UK fan Kelly Melton isn't shy about wanting to "kick cancer in the butt" and several current and former UK student-athletes and coaches are helping him do just that.
Former Kentucky basketball star Nerlens Noel and current football kicker Max Strong have teamed up with others to start a "Kickin it 4 Kelly" Cancer Fund. The goal is to raise $100,000 for Kelly and the Melton family as the youngster battles Leukemia.
Kelly and Strong got creative to find ways for UK players and coaches to help raise money, starting a whip cream challenge. Kelly challenged several UK student-athletes and coaches, including UK football head coach Mark Stoops.
Stoops, along with several members of the UK football team accepted the challenge after Tuesday's football practice, which can be seen at the video below.
Mark Stoops made it clear after Saturday's loss at Florida that he wasn't satisfied.
He was proud of his team's effort in the triple-overtime defeat, sure, but he knew there was work ahead.
Three days later, the Wildcats are taking the same approach.
"Attitude's good," Stoops said. "I thought the players really took it to heart, really looked at the film, were very critical of themselves and looked at all areas where we all can improve."
During practice on Tuesday -- the second of this bye week -- the Cats spent time on fundamentals, correcting mistakes from the Florida game and getting a head start on preparation for Vanderbilt. Though the Cats have been appropriately hard on themselves, they're also carrying confidence built on Saturday.
"I think each step, each time you get closer and closer, they believe more and more," Stoops said. "And I think most of them listen to you on Monday and I talked about that going into the game: Let's not come in here and say, 'Boy, that was close. Good effort.' Because we're not satisfied with that. I think each time you get closer and closer you put yourself in positions like that and we keep on working and fundamentally getting better, the next time we get that opportunity we'll win."
Because of the bye week, that next opportunity won't come for another seven days. Stoops would rather not wait for Sept. 27.
"If it was up to me, I think I'd love to go play," Stoops said. "Guys are in good spirits. We have a lot left in our tank. We got a lot more we can do, a lot better things and we're excited to go to work. I wish we were playing, but we'll deal with it the way it is."
On a positive note, the Cats will have an opportunity to recover from nagging injuries. Braylon Heard and Javess Blue, for example, played at less than full speed at Florida with ankle injuries, but they should be back for Vandy and Stoops said UK will be "close to a hundred percent" as a team.
The bye week also affords an opportunity for players the coaching staff is planning to redshirt to see more time in practice.
"Got some of our younger guys a lot of work that are potential redshirts," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Drew (Barker) got a bunch of work today. Thaddeus Snodgrass got a bunch of work. T.V. (Williams), who didn't play as much in the last game, got him a lot of work."
All that's important, but the priority is to get ready for the next test.
"You get guys healthy and stuff, but it's essential we treat this week as a week to definitely improve fundamentally," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "Vanderbilt's a good team. They went down to Florida last year and beat the crap out of them, so they're tough. Same front seven last year who gave us a hard time last year are back. We can't afford to take anybody lightly, so we're excited about getting prepared for Vandy like we did today and we'll be ready to next Saturday."
Two days before Kentucky's first road test of the season at Florida, the Wildcats had a light Thursday with a walkthrough and positional meetings.
"Players are focused and we're excited to get on that plane tomorrow," Stoops said. "We got one more run-through tomorrow. We'll have about a 45-minute to an hour practice tomorrow and then we'll get on that bus and load up and head to Gainesville. So putting the finishing touches on a good week."
Returning to practice were running back Braylon Heard and wide receiver Javess Blue. Though they were limited, the two playmakers will be on the flight down to Florida Friday afternoon.
"They were out there a little bit, so we'll see," Stoops said. "Yeah, they're going to make the trip. We'll get something out of them."
Zach West, on the other hand, has been ruled out for Saturday. With the starter at left guard out with a neck injury, Cole Mosier will step in. A week after the Wildcats allowed five sacks to Ohio, Stoops knows they will need to be better against an athletic Gator defensive front.
"We've got to play well," Stoops said. "We've got to do what we do and that's get rid of the football quick when we can, make good decisions. We've got to protect and have all 11 guys on the same page, so. We've worked hard and we'll go down there and they'll play well. They'll improve."
UK is facing its first Southeastern Conference test this weekend and dealing the natural boost that follows.
That doesn't mean the Wildcats are shifting their practice habits with Florida looming on Saturday.
"We had a good practice," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys seemed to be energetic, flying around, excited. It's just a typical Wednesday, so things went well."
For UK, that means a combination of team and scout work, the second of which being of particular importance given the Gators' change in offensive style this season.
Under former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Florida has moved to a spread attack that plays at a pace similar to what the UK defense has dealt with in practice all fall camp and through the first two weeks of the season.
"They're a spread offense now," Eliot said. "Last year they were mainly a pro-style offense with some spread looks. And now they are a spread offense with a few pro looks."
Their opener declared a no contest due to inclement weather, the Gators have only played one game this season, a 65-0 thrashing of Eastern Michigan last Saturday. Florida racked up 655 yards on 86 plays in the win, throwing 47 times.
That means it will be all hands on deck for a UK defense playing a different style as well, though due to changes in personnel more than system. With Avery Williamson and his 102 tackles now in the NFL and UK rotating much more freely at linebacker, 16 Wildcats have four or more tackles, led by A.J. Stamps' 14.
That's just fine with Eliot.
"We're not concerned about who makes the play," Eliot said. "It's just that they're made. I would like to see a defense that all those plays are spread out amongst a lot of players."
Through two weeks, energy has never been an issue for the Kentucky football team.
The Wildcats came out raring to go in wins over UT Martin and Ohio, but they've still managed to find another gear early in preparations for a trip to face Southeastern Conference foe Florida.
"It's our first big test," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "It's our first real test this year and this is why you sign up to come to Kentucky to play these kinds of teams in these kinds of atmospheres, so you can tell everybody's got a little extra this week going down there."
For the first time this week, the Cats got a chance to unleash that extra in a full practice on Tuesday.
"First day back, back to real work," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We walked through a little bit on Florida stuff yesterday. Kids are eager. Obviously we've got a lot of Florida kids, so a lot of those guys are eager about getting home."
Running back Jojo Kemp -- a native of DeLand, Fla., less than 100 miles from Gainesville, Fla. -- doesn't dispute that there's a different feel around the Nutter Training Facility this week. He does, however, believe it's for a different reason than the one Brown cited even though he attended more games in The Swamp than he can count growing up.
"We could have been playing Vanderbilt, Mississippi State," Kemp said. "Just because it's SEC time. We're here to change the program around and they're just next up."
The next test will also be the first time UK hits the road after two games in the comforts of Commonwealth Stadium. Towles isn't among a number Wildcats making their first SEC trip, but this will be his starting debut on the road. To prepare for the hostile setting, Towles has spoken to two former Kentucky quarterbacks.
"I went down there my freshman year when Morgan (Newton) played," Towles said. "So I know the atmosphere. It's kind of like a microwave when you walk in at first. It's so hot. So, so hot. We play down there at night, so it won't be as hot, but I've talked to Morgan a little bit about it and Jared (Lorenzen), Jared of course."
Brown says the noise in The Swamp won't be a major factor for a UK offense that relies mostly on nonverbal communication. That's good, because the Cats will have plenty to contend with against the Gator defense.
"Florida is Florida," Brown said. "The strength of their defense is speed. They run well. ... So we've got our hands full, but our kids are excited. It will be a really good - I think Coach (Mark) Stoops said this yesterday - it will be a really good measuring stick for where we are as a young football team right now."