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For a week in late May, a group of three Kentucky football players -- Bud Dupree, Landon Foster and Braylon Heard -- went one of two service trips to Ethiopia sponsored each summer by the UK Athletics Department accompanied by Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Jason Schlafer and Senior Athletic Trainer Gabe Amponsah. Foster, a junior punter, described his experience in a series of diary entries for Cat Scratches that will be published this week. Please note that these posts are Foster's personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky and UK Athletics.

To start, Foster describes three days of their journey, from a stop in Washington, D.C., to a long day of travel to their first hours in Ethiopia.


Day one - D.C.

Today was somewhat of a start on our Ethiopian journey. We made it all the way to Washington, D.C., with a stop in Cincinnati.


After landing, we claimed our bags and hopped on the hotel-airport shuttle bus to take us to our hotel.  before our private tour of Washington, D.C. After getting settled, we walked outside of the hotel and were greeted by our friendly Egyptian tour guide, Zuma.

Trying to retain all of the information that Zuma was giving to us was impossible. I actually ended up with a headache as soon as we arrived at our first stop, the United States Air Force Memorial. This memorial was beautiful and consisted of three very tall half arches that were outwardly curved in the center of two marble slab walls 40 yards to each side of the main arch attraction guarded by hulking statues of soldiers.

We left the U.S. Air Force Memorial and drove right past the Arlington National Cemetery that was located directly across the street and occupies an absurd amount of acreage. We then headed to downtown and passed the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol along with multiple historic buildings and monuments that featured some of the most amazing architecture I've ever seen.

We ultimately ended up stopping at only two more memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, which honors an individual that had more influence on civil rights and equality than I can even comprehend. Quotes from Dr. King lined the marble walls surrounding his statue, and my favorite was, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." This quote speaks so much truth to our nation as a whole, as well as to me personally.

After a great dinner, we took a taxi back to the hotel. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry while half-watching this Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers Game 2, after what would typically be a long day of traveling in my mind. Just thinking about tomorrow is exhausting.  Now time to get some rest before waking up in seven hours to get to the airport to fly on a plane for twice that long...or I might just stay up so I can sleep on the plane. Either way, today was an enjoyable, entertaining and fulfilling start of the trip.

Day two - Wheels up to Ethiopia

Welp, there's not a better time than now to write my journal entry of today than now...since we'll technically spend over 20 hours on this plane - 13 on the plane and seven more crossing time zones.  Today started early, around 6:30, to get up, pack, get some breakfast and take the shuttle to the airport. The flight wasn't until 11:00, but since it is an international flight, we were supposed to be there three hours early.


So far, this plane ride has been pretty smooth, and we are about four-and-a-half hours in. I've passed the time with Sports Illustrated articles, a ton of music and watching a movie. Now, here I am, typing this journal entry with my knees against this seat in front of me as a lady has already leaned her chair back as far as it can to go, and she is now trying to force the chair back even further, pushing with all of her will. I almost feel bad for 6-foot-4, 275-pound Bud Dupree sitting to my left in the dead middle of the plane while all 6-2 and 200 pounds of me has the aisle seat. Typical of me, I had so much planned and high hopes for getting things accomplished during this everlasting flight. However, since it is already around 11:00 p.m. Ethiopian time, I am going to head to the back of the plane, get in a couple stretches, go to the bathroom, and try to get some rest before landing around 7:30 a.m. Ethiopian time with a full day planned tomorrow.

And...here's a morning update: First, I have slept maybe a total of an hour and a half during the 12-plus hours we have been in the air thus far. Right now, my computer reads 11:10 p.m., which means it is around 6:10 a.m. Ethiopian time, and the last time I had any bit of sleep was about three hours ago. Since then I have finished one Sports Illustrated magazine, eaten breakfast and watched "Invictus," the story of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and his support of the South African National Rugby Team before and during the 1995 World Cup.

I couldn't help but notice some similarities between what we are doing on this trip to what was represented by the movie. President Mandela was so supportive of the team, because he believed backing the team for the World Cup would help unite the divided Republic of South Africa. It was during this time that he urged, well, demanded, the national team (which only had one black player on the roster) to go out to less fortunate villages and run youth rugby "camps." These villages, which were mostly made up of less fortunate black citizens in South Africa, knew very little about rugby, but fell in love with Chester, the lone black player on the team.

It was amazing seeing the nation coming together throughout the entire movie to support the national team. Also, the joy on the children's faces was unparalleled, and I hope that we as a group of football players from the University of Kentucky can instill half of the happiness that the team did in "Invictus." Now, it is around 6:30 a.m. Ethiopian time, and we are about 45 minutes from landing and starting (continuing) our day of events.

Day 3 - Only the beginning

Looking back on today, I don't even really know how or when to begin.

We landed in Ethiopia around 8 a.m. local time after a 14-hour flight during which none of us, other than Jason, got more than two hours of sleep total. Once we landed, we proceeded to go through customs. After making it through and claiming our bags, we were greeted by our photographer for the trip, Jeff. He guided us through the airport parking lot to our large van guarded by the rest of our group, guides and interpreters. We quickly loaded the bus with our luggage and headed to the guesthouse where we are staying, the Addis Guesthouse.

Once we arrived, we dropped our bags off in our rooms and headed downstairs and outside to consume our second breakfast of the morning. After breakfast, we quickly changed, packed up our gear, boarded the bus and began our 15-minute ride to a local community center. Demmis, the founder of the program that provides support to local widows, greeted us when we arrived. We were divided into three different teams to perform different tasks. Braylon and our interpreter/friend Girma were chosen, with the help of an expert in the area, to re-roof the grass roof on the round cultural house right outside of the church. Bud, Brett and another of our Ethiopian friends, Kaleab, went along with one carpenter, while Gabe, our Ethiopian friend Wario and I teamed up with another carpenter to perform both fixes and upgrades to mud stucco houses.


Our house needed one of the mud walls to be torn down and lots more work. After redesigning the infrastructure of that wall, we nailed heavy plastic tarp around the inside of this 8-foot by 8-foot house to keep it dry.

Imagining staying one night in one of these houses, or shelters, is hard to comprehend by itself. That reality sets in even more during days like today, in the midst of the rainy season where it gets very windy and chilly along with the daily storms. The joy shown by these Ethiopians affected by such poverty is an amazing sight to see that can only make people like me more thankful for what I have.

One common theme throughout the day today was how important interaction and the idea of togetherness are in this community. Coffee, even though it is expensive, is served as a ritual around three times a day, which forms bonds as they typically travel hut to hut or house to house each time during the day. Their happiness in the community truly is a testament to their connectedness to one another.

After finishing up all of the repairs on the houses, each group returned to the community center, and we were greeted by a line of beautiful widows and a few of their children. It was then when you could truly see the thankfulness and sense of relief on each of their faces when we handed out bags filled with food, bed sheets and a blanket, as well as a mattress and bed frame set to some. That was a very exciting moment for me, because you get to see the widow's reaction to being gifted food and a place to sleep first hand. Clean bed sheets, a pillow, and even a mattress are all things that I definitely have taken for granted growing up in ever-so-sheltered Franklin, Tenn.

After finishing passing out "the goodies," a couple of the widows needed help getting their newfound sleeping arrangements back to their houses, so we all lent a hand, or two, walking at least 20 minutes one way to drop off one woman's new possessions.

From there, we walked back to the Church, picked up our bags, and boarded the bus to get back to the Addis Guesthouse, where we ended up eating a wonderful group dinner with our Ethiopian friends. Here, we were finally able to connect to Wi-Fi for the first time since landing in Ethiopia, allowing us to contact our friends and family to ensure them we had arrived safely. The rest of the dinner was spent talking about sports, reflecting on the sights and events of the day, and discussing plans for tomorrow. But now, it is time to rest. At last, a good night's sleep hopefully lies in front of me. Until tomorrow.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Southeastern Conference on Monday announced a 12-year rotation of non-division opponents for SEC football schedules through 2025.

The athletic directors re-confirmed the rotation at their May meeting following the decision to continue playing an eight-game conference schedule, to include six games against division opponents and two games against non-division opponents.   One of the non-division opponents will be a permanent annual opponent and the other non-division opponent will rotate each season.

Monday's announcement pertains to the rotating non-division opponents.  The rotation begins with the 2014 season and concludes with the 2025 season.   Schools will play all permanent opponents on a home and away basis beginning in 2014.

Schools will not play their non-divisional rotating opponents in back-to-back seasons to allow for schools to play all conference members on a more frequent basis.  Also, the rotation of teams in the first six years of the 12-year cycle is not identical to the rotation in the second six years in order to maintain four home games and four road games per season for each school.

Following are the rotating opponents for SEC schools from 2014-25 ("vs." indicates a home game and "at" indicates an away game):

KENTUCKY - 2014 at LSU; 2015 vs. Auburn; 2016 at Alabama; 2017 vs. Ole Miss; 2018 at Texas A&M; 2019 vs. Arkansas; 2020 at Auburn; 2021 vs. LSU; 2022 at Ole Miss; 2023 vs. Alabama; 2024 at Arkansas; 2025 vs. Texas A&M.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State; Away - Florida, Missouri, Tennessee.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

ALABAMA - 2014 vs. Florida; 2015 at Georgia; 2016 vs. Kentucky; 2017 at Vanderbilt; 2018 vs. Missouri; 2019 at South Carolina; 2020 vs. Georgia; 2021 at Florida; 2022 vs. Vanderbilt; 2023 at Kentucky; 2024 vs. South Carolina; 2025 at Missouri.
(Permanent opponents in 2014: Home - Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M; Away - Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

ARKANSAS
- 2014 vs. Georgia; 2015 at Tennessee; 2016 vs. Florida; 2017 at South Carolina; 2018 vs. Vanderbilt; 2019 at Kentucky; 2020 vs. Tennessee; 2021 at Georgia; 2022 vs. South Carolina; 2023 at Florida; 2024 vs. Kentucky, 2025 at Vanderbilt.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss; Away - Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Missouri.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

AUBURN - 2014 vs. South Carolina; 2015 at Kentucky; 2016 vs. Vanderbilt; 2017 at Missouri; 2018 vs. Tennessee; 2019 at Florida; 2020 vs. Kentucky; 2021 at South Carolina; 2022 vs. Missouri; 2023 at Vanderbilt; 2024 vs. Florida; 2025 at Tennessee.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M; Away - Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

FLORIDA
- 2014 at Alabama; 2015 vs. Ole Miss; 2016 at Arkansas; 2017 vs. Texas A&M; 2018 at Mississippi State; 2019 vs. Auburn; 2020 at Ole Miss; 2021 vs. Alabama; 2022 at Texas A&M; 2023 vs. Arkansas; 2024 at Auburn; 2025 vs. Mississippi State.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, LSU; Away - Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

GEORGIA - 2014 at Arkansas; 2015 vs. Alabama; 2016 at Ole Miss; 2017 vs. Mississippi State; 2018 at LSU; 2019 vs. Texas A&M; 2020 at Alabama; 2021 vs. Arkansas; 2022 at Mississippi State; 2023 vs. Ole Miss; 2024 at Texas A&M; 2025 vs. LSU.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn; Away - Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

LSU - 2014 vs. Kentucky; 2015 at South Carolina; 2016 vs. Missouri; 2017 at Tennessee; 2018 vs. Georgia; 2019 at Vanderbilt; 2020 vs. South Carolina; 2021 at Kentucky; 2022 vs. Tennessee; 2023 at Missouri; 2024 vs. Vanderbilt; 2025 at Georgia.
(Permanent opponents in 2014: Home - Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State; Away - Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

OLE MISS - 2014 vs. Tennessee; 2015 at Florida; 2016 vs. Georgia; 2017 at Kentucky; 2018 vs. South Carolina; 2019 at Missouri; 2020 vs. Florida; 2021 at Tennessee; 2022 vs. Kentucky; 2023 at Georgia; 2024 vs. Missouri; 2025 at South Carolina.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State; Away - Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

MISSISSIPPI STATE - 2014 vs. Vanderbilt; 2015 at Missouri; 2016 vs. South Carolina; 2017 at Georgia; 2018 vs. Florida; 2019 at Tennessee; 2020 vs. Missouri; 2021 at Vanderbilt; 2022 vs. Georgia; 2023 at South Carolina; 2024 vs. Tennessee; 2025 at Florida.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M; Away - Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Kentucky.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

MISSOURI - 2014 at Texas A&M; 2015 vs. Mississippi State; 2016 at LSU; 2017 vs. Auburn; 2018 at Alabama; 2019 vs. Ole Miss; 2020 at Mississippi State; 2021 vs. Texas A&M; 2022 at Auburn; 2023 vs. LSU; 2024 at Ole Miss; 2025 vs. Alabama. 
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas; Away - Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

SOUTH CAROLINA
- 2014 at Auburn; 2015 vs. LSU; 2016 at Mississippi State; 2017 vs. Arkansas; 2018 at Ole Miss; 2019 vs. Alabama; 2020 at LSU; 2021 vs. Auburn; 2022 at Arkansas; 2023 vs. Mississippi State; 2024 at Alabama; 2025 vs. Ole Miss.
(Permanent opponents in 2014: Home - Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M; Away - Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

TEXAS A&M - 2014 vs. Missouri; 2015 at Vanderbilt; 2016 vs. Tennessee; 2017 at Florida; 2018 vs. Kentucky; 2019 at Georgia; 2020 vs. Vanderbilt; 2021 at Missouri; 2022 vs. Florida; 2023 at Tennessee; 2024 vs. Georgia; 2025 at Kentucky. 
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss; Away - Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

TENNESSEE
- 2014 at Ole Miss; 2015 vs. Arkansas; 2016 at Texas A&M; 2017 vs. LSU; 2018 at Auburn; 2019 vs. Mississippi State; 2020 at Arkansas; 2021 vs. Ole Miss; 2022 at LSU; 2023 vs. Texas A&M; 2024 at Mississippi State; 2025 vs. Auburn. 
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama; Away - Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

VANDERBILT - 2014 at Mississippi State; 2015 vs. Texas A&M; 2016 at Auburn; 2017 vs. Alabama; 2018 at Arkansas; 2019 vs. LSU; 2020 at Texas A&M; 2021 vs. Mississippi State; 2022 at Alabama; 2023 vs. Auburn; 2024 at LSU; 2025 vs. Arkansas.
(Permanent opponents in 2014:  Home - Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss; Away - Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri.  Sites alternate home and away through 2025.)

2014 spring game pump-up video

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SECNetwork_FacebookTwitter_UTMartin.jpg The SEC Network, it's coming.

You've known about the launch of the new network, which will cover America's best sports conference in unprecedented fashion, for months now, but it became just a little more real on Thursday.

The SEC Network announced its television schedule for the first three weeks of the 2014 football season and Kentucky will be featured twice. The Wildcats will play two of their first three games on the SEC Network, hosting Tennessee-Martin for their season opener on Aug. 30 at noon ET and traveling to face Florida on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET for both teams' SEC opener.

This is significant because the SEC Network will be the only place fans will be able to watch these two games, other than in person. So far, cable and satellite providers AT&T U-Verse, DISH, Google Fiber and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network. If your provider has not yet signed on, visit GetSECNetwork.com to demand the SEC Network.

UK isn't the only SEC school that will play early-season games on the SEC Network. In fact, the SEC Network will air a home game for each of the league's 14 schools within the first four weeks of the season.

"The fact that the SEC Network will originate a game from every stadium in the conference in the first four weeks of the 2014 season is testament to the depth of coverage fans can expect from the network," said Mike Slive, SEC commissioner. "In just the first month of the season, fans that get the network will enjoy all the passion and pageantry of SEC football from 14 of the greatest venues in the world of sports. This is what the SEC Network is all about."

The SEC Network -- which launches on Aug. 14 -- will carry its first football games on the season's first night, with Texas A&M and South Carolina and Vanderbilt and Temple playing a doubleheader. In total, six games will air on the SEC Network in each of the season's first two weeks and three more in both weeks three and four.

"The network will have a terrific line-up of games over the first four weeks. The schedule includes quality and depth from across the conference," said Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president, college networks. "The full breadth of teams and stadiums showcased in the first month alone speaks volumes on the type of programming sports fans should expect on the SEC Network."

The complete SEC Network schedule for the first four weeks of the season can be found below. Kickoff times and television information for the remainder of SEC games will be announced later.

 2014 SEC College Football Schedule (subject to change):

Date

Time (ET)

Game

Thu, Aug. 28

6 p.m.

Texas A&M at South Carolina

 

9:15 p.m.

Temple at Vanderbilt

Sat, Aug. 30

Noon

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky

 

4 p.m.

Arkansas at Auburn

 

7:30 p.m.

Southern Mississippi at Mississippi State

Sun, Aug. 31

7 p.m.

Utah State at Tennessee

Sat, Sept. 6

Noon

Florida Atlantic at Alabama

 

Noon

Arkansas State at Tennessee

 

4 p.m.

Eastern Michigan at Florida

 

4 p.m.

Nicholls State at Arkansas

 

7:30 p.m.

Sam Houston State at LSU

 

7:30 p.m.

Lamar at Texas A&M

Sat, Sept. 13

Noon

UCF at Missouri

 

4 p.m.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss

 

7:30 p.m.

Kentucky at Florida

Sat, Sept. 20

Noon

Troy at Georgia

 

4 p.m.

TBD

 

7:30 p.m.

TBD


It was dubbed "Big Blue Weekend," and a big weekend it was for the Big Blue Nation.

In the span of 44 hours, UK baseball hosted Ole Miss, the UK softball team hosted Tennessee in addition to the annual Blue-White spring football game.

Fourty-four hours, seven games and 46,883 total fans. On a beautiful weekend in the bluegrass, Commonwealth Stadium, John Cropp Stadium and Cliff Hagan Stadium were the places to be.

The spring game attendance was 35,117. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season's, when over 50,000 watched UK's annual spring scrimmage. As No. 9 softball took on No. 8 Tennessee in a top-10 matchup, 4,664 fans filled John Cropp Stadium, the largest crowd for a three-game series in program history.

Big Blue Nation did not disappoint this weekend and came out in droves to support their team as only they could.

After the baseball and softball teams opened the weekend on Friday night, the party hit its peak on Saturday with a jam-packed day.

Head football coach Mark Stoops got things started when he threw out the first pitch at the baseball game in front of 2,474 fans. Each of the baseball team's three games drew at least 2,200 fans.

As the football team arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, players and coaches were greeted by fans, forming the Catwalk into the stadium. The energy and sheer numbers from the Big Blue Nation for Saturday's Catwalk were like those seen on Saturdays in the fall, not in the spring.

"Great turnout today," assistant coach Neal Brown said. "Our Catwalk was tremendous. It was like an in-season Catwalk today. They were lined--it was backed up and then the crowd in the game was terrific. That shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here and we are very thankful. I want to make sure that I thank the fans."


The parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium were a sea of blue hours before kickoff. Food on the grill, music blaring and footballs flying through the air made it seem like a typical fall Saturday. All that was missing was a chill in the air and some color in the leaves.

Once inside the stadium, 35,117 fans watched as the Blue team beat the White squad, 38-14. Not only was it the second-largest spring game crowd in UK history, but it was the 12th-best crowd in the country this spring and seventh in the SEC.

UK is one of just 16 schools to draw 30,000 fans or more this spring.


As the football game was winding down, the softball team's second game of its series with Tennessee was beginning, with another big crowd on hand.

The second-largest crowd in program history, 1,858 saw the Wildcats beat their SEC rivals, 5-2, to even the three-game series. The sold-out crowd came a day before the Big Blue Nation packed in 1,685 Sunday on Senior Day for a second consecutive sellout.

"The fan base was incredible this weekend and especially today on Senior Day for them to come pack this place was awesome," softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Saturday the fan support really helped push us over the edge. I love the Big Blue Nation and everything they do for our athletic department."


While Big Blue Weekend officially is complete, there is still plenty of action left in the 2014 season for UK's spring sports at home.

The baseball team hosts Auburn on Senior Weekend May 9-11, while the men's tennis team is expected to host the NCAA Regionals, May 9-10.

The following weekend, the SEC Track and Field Championships come to Lexington May 15-18. Should the softball team host the NCAA Regional for the second consecutive season, that will be held at John Cropp Stadium May 15-18.

UK held its annual Blue/White Spring Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) UK held its annual Blue/White Spring Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Kentucky fans listened all spring to the talk about how their team had improved since the Wildcats last took the field in November.

They heard from Mark Stoops about the way an extended winter in UK's High Performance program had made the Cats bigger, stronger and faster. They hoped that the seven newcomers who enrolled in January would add some much-needed depth and talent. They expected a full year in a new system would do the veterans some good.

During the Blue/White Spring Game, fans got to see their team back up the talk.

"You feel much better," Stoops said, reflecting on his team's progress over the past year. "You know, I really tried not to ever, you know, throw everybody under the bus, including myself and the team, but we just weren't very good. We're better. We're still not where we need to be but we're better. We're at that point where you can really start to feel that improvement."

The 35,117 fans in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium -- UK's second-largest crowd ever for a spring game -- and those watching at home felt it too.

A year ago, the record-setting crowd was there to celebrate where everyone believed UK could go in the future more than anything else. On Saturday, those fans were able to celebrate what the Cats are starting to become.

"We know what to do," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We're more talented. We're not where we need to be. We need more talent. I think that's obvious. I would like for our White team to be more competitive at times. I thought they were earlier in the game."

UK's need for more depth was evidenced by the final score, a 38-14 Blue team victory. Comprised almost entirely by first teamers, Blue outscored White 31-7 after an even first quarter. All told, the Blue team rolled up 437 yards of offense and held White to 165.

"We are by no means a finished product, but I felt like we've improved, certainly from the fall," Stoops said. "This spring we are getting better. Got a long way to go. But overall, I was very happy with the team's energy. They have been solid all spring, really."

Unwilling to show some of the wrinkles installed this spring, the Cats kept it relatively "vanilla" on both sides of the ball. Stoops may have avoided emptying his bag of tricks, but UK's progress was on display anyway.

"I think we have improved mentality-wise," Bud Dupree said. "We have the same team except a couple guys, so we have to have the same mentality to want to, to want to get better, to want to do it and the want to produce."

UK was particularly productive in the ground game, with top running backs Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Josh Clemons and Mikel Horton combining for 308 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Kemp, a sophomore, led the way with 11 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns to go with two catches for 41 yards. The highlight -- and arguably the highlight of the scrimmage -- was his 48-yard burst down the sideline, the last 10 yards of which he spent high-stepping into the end zone.

"It's just me out there having fun, celebrating, keeping the fans interested," Kemp said. "In the regular season, I'm not going to be doing that. You'll probably see me on the sideline because we don't want that to be called back."

Kemp will be wise to be more measured in his celebrations because he and his fellow runners figure to have more such opportunities in 2014. UK will of course throw the ball in Brown's Air Raid attack, but the Cats would be unwise to neglect running the football stable of backs as deep and diverse as this one

"We gotta have something to hang our hat on," Brown said. "I think right now we're pretty good at running the ball and our play-action's pretty good. We hit a couple big play-action plays today."

Throwing those play-action passes were quarterbacks Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker.

Towles started -- which, as Stoops said Friday, meant "he earned the right to go out there with the first group" -- and displayed the improvement his coaches have raved about all spring. With fleeter feet and a quicker release, Towles looked the part of a Southeastern Conference quarterback in leading the Blue team to a touchdown in the game's first drive.

"As you saw today, I'm a totally different player than I was last year," Towles said. "I mean, it's night and day. I'm excited about where we're at as a team, I'm excited about where we're at as an offense and I'm excited about where we're going."

Towles completed 11 of 15 passes for 126 yards, his most impressive work coming on the final drive of the first half. Starting on his own 19 with just 53 seconds on the clock, Towles completed 6 of 7 passes for 54 yards to set Austin MacGinnis up for a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

"That was big," Brown said. "That's things we gotta do. ... He threw them on the sidelines. He understood that the ball had to be on the sideline. He got it outside. He didn't miss it inside. Those are key things, without question."

Towles' lone major mistake came just minutes prior, when he fired a screen pass too close to Za'Darius Smith. The 6-foot-6 defensive end snared it in midair and returned it 13 yards before Towles wrapped him up. With the quarterbacks wearing black jerseys protecting them from contact, the play was blown dead even though Smith kept his feet and sprinted for what he thought was a touchdown.

"I didn't even feel him," said Smith, who added a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. "I just was thinking about the end zone, the ball going into the end zone."

On the next play, Blue's offense finished the job. Phillips hit Steven Borden for a 17-yard score, one of two passing touchdowns for the redshirt freshman, in a 7-of-11, 74-yard performance representative of the kind of consistency that makes him a factor in this quarterback race.

"He makes a lot of good decisions," Brown said. "He does not make big negative plays. He's not gonna do things that hurt you, that put you in bad situations."

Barker, a true freshman who attended his high-school prom mere weeks ago, is still working on eliminating some of those mistakes. He had his moments on Saturday -- most notably a 30-yard touchdown strike that hit Demarco Robinson in stride and closed out the scoring -- but it wasn't his best day of the spring.

"I had definitely struggled all day and I felt like I got a monkey off my back (with the touchdown pass)," said Barker, who completed 7 of 19 passes for 74 yards. "It was good but, like I said, but I would like to have done better."

Spring game aside, Barker is still very much a contender. And as Stoops has reiterated all spring, UK will be better at quarterback regardless who wins the job.

"I think when we have everybody healthy, all the quarterbacks will look better," Stoops said. "So there's no decision yet. I'm proud of the effort Pat has done and I really like the other two, as well. I think the other two are great quarterbacks and certainly had some great days this spring. So we'll see."

Stoops would put no timetable on a decision, saying only that he and Brown will meet in the coming week to determine how they will move forward.

"We are going to go back and look at this tape and we'll look at the spring in its entirety and look at all the drives and everything we've been through and we'll sit down next week and see where we are at as a staff," Stoops said.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Patrick Towles


Reese Phillips


Drew Barker



Video: Stoops' spring game press conference

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Video: Blue/White Spring Game highlights

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Live blog: Blue/White Spring Game 2014

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Recent Comments

  • 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
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