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Mark Stoops speaks at UK's annual Kickoff Luncheon. (Brent Ingram, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops speaks at UK's annual Kickoff Luncheon. (Brent Ingram, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops knew this offseason was an important one.

Through his debut season at Kentucky, he coached a group that was almost always competitive, but clearly had a long road ahead to become the team he was brought to Lexington to build.

"That first year, there's so much to change in the culture, creating that culture that you want," Stoops said at Friday's annual Kickoff Luncheon. "You learn from that first year and you go back in the offseason and say, 'Where do we need to improve?' There's a lot of areas we needed to improve. We know that."

Stoops had little trouble identifying a priority.

"We started with leadership and we started with accountability," Stoops said. "That's where we've made drastic improvements. This team has a better attitude. They have a tougher mentality. It starts there and then it goes into physical."

Perhaps no two players better exemplify that leadership development than Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Standout performers on the field a year ago, the two defensive ends have become much more as they prepare for their senior year.

"Bud and Za'Darius are not only great players but they're great leaders," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They're veteran players now. Both of them, first year in the system, were learning what to do and developing themselves, and now they've taken that role on where they can develop others."

Dupree and Smith have always been blessed with exceptional physical gifts, but their growth both on and off the field is exactly what Stoops means by the words that have become one of his signature phrases.

"You hear me talk about it all the time: Recruit, recruit, recruit - and develop," Stoops said. "We can't just bring talented players into our program and stop there. We have to develop them in all areas of their life."

Over the eight months since UK's last game, Stoops has only been on the field with his team for 15 spring practices. Nonetheless, the way the Wildcats have "taken care of business off the field" - including in posting one of their best academic semesters in recent years - tells him all he needs to know.

"We're excited to get going," Stoops said. "Players report Sunday, first practice on Monday and just excited to get this season rolling."

With the start of fall camp finally at hand, Stoops will be asking one simple thing of his players.

"The big thing is: submit," Stoops said. "Submit to the process. Come in, leave everything behind. ... The bottom line is when we report, it's about submitting to what's going on. We have a saying in our program, we talk about 'All In' and that can encompass a lot of things, but just turn everything off, all the distractions, let's get in here, let's lock ourselves in this building and let's get some work done."

There will be plenty more to come next week with the first practices of the fall and media day on Friday, but here are a few other stray notes from Friday's Kickoff Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency.

  • It seems UK's incoming recruiting class was the highest rated in school history for a reason. It's too early to tell how much the newcomers will play this season, but Stoops has been impressed so far. "They've done extremely well this summer both in the classroom and on the field," Stoops said. "Let me tell you this: They look the part. We're going to make those strength and conditioning coaches look a lot better."
  • On the subject of those newcomers, Stoops reported that 26 of the 28 signees were on campus all summer. The 27th will arrive Saturday and Stoops said "we're working on the 28th."
  • Offensive coordinator Neal Brown's priority early in camp will be to figure out which players will play. Of course the quarterback battle will receive the most attention, but he mentioned identifying a third tackle behind Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle and sorting out the running back rotation as other areas of interest.
  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, there was no news on the battle. Brown, however, did spell out what he's looking for at the position. "As far as the actual game, we're looking for a guy that's going to make good decisions, quickly, that takes care of the football and is accurate. And what I mean by accuracy is throwing the football where our guys can make plays after the catch."
  • For those quarterbacks to improve as Brown and Stoops expect them to, they'll need help from their wide receivers. UK's inexperience at the position was plain to see a season ago, especially early, but the group now has a year under its belt. Stoops mentioned Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue as UK's top playmakers outside of running backs Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard and Josh Clemons and they are expected to lead UK's receiving corps. Depth, however, is essential in Brown's system. Jeff Badet was hampered in the spring by an ankle injury and Alex Montgomery will miss the start of fall camp due to a setback in his rehab from a torn ACL, but UK should be ready to go at wideout. 
  • Friday's Kickoff Luncheon closed with an advanced screening of a "Change the Game" video featuring Josh Hopkins and Sundy Best that players will see when they report on Sunday. It will be posted soon after on the Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube page.

Construction crews have been at work on Commonwealth Stadium renovations since December. (Photo via Bell Engineering) Construction crews have been at work on Commonwealth Stadium renovations since December. (Photo via Bell Engineering and taken in July 2014)
Russ Pear doesn't have the problem of the 9-to-5 grind, of waking up and realizing he's facing another boring day at the office.

It's quite the opposite, in fact.

When Pear -- UK's senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations -- arrives at work in the morning, he never knows what to expect. There's no such thing as a routine when you're managing the $100 million-plus renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.

"Some days, I think is this going to be different or a typical day, and there haven't been typical days," Pear said.

Pear -- who has moved his office from the Joe Craft Center to the bowels of Commonwealth during construction -- might not know what he'll be doing on any given day, but he knows exactly what his responsibilities are.

"My role in this whole project is making sure that our athletics department interest in what the project is about and how it moves along are kept always at the forefront of what is happening," Pear said.

In essence, Pear's job is to ensure that the vision for The New CWS, unveiled in November 2013, becomes reality. All those pretty pictures fans saw, Pear works closely with contractors to make sure they come to life.

That means there's a lot of information rattling around Pear's head and even more papers stacked in, around and on top of his desk.

"The documents -- there are 1,000 or so pages of the actual plans on all the different parts of this project," Pear said. "Just making sure I know where things are (is important). I obviously don't know every single page and every single in and out, but I know where to look. I am listening in on meetings and listening to contractor meetings and they are talking about this or that and I am like, 'OK, why are we doing that?' and making sure that our interests are being met."

Of course, there's still a long way to go in that process.

Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics and taken in May 2014
The transformation of the longtime home of Kentucky football won't be complete until UK's 2015 home opener. That's when fans will enjoy the more intimate and intimidating game day atmosphere of the new CWS and its new concourses, concessions, restrooms and premium seating areas. That's when players will begin to benefit from new home-team facilities. That's when future Wildcats will be hosted in a new state-of-the-art recruiting room.

To get to that point, construction crews broke ground immediately after the end of the 2013 season. Wasting no time getting to work, they began the first of three phases of the project.

From December 2013 to August 29, 2014 -- the day before UK's 2014 season opener against UT Martin -- it's all about laying foundations, both literally and figuratively, for the rest of the renovation.

Through the winter and spring, crews excavated large portions of concourses throughout the stadium to begin utility work and demolished the President's Room on the South side of the stadium to make way for the Field Level Club that will be located in its place when the new stadium opens in 2015. In its place, crews have drilled through 11 feet of dirt and 13 feet of rock to create the foundation for new premium seating areas. Also gone are the concession stands under the East end zone and light poles on both the North and South sides of the stadium.

In the summer months, steel work was the priority. In mid-June, the steel that will eventually support the new suites, press box and two elevator towers was set on the South side of the stadium. On the North side, steel supporting the new upper-level concourse also was set.

All this work, however, had to be undertaken with an awareness that UK still has to play seven home games in an under-construction facility in 2014. Fortunately, Pear has some experience on that front.

During the last two years, UK has put the finishing touches on adjoining new softball and soccer stadiums. In both cases, the teams had to play regular-season games before the projects were completed, including when women's soccer hosted an NCAA Tournament game in November.

"The first thing is all about safety and getting people in and out," Pear said. "I've told our contractors all along, if there is a ceiling or some siding that you need to take out or you need to do something up temporary to make this process continue along, do it."

What that means is Commonwealth won't always look its best in 2014. Customer service, however, won't suffer.

"When we get to the press box, we may not have ceiling tiles in there," Pear said. "It may not look like we would normally want the presentation in those kinds of spaces. Now the concourses need to be clean. Amenities and seating and all the things that we normally do -- everything needs to be just like they always are."

Fans will need to be aware of a few changes that will affect them though.

Rows 22-39 in sections 219-232 will be unavailable for the 2014 season, but fans with season tickets in those areas have already chosen news seats. Beyond that, Gates 10 and 11 will be closed throughout the season. All fans coming into the South side will have to enter through Gates 9 and 12. Gates 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 are all accessible, but guests are encouraged to follow the direction of traffic control/safety staff to ensure safe entry and exit through construction fencing.

Once inside, fans will be able to access all concourses, though some will be narrower.

"The east side -- most of those gates (14 & 15) will all be still in place, but we will be building underneath the East end zone with the recruiting room and team space that is located under the lower East seating sections," Pear said. "You will be able to walk all the way around the stadium inside, using the lower concourse. There won't be any closed off portions of the lower concourse like we experienced during the spring game. However, in some areas concourses will be narrower."

During the 2014 season, the second phase of construction will begin. Working mostly in the upper level, crews will be preparing for the cold winter months.

"Then the reality is when the second phase of things are happening ... we will be continuing to work and continuing to do things especially up in that upper tower," Pear said. "At that point we are starting to get a lot of drywall up and a lot of things that have to happen to get enclosed so when we get to the winter months we are working inside."

If it isn't clear from Pear's words, there isn't a moment to spare. That's why Pear was so happy when he saw UK's 2014 schedule. The Cats will play their final home game on Nov. 8, a full three weeks earlier than if they were hosting a home game on the regular season's last week.

"That was a big help and that gives us another whole month of what we consider to be some good weather that should help the schedule," Pear said. "Now, I tried to convince Mitch (Barnhart) to see if we could get next season to start sometime in October, but I knew that wasn't going to happen."

Once the season ends and weather permitting, it's full steam ahead on the final phase of the project.

In case that wasn't enough for Pear to think about, $45 million in funding for a new football practice facility was approved in January by the UK Board of Trustees. Barnhart, when funding was secured, talked about the importance of creating a "one-stop shop" for the football program with the entire operation moving adjacent to Commonwealth at the existing Nutter Field House. Pear reinforced that point.

"You are lifting in the weight room and instead of having to go across the road to get over here you are going right in there," Pear said. "To have this whole football operation in one place will be a huge advantage for our overall program in time-saving and perception."

Pear has spent a good chunk of time meeting to make sure he has a handle on the needs that must be satisfied through the project. Now comes the time when decisions are made about how that gets done.

"We have had the input of the coaches and staff into the spaces we need," Pear said. "We don't know exactly where the spaces are going to be."

Pear estimated that initial renderings for the practice facility will be complete in the "next few months." In the meantime, he has plenty to work on and plenty to be excited about at Commonwealth.

"As we have talked about it and what Mitch has as the goal of this whole project is that we are touching our whole clientele, which for us is our fan base," Pear said. "All of our fans will have the amenities that will be better than what we had before.

"Then (we will address) what we are doing as far as the student-athlete. What is it that will make student-athletes and especially recruits, come in here and take a look at this and look at the recruiting room and look at the space we are creating underneath and look at the improvements we have made to this stadium? Hopefully they say this is a great place to be and a great place to play college football."

This story appears in the Official University of Kentucky Football Yearbook. The yearbook features stories on UK's recruiting success and High Performance program, as well as a season preview, game-by-game matchups and Q&As with players. You can buy it at Kroger locations throughout Kentucky, Fan Outfitters, Kennedy's Bookstore and online beginning this weekend at www.imgproducts.net.


You've seen photos of construction progress at Commonwealth Stadium, but today Bell Engineering brings you video from the site shot by a drone flight earlier this month. The video is a few weeks old, but this gives you an idea exactly how much work is going on.

Video: Outtakes from SEC Media Days

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UK football's 2014 posters are here

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On Monday evening, @UKAthletics tweeted images of UK football's two 2014 posters. The posters feature seniors Bud Dupree and Javess Blue. And the coolest thing? They're two-sided.

Take a look.


The posters are expected to arrive at the Joe Craft Center on Tuesday. If you can't come to the Craft Center to pick them up, use this order form. Additional pickup locations will be announced later.

Mark Stoops at SEC Media Days. (Todd Van Emst, SEC) Mark Stoops at SEC Media Days. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Back in January, when UK received approval to build a $45 million practice facility, Mitch Barnhart asked the question for the first time.

"We'll have to make the decision: Do we go to turf in the stadium, in the game-day stadium, in Commonwealth or do we stay at grass?" Barnhart said.

In search of every possible means to best prepare their team, Mark Stoops and his staff were considering moving away from the bermuda grass surface at Commonwealth Stadium in favor of synthetic turf.

At Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, Stoops answered the question.

"It looks like we will go to turf after this season," Stoops said.

After the 2014 season, construction crews will tear up the field at UK's longtime home to finish a $120 million renovation. When that happens, Stoops confirmed a new synthetic surface will be installed.

By doing so, UK will maximize the time the team can spend practicing in Commonwealth. Kentucky's temperate climate makes keeping grass in good condition a challenge, particularly during colder months late in the season and during spring practice. That undercuts the Cats' ability to get in work on their home field as much as Stoops would like.

"Our grounds crew does a phenomenal job," Stoops said. "They work their tails off and do an incredible job, but the fact of the matter is, we can't get on that field much."

UK wouldn't be the first SEC school to make the move. Four teams already play their home games on synthetic field: Missouri and Ole Miss play on FieldTurf and Arkansas and Vanderbilt on Shaw Sports Turf. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Vandy have all switched to turf within the last five years.

For schools facing climates more comparable to Kentucky, it's an even more popular choice. Ten of the 14 schools in the Big 10 play on turf surfaces. Even Notre Dame, long famous for its grass field, opted to move to turf this offseason.

This decision, however, is all about Kentucky.

When the three fields in the new practice facility when it opens in 2016 and turf in Commonwealth, UK will be spoiled for choice.

"I think it might be in our best interest to be turf in the stadium, indoor turf and two grass practice fields," Barnhart said in January. "It gives us lots of options in terms of practice."

Bud Dupree speaks to reporters at SEC Media Days on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst, SEC) Bud Dupree speaks to reporters at SEC Media Days on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mark Stoops will admit it. He's not an easy coach to please.  

"I don't just throw out a bunch of compliments all the time to our players," Stoops said. "They have to earn that."

Bud Dupree certainly has.

"He's a great player," Stoops said. "He's so versatile. He's improved in so many ways. But he's everything you want. He's a great young man, he's a great leader. He's really taken on that leadership role, to help elevate his teammates. And that's what true leaders do."

Dupree, representing Kentucky at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Thursday, has drawn plenty of attention of late for his eye-popping numbers in athletic testing drills. The 6-foot-4, 267 pounder has a 40.5-inch vertical jump and has been clocked running 21.6 miles per hour in full pads, Erik Korem told the Louisville Courier-Journal, which surely has something to do with the fact he was a preseason Second Team All-SEC choice.

Though he's improved in UK's High Performance program, Dupree has always been physically gifted. The real transformation has come in the senior's leadership. Learning from UK's Impact Leadership Program, headed by Jason Cummins, Dupree has established himself as a key vocal presence entering the 2014 season.

"(Cummins) gave me the key role to get outside of my shell and not only benefit myself but benefit the team," Dupree said. "Sometimes I may be a little too involved in my team than I should be because I will go out the way to do everything I need for my team to be successful."

With six weeks to go before the Wildcats' Aug. 30 season opener, Dupree can see his work paying off as he looks to help fill the void left by Avery Williamson.

"I used to tell all the younger guys, like (Ryan Timmons) and Jeff (Badet) and Blake McClain, I would walk up to them every day and tell them, 'You ain't trying to be great,' " Dupree said. "Now they look at me before I even say something to them, like, 'Are you working today? Are you doing extra? I'm finna do extra.' ... And they're bringing along people with them.

"It makes me feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and touching others."

For one of Dupree's companions on the trip through the media gauntlet in Hoover, Ala., leadership has come more naturally.

"Personally, I feel like I have the leadership role on the offense and I try and get the guys going on our side of the ball and try and get the young guys coming along. I try to do what I can do," junior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle said. "I feel like it's definitely an innate ability of mine because I've just grown up with a great father figure and family that's just instilled in me character values."

Stoops called Swindle the "unquestioned" leader of the offense, but that didn't happen overnight. Swindle, now a junior, needed a time to establish himself as a player and figure out exactly what UK's coaching staff, now in its second season, was looking for.

"I'm just extremely impressed at the way he goes about his business," Stoops said. "He worked extremely hard in the offseason. And you know, that first year, a lot of it is setting the tone and putting the staples in your program in place, and your core values. Then seeing where you're at, then going into the off-season and improving on them. Jordan was the first one, when we put him in a leadership role and did that, to take charge and do an excellent job of developing team chemistry and leadership."

Jordan Swindle (Todd Van Emst, SEC) Jordan Swindle (Todd Van Emst, SEC)
Put in those terms, his task is a tall one. Swindle, however, sees his charge much more clearly.

"It's kind of my goal to make our team better every single day," Swindle said. "If I catch a guy that's not working as hard as he could be or he's not practicing as hard as he could be or he's slipping up in class, I need to go get that guy and confront and tell him he shouldn't be doing that, he needs to get back on track."

It's no coincidence that both Swindle and Dupree view leadership so simply. It all starts with their coach.

"I think he brought that mentality (of improving every day) with him," Swindle said. "It was there before, but it almost became something of a standard. Before, it was kind of like if you did that it was above and beyond. Now it's become something that is if it's not that, it's not right."

On the strength of that approach and the infusion of more incoming talent, Stoops believes he has a different team than a year ago, though the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the SEC East on Thursday by league media.

"We're not worried about that," Stoops said. "You know that. You've heard me say it over and over again: We're worried about getting better. We're worried about putting our head down and going to work. I'm excited. I'm excited about this team and the work they've put in. We're just ready to go to work and get better."

You needn't look any further than UK's Media Days representatives to tell that will start in the trenches.

Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are UK's bookends on the defensive line, poised to wreak even more havoc than a season ago when they combined for 13 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

"I think that they're an awesome combination," said Swindle, who lines up opposite Dupree in practice. "I feel like Bud is a really, really good pass rusher. He's overall amazing and then Z is overall amazing as well. He's a better run stopper. So when you have those two to balance each other out, it's almost unstoppable."

Swindle, meanwhile, will look to anchor an offensive line that doesn't yet know which quarterback it will be blocking for. Stoops said the battle between Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith.

"You would love somebody just to take the job and run with it and play great," Stoops said. "But I've also told you that I'm not going to be forced into that decision. I don't want to be sitting here and saying, 'He can't make a decision.' I need somebody to take charge and win that job. We'll see. We feel good about the way spring wrapped up. There is some clarity there. But there's also a lot of competition to go."

When that competition resolves itself -- likely early in fall camp -- the Cats believe questions at other positions will be answered as well.

"The skill players will come," Dupree said. "Once the quarterback situation gets settled in, the skill players will come."

Offensive tackle Jordan Swindle


Defensive end Bud Dupree


Defensive end Za'Darius Smith



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