Sense of Urgency Apparent as Spring Practice Opens
The start of the season might still be six months off for Kentucky football, but Mark Stoops is already feeling a sense of urgency.
“There’s no denying it’s a very important spring for many reasons,” Stoops said. “We’re moving into Year 4 and we should be better.”
Spring practice began on Tuesday morning for the Wildcats. And from what Stoops saw, his players share that same sense of urgency.
“Very good first day of practice,” Stoops said. “I was really impressed. We were very efficient. We’re getting back to some tempo, some urgency. I thought the guys really bounced around quite urgently, executed.”
Implementing a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, Stoops figured there would be some fits and starts in the way of execution on that side of the ball. But after the work the Wildcats did in installing the offense over the last few weeks, he was pleasantly surprised.
“Players were really better offensively for the first day with a new system than I thought they would be,” Stoops said. “Obviously there were some things we’ve got to get cleaned up – we were sloppy at times – but overall just very impressed with the practice.”
The groundwork for that solid practice was laid starting in January, as the Cats went through a rigorous winter of workouts. UK has adopted a program-wide mantra of “finish,” and those workouts were planned with exactly that in mind.
“This was a great eight weeks,” sophomore tight end C.J. Conrad said. “We did a lot more fourth-quarter drills than we did last year when I enrolled early. The team worked hard. There was a lot more leadership, a lot more people stepping up and a lot more people doing things right motivating people.”
UK’s coaching staff has been intentional about developing that leadership. On that front, one player on each side of the ball comes to mind for Stoops.
“A guy like Jon Toth that maybe it's not in his nature to really be as boisterous as we need him to be, but you're seeing him step up and do that,” Stoops said. “I think you're seeing – everybody talks about it but it's true – with Courtney Love. He's a guy that really hasn't played any significant snaps here, in games he hasn't played at all, but you see the leadership there and there's nothing fake about him. He's a great leader, a great kid and he's a great addition to our team.”
The addition of Love – a linebacker who transferred from Nebraska – was part of a continual effort to build UK’s talent base. In Stoops’ fourth season, the Cats have come a long way, which has helped pave the way for that productive winter.
“I think physically they can handle more,” Stoops said. “I think that’s in large part because we’re getting more and more athletes. You put all of that together and like we talked about, we’ve got to continue to push and expand and build up our gas tank, if you will.”
The exercise of building that gas tank is as important for its psychological impact as it is for what it means physically. Stoops expects to see evidence of that all spring.
“I think it has almost everything to do with it, that mentality,” Stoops said. “We’ve talked about it since we’ve been here. There’s no – I’m not big into faking guys into believing they can do something. You have to earn the right to win and put in the time and pay the price. We’ve certainly invested a lot more.”