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Alex Montgomery is on an athletics department-sponsored service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics) Alex Montgomery is on an athletics department-sponsored service trip to Ethiopia this week. (Nicolette McLaughlin, UK Athletics)
This week, Alex Montgomery, Austin MacGinnis and Marcus McWilson are on UK football's annual service trip to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.

I would start this off by saying the flight was terrible and I never want to do it again, but then I would be lying because traveling is a part of the process. Yes, there were a few times that I wanted to turn around and go back home, but when I think about this trip and how life-changing it will be for me I said, I can do it.

The flight wasn't too bad because we all slept for majority of it. When we first landed I was so nervous because I didn't know what to expect as in where are we staying, what are we eating, can I shower, can I brush my teeth. All of these things run through your head, but after speaking to our trip leaders I felt better because they let you know that everything and everyone is going to be fine. Today is our first day going out so as soon as I get back I'll finish this day one blog.

(Eight hours later)

I'm back now, sorry for the long pause, but I can officially say our first day here is over! This morning I was a little hesitant because I didn't want to be too pushy or too laid-back like I usually am. So I told myself whatever you do today, Alex, just be you and to make someone else's day! So we set out to do just that.

First you're just driving through this amazingly different city with a lot of different things going on like their driving, the buildings, the people. I just wanted to stop and help everyone but unfortunately I can't. So we're finally on this dirt road where there are huge bumps, goats and donkeys. I really enjoyed looking at the donkeys though just because they all reminded me of Donkey from Shrek.

After that, we finally got to one family's house and we were shocked to see it had no roof and barely any walls. We got right to work, without a question. After a few hours of work fixing their home, the lady was so happy. She said, "Thanks for making my house beautiful," but I wanted to thank her for just showing me that it doesn't take a million dollars to make someone's day.

Bud Dupree was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Bud Dupree was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By the time the Pittsburgh Steelers were finally on the clock with the 22nd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree was not a name experts anticipated to be still available.

When Thursday night proved otherwise, the six-time Super Bowl champions wasted no time in making Dupree the newest member of their storied franchise.

"It's a great experience right now," Dupree said. "I'm so blessed to be in this situation. I can't wait to get to Pittsburgh and get to work."

Riding high off the momentum of 7.5 sacks in a first team All-SEC senior season, Dupree became a household name among NFL general managers following his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The 6-foot-4 former Georgia high school basketball state champion recorded a remarkable 4.56-second 40-yard dash and 42-inch vertical leap.

"This young man has some measurables," said ESPN analyst and Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden. "He can jump right out of the gym. ... I like the way he competes."

Dupree joins a once-historical Steelers defense in desperate need of youthful rejuvenation. Pittsburgh saw longtime defensive standouts Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, as well as 27-year-old Jason Worilds, retire this offseason. The Steelers ranked 18th in total defense in 2014.

"He has position versatility," Gruden said. "Keith Butler, the new defensive coordinator, has to be happy that Bud Dupree fell this far down the board. Hard to find a young man with this type of strength, speed, and power."

Dupree becomes UK's 14th first round selection in program history, and the first since 2003. The one-time tight end joins Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard, and Avery Williamson as the fourth Kentucky linebacker in the NFL.

"They expect me to come in and have an impact right away," Dupree said. "I just have to prove them right and go in, work hard, listen to the older guys and the coaches and I'll be good."

While it was no secret that the Steelers would be looking toward the defensive side of the ball when making their first round selection, Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert shed light on the situation shortly before Thursday's big night.

"I think the cornerback group is good," Colbert said. "The outside linebacker types, which for us is a 4-3 defensive end for some 4-3 teams, this is probably as good a group at that position as I've seen in 10 to 15 years. It's really an exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys."

Combined with the college statistics and the athletic measurements to back it up, Dupree's work ethic has football fans excited for the possibilities he brings to the table.

"He said he wore No. 2 (at Kentucky) because 'I'm trying to be No. 1, but I'm working like I'm No. 2,'" said ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. "You've got to like that attitude, you've got to like that approach of Alvin 'Bud' Dupree."

Dupree goes No. 22 overall to Steelers

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The wait was a little longer than expected for Bud Dupree, but the Kentucky star appears to have found a good landing spot.

Dupree landed in Pittsburgh as the No. 22 overall pick in the first round. He joins a Steeler team renowned for its defense, and especially its edge pass rushing. We'll have more on this as the night goes on and a story on Friday morning, but in the meantime we congratulate Bud!

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Video: Dupree walks gold carpet at NFL Draft

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Video: UK football team run

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Mark Stoops was a happy coach on Wednesday.

The Kentucky football team closed out the spring with another solid practice, ending a stretch that Stoops called the "most consistent" of any time during his two-plus seasons in Lexington.

"We weren't perfect for all 15 (practices), but the guys were really out there trying to make a conscious effort to improve on the things we point out in the meetings," Stoops said. "We had great energy. Guys were really flying around this morning, having fun, competing, getting better the whole way through. Really pleased with the progress we've made."

Stoops is high on the improving depth of his roster, as well as the young talent he and his staff have brought in. That depth and talent has led Stoops to feel much different about his program than this time two years ago wrapping up spring practice, but there's another important factor in his optimism.

"I think it's hard to put into words exactly," Stoops said. "I just think it starts mentally. They understand what we want from them. They enjoy practice all the way through. Like I said, the 15th day -- all the way through they were enjoying themselves, concentrating on getting better. I think mentally we're much stronger. Definitely feel like we're developing them to be a winning football team."

A winning football team, of course, will reflect the culture Stoops has sought to build since he arrived on campus. That's a work in progress, but Stoops once again likes the Wildcats' direction.

"I feel very good about this team," Stoops said. "Again, we know where we're deficient and where we need to improve, but I like the attitude and I feel like we have good young talent that's still developing that's going to get better with every opportunity."

Stoops mentioned quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Drew Barker as two of the players who have improved the most over the spring, with wide receivers Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone joining them on the offensive side. On defense, linebackers Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan have made strides, as has defensive tackle Melvin Lewis.

"He is a good nose guard," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's a guy that I am very proud of and feel very confident about at his position, and he's completely earned that. Nothing was given to him, and he didn't walk in here a good player. He's a guy that, like I said, he may be the most improved player on our team from when he came in to where he's at now."

With the growth of players like Forrest, Flannigan and Lewis, Stoops and Eliot are feeling good about UK's defense up the middle. A key to building on UK's three-win improvement from 2013 to 2014 will be development at the cornerback spot.

"For that position, you have to be extremely skilled, but you have to be confident, too, because you're gonna get beat because it's so hard to play that position," Eliot said. "It's so hard to play that position. And you have to have the confidence to come back and be aggressive and execute your techniques the next play. I think that that's something that we've got to continue to build on are those things at corner."

That's one of many things Kentucky will need to do moving into the summer and eventually fall camp. This spring positions the Cats well.

"We need to keep that momentum, keep that consistency going here with the last two-and-a-half, three weeks of school and have a great summer -- physically and mentally getting tougher, getting stronger, getting bigger," Stoops said. "And if we do that, then we'll be excited heading into fall."

With Kentucky entering the home stretch of spring practice, Mark Stoops challenged his team.

The Wildcats would have four practices and Stoops knew they would need to have a good week to carry momentum into the summer.

They responded.

"I felt like it was the most consistent week we've had in a while with all the things we're doing," Stoops said. "The practices, what we're doing off the field, just with the accountability and dependability of our guys, whether it be academically and taking care of their business. I felt like we had a good week."

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The good week culminated with a scrimmage on Saturday open to the public. In front of a big crowd at the Tim Couch Practice Fields and with perfect weather, UK had a competitive session of a little more than 90 minutes.

"The scrimmage today, overall was pleased," Stoops said. "Obviously it's not always pretty. We're a little watered down. I wish we could get it more at full strength at certain positions, but you still see the progress. I thought offensively they moved the ball some, and defensively came up with some stops and big plays at times."

The big plays weren't limited to the defensive side of the ball.

Whether Patrick Towles or Drew Barker was leading the offense, it was clear the vertical passing game is a priority under new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. Towles hit a pair of deep balls, one to Blake Bone for 47 yards another to Thaddeus Snodgrass for 50 yards.

"You gotta be able to throw the ball vertical," Towles said. "You gotta be able to stretch them when they're stacking the box in this league and there was times last year we just couldn't do that. We either didn't have the personnel or didn't make a good throw, but that's definitely an emphasis of Coach Dawson's offense."

Towles added a pair of touchdown passes -- a 23-yarder to Cameron Fogle and a 15-yard strike to Rashad Cunningham -- in demonstrating the kind of improvement Stoops is looking for out of his 2014 starter.

"It's confidence-building for me to go out there and play like I did today," Towles said. "I gotta be consistent with that."

Barker, Towles' competition for the starting job, is going through a similar process. The redshirt freshman made plenty of big plays of his own, most notably a 42-yard touchdown to Thaddeus Snodgrass on a play-action pass and a perfect throw over the middle to C.J. Conrad that Towles called the best of the day for either quarterback.

"One of us is going to go out there and play and other one's going to root for that one," Towles said. "So if it's Drew, then I'm going to be his number one fan. If it's me, I'm sure Drew would say the same thing. I love seeing him succeed and I love seeing him play well. It motivates me and increases my confidence."

Conrad's presence is helping the confidence of both quarterbacks. The tight end, who graduated high school early and enrolled in January, is adding a new dimension to the UK attack.

"You guys saw it today, have heard people talk about it this spring that he's a guy that the sky's the limit for him," Stoops said. "He's a great kid; he works extremely hard. He does everything right on the field, off the field and he's a great student. He made some big plays today and he's going to be a guy who plays an awful lot of snaps for us."

UK was without a few more passing-game threats who figure to play plenty of snaps themselves. Wide receivers Ryan Timmons, Dorian Baker and Alex Montgomery sat out due to injury, but the offense continued to function.

"The guys that are in there are making a lot of plays and I'm fully confident with the guys we got that are playing right now," Towles said. "It's going to help them add some depth when those guys are coming."

Along the offensive line, UK is at full strength. The group protected well and paved the way for dynamic running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, who got plenty of work with Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton sidelined due to illness and an ankle sprain, respectively.

"They're more confident up there," Towles said. "I'm more confident in them. (Center) Jon (Toth) is doing a phenomenal job of getting everything blocked up. Usually if there's a sack out there it's on us because we're not getting rid of the ball or doing something. So they're playing phenomenal. I cannot ask for anything from those guys and I look forward to them to continue to improve."

UK's defense had its moments as well, including a pair of interceptions by Josh Forrest. The athletic linebacker continues to excel in pass coverage, but Stoops is asking for him to develop against the run.

"We're still not quite as deep as we need to be where you could go scrimmage so many times, but you do see some bad plays stick out in the run game when we go live," Stoops said. "He had a few missed tackles in there. So that's where he knows he needs to improve, but he has great range and he's very good in space and can make some big plays in the pass game. We've just got to be more consistent. That's a lot of guys."

Consistency continues to be a buzzword with Stoops, but it doesn't cloud the fact that he has an improving team in his third season in Lexington.

"I still like the direction where we're headed," Stoops said. "I like the balance of our offense. I felt like we're getting better at throwing the ball down the field. We need to continue to get back at full strength at the receiver position. When that happens I think you'll see us take another big step forward with what we're doing.

"Again, just pleased. We have a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do, but this team is starting to grow a little bit."

Stoops' post-scrimmage interview

Towles talks to media

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  • mimi: a very touchy story. in life, its so easy to get caught up with the glitz, look at people who read more
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