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe."

UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops kicked off his weekly in-season press conference on Monday as he often does, reflecting on UK's previous game.

He began by singing a tune similar to the one he sang following a dominant win over UT Martin on Saturday, praising his team's effort and attitude as a "good first step" in a long season.

That's when the perfectionist in Stoops came out.

"There's also a lot to improve on," Stoops said. "There's a lot of things we can do better that we will do better."

If you were concerned about the Wildcats resting on their laurels after a 59-14 victory, fear not.

"It won't be a pleasant film session today, I can promise you that," Stoops said, laughing.

However, the positives that had Stoops fired up 48 hours ago remain from the blowout win.

He still likes the way Patrick Towles operated the offense in his first start and the play-making ability A.J. Stamps brings to the safety position. The energy the Wildcats brought in the way they started the game, that's a great sign too.

The difference now is that Stoops knows how much his team has to work on before UK takes the field on Saturday against Ohio, which is a positive in and of itself.

On offense, a lot of that work to be done is in the ground game.

"There were some good things," Stoops said. "But there were some things in the run game, some of our fits, just not striking people, being as violent as we need to be. So there's a lot of areas to improve, and we will."

Defensively, Stoops' primary focus will be on sustaining energy.

Through nine drives on Saturday, UK had allowed just 164 yards on 39 plays, pitching a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Over UT Martin's final four drives, the Skyhawks rolled up nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think part of that is guys were enthused and they were anxious to play," Stoops said. "That first game, everybody was jacked up. It's been a long offseason. That's the good thing. I want good energy. But then we have to maintain it. We have to come out of the locker room the second half and be a consistent football team."

Some of that can be pinned on UK's offense too, considering all but two of the Cats' nine scoring drives lasted less than three minutes. That's a good problem to have.

"Statistically it's not always going to be pretty," Stoops said. "But I hope we're in that situation. I hope we're up a whole bunch and the defense has to be up there, we score quickly."

Stoops, however, isn't giving the defense a pass, especially not to the backups who gave up the bulk of the yardage and all of the points on Saturday.

"We need to get some depth and we need some guys to step up and compete," Stoops said. "To give up two touchdowns and a bunch of yards the last four possessions is something that we can't do and we won't do."

UK needs to improve right away because Stoops says Ohio represents a significant step up in competition.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio."

Ohio needed a field goal as time expired to finish off a 17-14 victory over Kent State over the weekend, but the Bobcats outgained their opponent 437-295. Ohio had four fumbles in the game, but Stoops knows better than to expect those mistakes to repeat themselves.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

Based on both the things they did well against UT Martin and the things they didn't, the Cats are well positioned to do just that.

"The good thing is that I felt like, as I said after the game, it was a good game," Stoops said. "Our team needed it. Our fans needed it. The whole deal just to go out and play well. Good news is there's a lot of areas I think we'll improve on."

Injury, depth chart notes

  • Senior Darrian Miller returns to his regular role as UK's starter at left tackle following a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. With his return, Jordan Swindle moves back to right tackle with Kyle Meadows backing him up after starting last week at the position.
  • Wide receiver Rashad Cunningham is also back after a one-game suspension. He is listed as a third stringer at one wide receiver position behind Javess Blue and Dorian Baker.
  • This week's depth chart has changed to reflect UK's regular switches between playing three and four down linemen. Bud Dupree and Jason Hatcher are the starters at the two defensive end/linebacker spots.
  • Khalid Henderson is now listed as the lone starter at weak-side linebacker. Last week, he and Ryan Flannigan were listed jointly. However, the competition between the two continues and both are expected to play this weekend.
  • After tweaking his ankle on the second of his two long touchdowns, Braylon Heard is in recovery mode. Stoops reported the Nebraska transfer is "still a little sore" and "a question mark" for Saturday.
  • Alexander Montgomery continues to rehab following knee surgery, but is now running and cutting as works to return, while fellow wide receiver Jeff Badet has an appointment Thursday to evaluate an eye injury. Neither is expected to play this weekend.


Football notebook: Cats play 'clean' in opener

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
A.J. Stamps (No. 1) made a highlight-worthy INT and several big hits in his UK debut (Chet White, UK Athletics) A.J. Stamps (No. 1) made a highlight-worthy INT and several big hits in his UK debut (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Asked to use one word to describe his team's 59-14 season-opening victory over FCS opponent UT Martin, Mark Stoops said the Wildcats' performance was "clean."

"I just think--really just clean," the UK head coach said. "I think they were just--it was relatively clean. Probably late in the game maybe it gets a little frustrating, sloppy. But the first half, I was pleased.  

"We came out and we wanted to start fast. We did. The guys were very energetic, but yet we went out and played with good poise and that's where--that was good to see."

By the final whistle, the UK coaching staff had a lot to be happy about with positives coming from all three phases.

Notably, UK's 59 points were the most it scored since dropping 63 on Western Kentucky in 2010, and the 45-point margin of victory was its most since a 57-point win over UTEP 12 years ago.

Kentucky also turned in six rushing touchdowns, the most in a game since vs. Kent State in 2007.

Defensively, UK forced five turnovers, one third of its total from the entire 2013 season.

Perhaps more importantly as a sign of improvement, UK had two interceptions. That output brought UK within one pick of matching the teams aggregate from a year ago.

And the Wildcats' special teams units to a certain extent too, with a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff of the second half as a feather in new special teams coordinator Craig Naivar's cap.

No. 1's shine


UK's 2014 roster has some duplicate numbers. Two players, for example, wear No. 1. A.J. Stamps on defense (safety), and Ryan Timmons on offense (wide receiver).

Each of UK's No. 1s was impressive in his own right on Saturday.

Stamps wowed those watching Saturday's game with one play in particular early in the game. The junior college transfer safety's one handed interception early in the first quarter made waves on highlight shows across nation.

"It was a nice feeling," Stamps said of the head-turning play. "I just saw the ball and had to go get it and make the play and fortunately it was me. That's something you do as a kid. I was out there practicing my one-handed catches before the game. It's just something you have to be prepared for."

Apparently witnessing plays has become commonplace for everyone on the UK sideline, who have seen Stamps in practices and scrimmages since he enrolled this past spring.

"We saw him walk out the first practice of the spring and you could just tell," starting quarterback Patrick Towles said. "(UK backup quarterback) Reese (Phillips) said the minute A.J. walked on campus that 'he's the guy.' He showed it today, he showed everybody that he is 'the guy.' "

And the player who wears No. 1 on offense didn't have such a bad game himself.

Timmons was UK's leading receiver in a game in which the UK offense had the fourth-best total offensive output in school history.

He finished with three catches for 75 yards, highlighted by a 56-yarder in the second quarter.

But it wasn't just Timmons' receiving that impressed his coaching staff.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown saw Timmons' disciplined game as tying in with what was a pretty outstanding overall offensive performance for UK.

Timmons looks poised to deliver consistently as a sophomore upon the potential he showed in fleeting moments as a freshman in 2013.

Perhaps the biggest example of Timmons' maturity came not on one of his catches, but on Blake Bone's 29-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

"The thing that sticks out about that play, which had me fired up, is we blocked really well," Brown said. "Ryan Timmons had a really nice block downfield. That would have never happened a year ago."

Timmons' quarterback was even more impressed than his coordinator.

"Timmons when he got here was not a very aggressive guy," Towles said. "It was awesome to see. I got hit (on the touchdown pass to Bone), but I heard the huge roar and then I got up and saw Timmons on top of somebody. It wasn't something I was expecting to see.

"It's great to see the work he's done in the weight room pay off. I also made that throw to him down the sideline and he ran about 20 yards after he caught it."

Offense begins reflecting Brown's blueprint

Kentucky's offensive output in Saturday's win was impressive by just about any measure.

In piling up 656 yards of total offense, Brown's unit began to truly resemble a fast-paced, air-raid attack for arguably the first time in the Stoops era.

"Overall I was extremely pleased," Brown said. "We are better ... how much better? I'm not sure. We'll start to find out next week. Our tempo was better.

"I think we showed signs late in the first and throughout the second quarter of playing how we want to play. Now we can still take it up a notch. That'll be one of those things I want to get better at."

The strong output didn't just encourage Brown, whose offense was lacking for ideal personnel a year ago in his first season in Lexington. Watching his unit stockpile yards and points made for one of the most enjoyable games for Brown in a while.

"I just sent a text about how this was the most fun I had coaching since (November) of 2012," Brown said. "It's been fun all camp I've had a good time, and I appreciate the way our guys have worked. These guys really want to be good. Our talent is getting better. We haven't arrived by any means, but our talent is getting better.

"They're eager to do well, and they've been a fun group to coach ... I think you're going to see continued growth as we go along."

Promises of running back depth prove true

Throughout preseason camp, Kentucky's offensive coaching staff had intimated that running back was the team's deepest position.

Judging by Saturday's performance, the coaches weren't lying.

Three backs combined to score four of UK's five rushing touchdowns.

Braylon Heard touched the ball twice and scored on both of them, once with a run of 73 yards the other time for 43.

"(Braylon) might never want to play again because he has to have the highest per-rush average in school history, in the nation," Brown joked. "He might just say, 'I'm done.' Here's the thing, and this won't show up, but the two runs he had were extremely disciplined runs. We had some runs later in the game that weren't disciplined. The thing that's good for me is we turn on the film tomorrow and here's Braylon doing things exactly the way we coach it."

And while Heard's total 116 yards on just two carries was staggering, both Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton also found the end zone.

Saturday gave position coach Chad Scott plenty of confidence about the possibility a three-headed monster ground attack with plenty of young talent waiting in the wings as well.

Nobody was more appreciative of UK's effective running game than its passer -- who just so happened to throw for 377 yards as UT Martin stacked the box in an effort to limit big running plays like Heard's touchdowns.

"Those two runs that Braylon had were just text book," Towles said. "Kicking out everyone you're supposed to kick out. To have him back there and to have guys like Jojo and Mikel, playmakers in space, is great. I was excited about the two runs (Braylon) had.

"I was running right behind him trying to chase him into the end zone. He's such a good guy, he does everything right. Coach Brown was talking about how good his runs were. He's just a disciplined guy. It's good to see him succeed."

The Kentucky running backs' next chance to succeed will come Saturday against Ohio in a game sure to be at least somewhat more competitive than the opener.

Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Wendell Bell speaks at the dedication ceremony for UK's new soccer complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mitch Barnhart came across more new faces than he could count when he came to Kentucky in 2002.

There were two he just kept noticing.

"We came here about 13 years ago as an administration and this couple kept walking around our program," Barnhart said. "And they kept showing up at events and we got to know them a little bit and spent a little time with us and they'd go on trips with us. Next thing I know, they're traveling with the rifle team, the volleyball team, the women's soccer team, showing up at softball."

The faces belonged to longtime UK supporters and K Fund members Wendell and Vickie Bell, and Barnhart couldn't help but build a relationship with them. It didn't take him long to understand why they were always around.

"What we began to realize is that they've invested in the lives of all these young people," Barnhart said.

On Sunday, UK Athletics recognized that investment with the grand opening of the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex before a women's and men's soccer doubleheader.

"It's a really, really cool day," Barnhart said at a ceremony attended by President Eli Capilouto, coaches and players from both teams and fans. "We get to dedicate our soccer complex to Wendell and Vickie. After all the contributions they've made, we tried to find something that would give them the credit they deserve for all the things they've done."

The new $7.7 million complex houses separate facilities for both soccer programs, with team rooms, lounges, locker-room areas, coaching offices and new grandstand.

"You have no idea how much this means for us," women's soccer senior Arin Gilliland said. "Being here for the last four years, I've gotten to see a change from aluminum bleachers to this amazing facility. We have the best field in the SEC. Now we have the best facility."

The women's soccer team is in the midst of the best years in school history under Jon Lipsitz, while Johan Cedergren is building the men's program in his third season. Walking through a typical visit when he hosts a recruit, Cedergren talked about what the new facility means to that process.

"At the end, it's down to me and they're basically, 'Where can I sign?' " Cedergren said. "As a men's soccer program to have the stuff that we have here is absolutely mind-blowing."

The Bells enjoy being a part of it all.

"We've been very involved with the program for so many years and I was talking with Dr. Capilouto and Mary Lynn," Wendell Bell said. "Just the transformation academically and athletically that we have seen and the changes over those years are just amazing. And the vision going forward."

As meaningful as the new soccer facility made possible by the Bells is to that vision, their meaning to UK Athletics goes far deeper. That's why the two teams presented jerseys to the Bells and the ball used to score the first regular-season goal in the Bell Soccer Complex on Friday.

"Obviously something like this doesn't happen without the money," Lipsitz said. "It takes money to do these things and we know they've been incredibly generous. But I literally made a note and I wrote down a dollar sign and I crossed it out and I drew a heart. Because that is my first thought when I think about them."

That makes the tribute to the Bells unveiled on Sunday all the more fitting.

After the speeches were done, Barnhart led the Bells outside, where a new bell and plaque were unveiled next to the field as a surprise. The bell will ring after each UK goal, creating a new tradition that will be part of all game days to come.

Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Courtney Raetzman scored in UK's 3-0 win over Ohio. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Within 14 minutes in the first game after the stadium's dedication, the bell rang after a Jade Klump goal. The Wildcats would add two more from Courtney Raetzman and Alex Carter in a 3-0 victory, moving to 3-1 on the season in the process.

"We talk about how important it is to leave a legacy," Lipsitz said. "This is the beginning of a new legacy for our players to leave and be able to come back years from now and say, 'Remember when? Remember when we started everything here with the new stadium?'

"It's just so special having Wendell and Vickie here and Mitch and the administration and Dr. Capilouto. You can't really ask more than for the environment we had here today."

In the nightcap, the men's soccer team leveled its record at 1-1 with a 2-0 win over Belmont. After dominating play in a scoreless first half, Kristoffer Tollefsen and Ryan Creel scored UK's first goals of the season and Callum Irving posted a shutout.

"It felt really good, the first home game of the season," Creel said. "Coach said, 'We gotta ring that bell today.' "

"I just think that with all the people here, opening weekend, you want to put on a good show," Cedergren said. "And I thought that the guys were really, really good today."

The Bells were there for all 180 minutes of action on a rainy day, cheering passionately, which is exactly what anyone who knows the Bells and what's important to them would expect.

"We've been blessed," Wendell Bell said, "but truly for us we're just appreciative that we have the opportunity to invest in this program and make an impact on these kids because, at the end of the day, that's what counts."

Reymann's versatility fills many roles

| No TrackBacks | 1 Comment
Charlie Reymann. Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics. 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) 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.

Recent Comments

  • Tom: No highlight video from Florida game? I was looking forward to watching some of the big plays again sync'd with read more
  • new fan : Hey KY ya'll played one heck of a game!!!!! I'm a GATOR FAN but everyone on your team can hold read more
  • gary tanner: What are they (you) going to do about finishing the game. This past game after the 2nd q. we seem read more
  • Steve in Dayton UKFBFAN: With UK it has always been about depth. Stay healthy and develop these other guys. read more
  • Greg Williams: I have two enhancement requests for the men's basketball schedule online. 1) Please list the days of the week with read more
  • Bill Coad: Having known Charlie since birth I might be bias in my opinion but this young man has what most of read more
  • Berdj J. Rassam: 2013 was a tough year for UK football, 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, so 2014 can't be much read more
  • Guy Ramsey: Yes, that is correct. The UK IMG Network will no longer televise games live or delayed. However, it will still read more
  • Guy Ramsey: We are still working on creating other pickup locations throughout Lexington and the state of Kentucky. In the meantime, you read more
  • Tom Payne: The uniform were indeed ugly, glad my TV survived. read more