Love Taking Center Stage before UK Debut

HOOVER, Ala. – Courtney Love was a rarity at 2016 SEC Media Days this week. He was a rarity because he’s never taken the field in an SEC game.

“I feel like it says a lot just because I haven’t played here yet,” Love said. “I haven’t done anything on the field. I came in and started helping out, leading. Couldn’t play last year and now I’m able to play. I think it’s very rewarding and it shows the hard word that’s put in on and off the field. I’m excited. I’m honored to be here.”

He repaid the honor by conducting himself like an elder statesman. A leader. A soon-to-be star.

“He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t a mature, strong football player,” Mark Stoops said.

Even though Love – a middle linebacker transfer from Nebraska – hadn’t yet suited up for Kentucky, head coach Mark Stoops didn’t hesitate a moment when tabbing the three Wildcats who would face a sea of a cameras and a wave of questions when UK took its turn under the big top of the SEC’s annual media circus. Love has already established himself as the face and voice of the defense.

“Definitely just being a team player, being a leader,” Love said. “We don’t have much coming back on defense. We lost a bunch so I definitely want to continue to lead this team in any way I can.”

When a time has come for a player to step up, Love has been the guy. He was one of three Cats to participate in UK football’s May service trip to Ethiopia. He was one of four who posed for the 2016 team poster modeled after the four players who broke the color barrier in SEC football.

The reason Love has reached that level of prominence – in spite of not yet making his first tackle – is that he’s earned it. He’s earned it by doing the work. He’s earned it by performing in practice. He’s earned it by doing everything asked of him and more in workouts and conditioning. And more than anything, he’s earned it by gaining universal respect from teammates and coaches alike.

“He’s an incredible person and a great leader, so he’s exactly what you want in the foundation of your defense, even though he has very little experience here,” Stoops said. “I feel very good about Courtney.”

No one inside the Kentucky football program has any doubts about whether Love’s leadership will translate through fall camp and the start of the season, but how he will produce come game day remains unknown. He does have high-level experience from his time at Nebraska – he played in 12 games and made six tackles – but going from the Big 10 to the SEC is a step up. Love knows that.

Love is also stepping into a role previously and capably filled by sixth-round NFL Draft pick Josh Forrest. Forrest tallied a team-best 93 tackles as a senior, serving as the centerpiece and quarterback of the UK defense as middle linebacker.

He had to spend last season on the sidelines behind Forrest due to NCAA transfer rules. Difficult as that might have been, Love is thankful his journey went the way it did.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” Love said. “My road here, starting off at Nebraska to coming here and then sitting out last season, I would not change a thing at all because I feel like it made me a better person, made me a better player, helped me lead my team better and it helped me see things from a different perspective.”