Cat Scratches: Wearing what you preach

Sept. 22, 2009

NCAA Tournament snubs the last two of three years has haunted the UK men's soccer team. Now its players are wearing a reminder of what they'll have to do to erase those memories.

The Cats, already 5-1-0 on the season, have decided to wear bracelets for the entire season to remind them of the ultimate goals they're trying to accomplish this season.

"Each one represents a date in which you can win a championship that we're trying to win," assistant coach Matt Wilkerson said.

Imprinted on the blue bracelets, which are modeled off the über popular Lance Armstrong Live Strong bracelets, are three dates: Nov. 1, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13. Those dates mark the final day of the season to win the Conference USA championship, the last day of the C-USA Tournament and the NCAA Tournament finals, respectively.

Next to those dates is the word "champion."

Wilkerson came up with the idea a few years ago and had the team wear similar bracelets in 2006, but it was UK's senior captains, Barry Rice, Jason Griffiths and Dan Williams, who approached Wilkerson about bringing them back this season and letting them come up with the motto.

"It represents something very strong that they are very seriously about," Wilkerson said. "They've been through it for three years and they know the significance of each one of those dates. It says a lot about where their goals are set."

Those three players, along with five other seniors, remember the feeling in 2006 and 2008 when UK inexplicably failed to get an invite to the NCAA Tournament despite a top-25 ranking in both seasons.  

Wilkerson is hoping the bracelets and dates will remind the players of what it takes to make sure that doesn't happen again, but more than that, he wants them to have a symbol of what it means to play for UK.

"It's a constant reminder that they're a member of the team and there are obligations and responsibilities that come with that," Wilkerson said. "It says `champion' on there. What they wanted that to represent is how you live your life and the lifestyle that you lead."

The players have worn them since the start of the season and plan to wear them everywhere they go for the remainder of the 2009 slate.

By season's end, Wilkerson and the Cats are hoping those three dates are immortalized in UK soccer as championship days.

"Every day we talk to our guys that we want this to represent something," Wilkerson said. "We want you to look at that every day to keep in focus of what we're trying to do. If you're thinking about making bad decisions, ideally you look down and say, `Hey, I'm a part of something bigger than this.' "