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Mark Stoops and Kentucky will open fall camp next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops and Kentucky will open fall camp next week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - Mark Stoops is a man of constant motion.

He bounces from task to task, managing responsibilities as a recruiter, coach and face of the Kentucky football program.

But for a week this summer, he forced himself to stop. Stoops made time for a trip to the beach with his family.

"I took those seven days and even put my phone up for a while," Stoops said, "so I had some missed recruiting calls and some people reaching out to me and later I said, 'I was at the beach and put my phone up,' and everybody was good with that."

Stoops, addressing the media prior to his appearance at Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club Wildcat Kickoff Luncheon, almost sounded as if he pressed pause on his job altogether, but UK fans should know him better than that by now.

"I say I put it away for a few days, it's maybe when I'm at the beach for four or five hours but it's never truly away," Stoops said. "You always have to stay on it."

Nonetheless, Stoops' willingness to take a breather speaks to his confidence. Two years ago or maybe even last summer, holstering his phone for any period of time might have been impossible. There was just too much to be done.

Now, he finally has created enough momentum around his program that it won't slow even if he takes a brief step back.

"I think as things come together and the team gets better, your staff understands what's expected of them and where I'm at, and the comfort level, it certainly gets better as it goes on," Stoops said.

Stoops' confidence was plain to see later on Friday as he spoke to a sellout crowd of 700 at the Galt House in downtown Louisville. Optimistic about his team and pleased with its developing talent and depth heading into the 2015 season, Stoops seemed at ease in a way he hasn't been previously in his three years at Kentucky.

"Any time you put the amount of work in that we put in, then you expect to be more confident," Stoops said. "You expect that to be more confident. You expect it to be more positive because you know you're better. I always use the adage about being sharper. We're sharper. We have sharper tools. Guys, the players, have worked hard. Our coaches have worked hard. You're going into Year Three, we should be better; we expect to be better."

How much better won't be clear until after the season begins on Sept. 5 in The New CWS against UL Lafayette.

"Nothing's going to be given to us," Stoops said. "Just because we're better doesn't mean we're going to win any more games. We've got to go to work and see what happens."

That work begins when the Cats report for fall camp on Thursday.

"It's exciting," Stoops said. "The players have worked really hard. They're bigger, they're stronger, they're anxious to get done with the lifting and running and get on with football."

The time away from football, whether it was spent working out, recruiting or resting, was productive, but Stoops is ready for it to be over.

"It was a good summer," Stoops said. "I feel good. I feel like we made a lot of progress. I feel like our staff has done a nice job of getting some time away but also, as you can tell by some results, by the way our players look and recruiting we don't ever step away from it too far. Guys are anxious and refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to go."

Video: UK football's summer trip to Prague

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Sept. 5 cannot get here soon enough

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It's that time of year, when Mark Stoops spends more time behind a microphone wearing a suit and tie than on the football field carrying a whistle.

In less than two weeks, that all changes.

Sharing the stage with D.J. Eliot, Shannon Dawson and Vince Marrow at Friday's Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon, Stoops didn't hide that he's eager to spend his time in more comfortable surroundings.

"We were joking before we got on camera here that after each one of these events it's kind of nice because it moves us one step closer to getting on the field," Stoops said. "I enjoy this, but there comes a point when the talking season's got to end and you've got to get on the field and get going."


That will happen on Aug. 6, when the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats report for fall camp. Stoops already knows what he'll be expecting of his team.

"I want to see us have some poise and execute, so the effort's going to be there," Stoops said. "I think the first practice, they're always geared up. We only have helmets on the first practice, so you can't get super physical or you're going to get guys injured. So, really, we've got to execute. We've got to be a better football team. The broad strokes are there. Now we've gotta refine our skills and get more detailed and make plays when games are on the line."

Games will be on the line starting Sept. 5 when UK opens the season and The New Commonwealth Stadium against UL Lafayette. Stoops will make no promises about bowls, wins or losses, but he can tell fans about the kind of team they'll watch.

"They've bought into everything we're selling," Stoops said. "They're working extremely hard. Everybody's all in and you're going to see a passionate, fun, exciting group come this fall, I promise you that."

Cats coming along in terms of accountability

Stoops and his staff hammer home the importance of good decision-making and responsibility with their team, but it never hurts to have a powerful outside voice reinforce it.

This week, the Wildcats got just that.

Maurice Clarett, who led 2002 national champion Ohio State in rushing as a freshman, spoke to the team on that exact subject on Thursday evening. Clarett's NFL career ended before it started and he was eventually imprisoned for three-and-a-half years, but has since turned his life around and now serves as a motivational speaker.

"There's a guy that's showing great humility coming back," Stoops said. "He was on top, lost it all, and has come back and has been very successful in his life. And just the outside influences that were part of his demise, I think it's real important to hear that directly from individuals."

Stoops has a long-standing relationship with Clarett having recruited him while at Miami as an assistant and sharing his high school alma mater with Clarett's father. Marrow is even closer with Clarett, making the speaking engagement a natural fit.

Clarett's visit is the latest example of the coaching staff working to develop players as people, not just athletes. That's an unceasing endeavor, but Stoops ultimately has to rely on players to put the lessons into action.

"We work extremely hard to develop these players in every area of their life," Stoops said. "But that can all be ruined in five minutes when they're out, when they're downtown. There has to be that peer pressure within the team to keep these players accountable when they're off campus."

Dawson enjoying fruits of staff's labor

Shannon Dawson likes what he sees when he looks around Kentucky's offensive meeting room.

The faces might be young, but the offensive coordinator believes he has a roster he can do some damage with after he came to UK from West Virginia.

"It's the most depth that I've had as a coach, which is good," Dawson said. "We always struggled with that at the last place I was at. Coming in here, there's a bunch of young, talented kids."

That wasn't the case for most of his fellow UK coaches. Dawson is an exception on this coaching staff in that he hasn't been around since day one, a fact Stoops enjoyed giving Dawson a hard time about on stage at the Kickoff Luncheon.

"You've been blessed to not be here the first two years as we were building that depth," Stoops said, laughing.

Even so, Dawson's job won't be easy. The Cats might be talented and deep, but they're still young.

"The biggest deal with those guys is they haven't had a lot of experience," Dawson said. "And so when you gotta play with young kids...typically you're gonna have some bruises along the way."

The New CWS video tour (July 22)

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If you're on social media, watch the news or really read anything at all about Kentucky football, you know by now that the media were given a hard-hat tour of The New CWS construction on Wednesday. Kentucky Wildcats TV was along for the journey and put together this video showcasing progress on the new home of Kentucky football.

UK football gets first taste of The New CWS

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The Kentucky football team got a sneak preview of its new home on Friday morning.


The Wildcats held summer conditioning drills in The New CWS, testing out the new playing surface and taking a look around at the ongoing $120 million renovation. Kentucky Wildcats TV was there to document it.


Video: Behind the scenes at SEC Media Days

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Jordan Swindle addresses reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. (Allen Sharpe, SEC) Jordan Swindle addresses reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. (Allen Sharpe, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- The talent infusion Kentucky football has gotten under Mark Stoops has been a constant theme throughout his three-year tenure.

UK's record-breaking success on the recruiting trail has been well documented. So too have the flood of freshmen making immediate splashes and the physical transformation of the players already on the roster through the High Performance program.

On Wednesday, Jordan Swindle put a number on the change.

This time two years ago, the senior offensive tackle revealed only five of his teammates topped 19 miles per hour at top speed according to UK's player tracking system. At last check, that total has grown exponentially.

"Just last week we had thirty-three people run nineteen miles per hour, so that's a huge improvement for our team," Swindle said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. "There's guys running twenty-two miles per hour, just crazy speeds."

Stoops pays close attention to that kind of thing.

"That's the information that I got from our strength and conditioning people, and that's encouraging," Stoops said. "I know each year, as I look at the data, I see improvement; I see the strength and the speed improving."

And with that improvement in physical ability -- not to mention the $165 million in facility upgrades in progress -- come mounting expectations. Stoops won't hide from that either.

"We should be better moving into our third year," Stoops said. "Progress needs to be made. We said that from day one."

In the eyes of many, progress will be defined first and foremost by wins and losses. Considering UK went 5-7 a year ago, the six-win mark -- and the bowl eligibility that comes with it -- is a natural and oft-mentioned measuring stick.

"I don't if I see or feel the pressure, but I definitely know that's our goal and so we're striving for that every week," said Swindle, making his second appearance in as many years at the SEC's annual summer media circus. "We have meetings and every week we talk about going to bowl games."

"We're not making any predictions or anything, but it's a main topic around the team," senior safety A.J. Stamps said.

Consider the Cats fell a win shy of a bowl after starting the 2014 season 5-1, it makes sense getting that sixth win would come up often. They'll also be calling on the experience gained in coming up short as they look to get it done.

"We were young," Swindle said. "We had a lot of players last year that it was their first year playing and so they didn't know how to have success early and then once that grind comes in they kind of don't know how to handle themselves. They don't know how to take care of their bodies. They don't know to manage their time. That's why the decline at the end of the year I think happened. This year we're definitely more mature."

Maturity, however, means the Cats must not let visions of a 13th game in December or January consume them.

"We talked about a day-to-day approach and we still stay with that," Stoops said. "So we're never going to get ahead of ourselves. We have a long way to go to build the program to where we want to be."

"We talk about (reaching a bowl), but we just have to focus on getting better every day," senior defensive tackle Melvin Lewis said. "We have to start off with the small things and not think ahead and stuff like that. We just have to worry about working hard right now and playing Louisiana-Lafayette Sept. 5."

Lewis and his teammates have given Stoops reason to be feel good on that front.

"Year three, we should be better," Stoops said. "We are better. I think one of the big things that stands out to me is just the unity of our football team. They're all in together. They've worked hard throughout winter conditioning. They've worked hard this summer. They're anxious and more confident. The more work you put in, the more talent you have, the more confident you can be."

That speed doesn't hurt either.



HOOVER, Ala. -- Kentucky football -- represented by Mark Stoops, Jordan Swindle, A.J. Stamps and Melvin Lewis -- takes its turn at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. The interviews begin just after 10 a.m. ET, with Stoops taking the podium on the main stage at 11:35 a.m. ET (which will be broadcast on the SEC Network). Make sure to follow @UKAthletics, @UKFootball and @KYwildcatsTV all day for behind-the-scenes coverage.







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