Where are those giant dice from Commonwealth Staidum when you need them?! 2018 5-star wide →
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 30th, 2015 @ 4:28pm
Where are those giant dice from Commonwealth Staidum when you need them?! 2018 5-star wide receiver Jermaine Eskridge has committed to Kentucky, jumping the gun and shocking everyone with the news on Twitter:
— Jermaine Eskridge (@Iam_Jermaine4) July 30, 2015
Eskridge is considered the 2nd best wide receiver and the 26th best player in the 2018 class and held offers from Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, and several other major programs. Interestingly, 247 Sports Composite had him listed as a five-star earlier today, but they’ve taken down his Compsite ranking. Screenshots don’t lie, though:
It’s a long way until Signing Day 2018, but this is a HUGE moment for Mark Stoops and company. Although young, Eskridge’s talent and potential is through the roof, making this the biggest commitment of Mark Stoops’ tenure.
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES COME ON
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 29th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
One man tried to make his way across the crowded floor at the Nutter Field House Saturday morning, backpack slung over his shoulders and eyes on the exit. All along the way, fans stopped him to ask questions, and patiently, he obliged, even though it meant whatever was next on the agenda would have to wait. While more prominent staff members and starting football players stood idly by, Erik Korem was the rock star, fans rushing up to get in one last compliment, question, or threat to keep him in the room.
“I’m tying a rope on you. I don’t want you to ever leave us,” UK football superfan Suzanne Allen whispered to Korem, reaching out and pulling his arm towards her. “They need to raise your salary, do whatever they have to do to keep you.”
Korem smiled and assured Suzanne that he and his family are very happy in Lexington. While I admire Suzanne’s determination to keep Korem here by tying a rope to him, after listening to his presentation at the UK Football Women’s Clinic, I don’t think it’s necessary. He’s already tethered to Kentucky by the new state-of-the-art $45 million practice facility, which Stoops gave him complete control over to design from the ground up.
A “first of its kind” facility
Korem talks about the training facility with the same passion, excitement, and pride one would a child, because, basically, this is his baby. The 100,000-square foot facility will serve as a one-stop shop for the football program, and include a massage therapy room, high-performance weight room, sports science facility, and team doctor’s office with an in-house X-ray machine. Players will want for nothing, with a tutoring center, full-service kitchen, Gatorade and juice bar, and lounge all under the same roof.
“This building encompasses everything that involves the student athlete’s life, from training to eating to meetings and academics,” Korem said, singling out the new CATS tutorial center in particular, noting that it often takes players 20 minutes to walk from the current training center to CATS. Even just a few trips back and forth a day takes away a lot of time they could be dedicating to football. “It’s going to simplify things and bring all of that under one building. I think it’s really going to speed up our development process and it’s really going to make us feel like we’ve got a cool home.”
We’ve already heard about a lot of these features, but Korem gave the clinic and KSR some exclusive details:
- A sensory deprivation tank similar to those used by Navy SEALS and special warfare units. This will help calm players down and alleviate stress, promoting faster mental recovery from workouts, games, life, etc. (Can I use that, too?)
- An indoor turf area, 25 yards long by 20 yards wide for players to warm up on before lifting and utilize for speed drills
- Glass garage doors that open right up onto the training fields from the indoor turf so the players can extend their workouts outside during warm weather
- A 70-foot long, 6-foot deep cold plunge tank capable of holding 30-40 players at once. Korem saw the concept in Australia and prefers the large pool to more common cold tubs because the deeper you get in the water, the higher the pressure gets. In addition, players will be able to move around in the pool, which will release the microbubbles that surround the body, creating a better cooling effect. The first of its kind in the US. “The cold plunge tank was a big deal,” Korem admits.
- Turf training hills, one sloped at 20 degrees and one at 15 degrees, along with two plyometric ramps. Oregon is the only other program in the country — college or pro — with this feature.
Korem says the state-of-the-art high performance lab is the first of its kind, and he and head strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond are still customizing equipment as it comes in.
“We created some of our own stuff, so I’m excited for people to look at us and see it’s not just in the high-performance realm, it’s a lot of stuff,” he said. “I think the people of Kentucky are going to be pretty stinking proud of this building.”
“God made Bud Dupree. We just polished him up.”
What makes Korem’s high-performance program even more impressive are the results it’s producing heading into year three. Like Avery Williamson last year, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith opted to train with Korem for the NFL Combine instead of paying for outside training, and the results spoke for themselves. Dupree was one of the standouts at the Combine, turning in the fastest results for a player his size, vaulting his stock into the first round. Pittsburgh is now grooming him as a starter heading into training camp.
“You can’t make Bud Dupree,” Korem said. “God made Bud Dupree and we just polished him up. He’s still going to get better.”
What’s the method to Korem’s magic? He worked as a speed development consultant with track and field athletes during the 2008 Olympics and applied those drills and tactics to the Combine training. Dupree had all of his meals before the Combine designed by a nutritionist and delivered to him to achieve maximum results. Korem’s program has been so successful that many former players in the NFL, including Williamson, Randall Cobb, and Tim Masthay, are coming back each offseason to train at UK.
The craziest part? Korem says he enjoys helping former players prepare for the combine and train so much that he does it all on his own time. The high-performance program has always been interesting, but now that it’s turning UK players into first round NFL Draft picks, it’s an integral part of the new Kentucky football.
The best is yet to come
At SEC Media Days, senior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle trotted out the much-ballyhooed stat that two years ago, only five player on the team could run over 19 MPH, and now, over 33 players run over 19 MPH. I mentioned that stat to Korem and he laughed.
“I have to correct Jordan. Our first year, we had five that could run over 19 MPH in the first game and next year, it was like 14, and two weeks ago in training, we had 31 over 20 MPH, so I didn’t even count the guys running over 19, so it’s even faster.”
(For perspective, when Boom Williams broke out for his first touchdown against Ohio, he was clocked at 21.7 MPH.)
While Korem and Coach Edmond have been focusing on acceleration with the Catapult tracking system, a lot of the improvement, of course, is due to Stoops and the staff recruiting better talent.
“I’ll be honest, you have to bring in good talent. It makes your job way easier when you have good talent to work with,” Korem said.
Ready for another mind-blowing stat? Korem said when he and Stoops’ staff came in, only six to eight guys could jump over 30 inches vertically. After one summer, 35 players could jump over 30 inches and now, 40-50 players clear the benchmark. Whoa.
“Getting the best players better is important, but one thing Coach Edmond always talks about, if we can improve the average player, that’s really important. So, if our average player is significantly better, then we’re a better football team,” Korem said, noting how players now pass the eye test. “All you have to do is look at our guys in their uniforms and you can tell we look better, we’ve lost a lot of fat, we’ve gained a lot of muscle. In between the ears, we’ve improved as well. Our guys are making big strides and being more accountable. Mentally tough and it’s only going to get better.”
All-in on results
Korem said he’s spent a good part of this offseason helping players form better habits to support improved performance, and he’s noticed players are taking ownership of their training both in and out of the weight room.
“I want guys to manage the training process themselves. We want guys to become self-aware, we’re creating ways for guys to see the data on their cell phones,” Korem said. “Guys will pull me aside and say, ‘Coach, I wasn’t at my best, why not?’ I’ll say, ‘well, let’s look at the past three days, what were your habits like? And then when guys start buying in, getting to bed earlier, turning the video games off, hydrating more, and all of a sudden the changes come and they buy in? That’s when the locker room culture changes because ‘hey, this stuff works.'”
“To us, it’s the 22 hours outside the building that will affect their performance more than anything else,” Korem said. “We train two hours. They’ve got 22 other hours that they’re training but they don’t even know it.”
Now they do, and that awareness is paying off.
So, about that rope…
Since his first summer at Kentucky, Korem’s high-performance program has been turning heads, attention he credits to the hard work of his entire staff, specifically Coach Edmond. Korem told me that representatives from NFL teams, NBA teams, and Australian rules football teams regularly contact him to pick his brain about what he’s doing at Kentucky. In fact, he said he talked to an NFL team just the other day. (I can feel Suzanne’s arm reaching out instinctively.) When I asked if these teams try to poach him, Korem admitted he’s had some offers, but he remains loyal to Mark Stoops.
“There have been some opportunities,” Korem said. “But I’m happy here and Coach Stoops is a great man to work for. To me, it’s all about people, really. If you’re working with a good group of people, it makes things so much fun and I think we have a good group of people here.”
Also, a brand new training facility that will open next July; a facility that Korem’s been dreaming of his entire career, and is now molding, brick by brick.
“As far as my input, the administration said ‘hey, what do you want in this building?'” Korem said. “The high-performance lab, I think that’s kind of unheard of. When I explained to Coach Stoops what would go in there, he said, ‘hey, let’s do it.’ You don’t want to be different just for different’s sake, but you want to actually have things that will make a difference.”
For a program trying to succeed in a league as competitive as the SEC, you have to be a little different to make a difference.
When Mark Stoops woke up yesterday morning, he had zero committed players in his 2017 recruiting class. When he goes to bed tonight, he will have four.
In less than 24 hours from Monday to Tuesday evening, Stoops and his staff added a top 20 quarterback and three of the 20 best juniors in the state of Ohio. Today alone he landed three four-star prospects, the same number of four-stars Joker Phillips signed in his three years as a head coach at Kentucky.
That’s real, people. Phillips signed three four-star players in three years. Mark Stoops picked up verbal commitments from three on Tuesday.
It was all a little overwhelming as the Yahtzees came in, so let’s recap what transpired over the last 24 hours. Meet your current 2017 football recruiting class…
Class of 2017
6’2″, 175 lbs.
Jacksonville, Florida (The Bolles School)
247 Composite: 504 | 27 PS-QB
Top247: 382 | 17 PS-QB
Committed to Kentucky 7/27/2015
Jones got the ball rolling with a commitment Monday afternoon, Kentucky’s first of the 2017 class. The Jacksonville, Florida native picked the Wildcats over an offer from East Carolina and early interest from several other schools.
Considered a pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, Jones has the technique and accuracy to potentially be the man one day in Lexington. And if his Twitter is any indication, he has his sights set on being the next Tim Couch. The youngster has already shared at least two photos of the UK great, despite the fact he’s too young to have seen Couch throw a pass.
Maggard’s Take: Technically sound quarterback with a lightening quick release. Mac has already taken up the torch by leading the Class of 17’s recruiting efforts. His influence has led to three commitments. Shannon Dawson has recruited a particular type of QB. Mac Jones perfectly fits that mold. As I watched his film, I also saw a fiery competitor. Mac isn’t backing down to pass rushers or while motivating teammates. I like that.
Class of 2017
5’11″, 175 lbs.
Fremont, Ohio (Fremont Ross)
247 Composite: 392 | 64 WR
Top247: 207 | 33 WR
Committed to Kentucky 7/28/2015
He goes by ‘Russ’ but UK football fans know him as Craig Yeast II, the son of the program’s all-time leading receiver, Craig Yeast. The younger Yeast shows promise at the wide receiver position and hopes to be the contributor his dad was at Kentucky.
Yeast was the first to pick UK, his first offer, on Tuesday’s wild afternoon of Yahtzees. He predicted today’s triple-threat of commitments earlier this month:
— Russ Yeast (@russ_yeast03) June 20, 2015
Maggard’s Take: I like Yeast’s game. He’s an old school athlete that seems to sincerely love football. Russ is not only a legacy player. Yeast is an extremely well coached, accomplished, and diverse athlete that can play on either side of the football. If I’m correct on my assessment, he can actually play both offense and defense much like Charles Woodson did years back. On top of being an elite athlete with ties to the university, Russ is a significant pickup for Mark Stoops. Kid can absolutely play the game.
Class of 2017
5’10″, 185 lbs.
Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic)
247 Composite: 102 | 9 RB
Top247: 115 | 13 RB
Committed to Kentucky 7/28/2015
Not long after Yeast announced his commitment to UK, Michael Warren, another four-star offensive weapon out of Ohio, joined the club. Warren is one of the top running backs in the entire class and a HUGE pickup by Vince Marrow. He also opened the door for his high school teammate, another four-star talent, to commit to Big Blue. (Scroll down.)
Maggard’s Take: Elite football player that when it’s all said and done, may be Kentucky’s highest rated signee under Mark Stoops. Vince Marrow will have to go to the mattresses to keep him in Blue. For the young’uns, that’s a Godfather reference that means there will be an intense fight for Warren’s services. Michael’s eventual offer list will be college football’s Top 25. I can’t stress just how important it will be to keep Warren committed.
Class of 2017
6’5″, 260 lbs.
Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic)
247 Composite: 338 | 5 SDE
Top247: 141 | 5 SDE
Committed to Kentucky 7/28/2015
The third commitment of the day and fourth in 24 hours was James Hudson, the aforementioned high school teammate of Michael Warren at Central Catholic in Toledo. He had offers from West Virginia, Toledo and Iowa at the time of his announcement, with interest from the home state Buckeyes.
Though he’s listed as a defensive end, Hudson could make the switch to offense when he arrives on campus. He can play either side of the line with SEC caliber size.
Maggard’s Take: Another Vince to the mattresses player. Expect a fight for the 6’5 271 pounder. Explosive off the line of scrimmage, Hudson will report to college at well over 300 pounds. Shows high level athleticism for his size. Will be a perfect fit at either defensive tackle or situational strong-side defensive end based upon scheme. Next level, elite talent with optimal size and movement. Like his teammate Michael Warren, James’ tape is Nickel. Don’t need to go past 5 plays to see just how special this defender is and can be.
It’s been a football-heavy few days on the site, but after Matt, Drew, and I all got to be around the coaches and players at different functions this weekend, can you blame us? The excitement around the program is contagious right now, and forty days away from the opener, the start of the season is finally in sight.
I already gave you some quick hitters from the Women’s Clinic on Saturday, but here are some notes that are still floating around my head…
DJ Eliot is now an entertainer
When he first arrived at Kentucky, Eliot came off as kind of a shy guy who didn’t seem very comfortable talking in front of big groups. What a difference two years makes. We’ve noticed how good Eliot has been on KSR in various guest hosting duties, and he was a total ham at the Women’s Clinic, keeping the women laughing and engaged the entire time. He also had the second best line of the day when he said “God gave us 10 rules, the NCAA gave us 500 pages.” (The best line goes to Chad Scott, who said “Ladies, we’re going bowling,” and dropped the mic.)
He’ll be here all season, folks.
Shannon Dawson has never run the Wildcat offense
The South Carolina win was a popular topic at the clinic, and when a fan asked if we can expect to see the Wildcat package with JoJo more this season, Shannon Dawson admitted he’s never run the Wildcat before.
“I’ve never ran the Wildcat, don’t know much about it to be honest with you,” Dawson said to the crowd’s panicked disbelief. “It’s not something I’m against running, I just don’t know much about it. I’ll do anything for a first down.”
There you go. Much better. Cheers all around.
Fullback Will Thomas Collins’ nickname is “Taco Meat”
Vince Marrow said a little bit about each of the tight ends and fullbacks he coaches, and shared the story behind junior fullback Will Collins’ nickname, “Taco Meat.” At last year’s Bourbon and Cigars event, Collins’ uncle came up to Marrow and told him how Will ate an entire fridge full of ground beef, like several pounds, in one day, ruining his uncle’s plans to make spaghetti sauce. Hence, he is now “Taco Meat.”
Marrow says he’s expecting big things from Taco Meat, along with defensive tackle Jacob Hyde, who will moonlight as fullback at times this season. “Wait ’til you see this joker line up in the back field at fullback,” Marrow laughed. “6’2″ 330 lbs. and he clears guys out.”
Walking out onto the field for the first time will take your breath away
We’ve all seen the new press box and suite levels in pictures, but seeing them in person for the first time is remarkable. We got to go through the players’ old tunnel onto the field and the transformation is stunning, the new press box towering over the field in imposing fashion. The structure gives Commonwealth a much more intimidating feel, especially since it faces the visitor’s sideline. Commonwealth Stadium has never been a very striking stadium, but this is a striking feature that finally puts it it on the same level as other stadiums in the SEC. The structure’s height and side panels will also help keep crowd noise inside, so hopefully we’ll not only see a difference this fall, we’ll hear it too.
Rene Cornette’s got speed
I was looking at the videos on my phone this afternoon and noticed Rene Cornette — of “Succeed and Proceed” fame — blazing by in this drill:
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) July 27, 2015
While the rest of the ladies jogged by, Rene was out there trying to get a scholarship.
Chantel Stoops says LSU fans threw beer and spat on her and fellow coaches’ wives
A fan asked which program’s fans are the most hostile to the wives and families when they travel, and although Chantel Stoops said she and her fellow wives haven’t encountered any bad behavior from opposing fans during their time at UK, when her husband was an assistant at another school, LSU fans threw beer on them, spit on them, and screamed obscenities at them throughout the game. Chantel didn’t say which school Mark was working for at the time, but considering she said they got clobbered by the Tigers, I’m going to guess it was Arizona, who lost to LSU 45-3 in Baton Rouge in 2006, when Stoops served as the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs coach. Stay classy, Tiger fans.
Matt Elam is a frequent guest at the Stoops’ house
On Friday, Mark Stoops told a story about how he and Matt Elam hung out until 1:30 a.m. one night watching an MMA fight, and when asked for additional anecdotes about players hanging out at the Stoops’ house, Chantel Stoops said Matt Elam comes over pretty often to hang out in the pool with them and the kids. “He just gets a little lonely,” Chantel said. “We’re always very open to that.”
This video is my favorite from the event
Rene’s sprint was great, but this tackle by Beth is a classic:
Can someone make sure all the linebackers see this?
Coming up on Wednesday: An in-depth feature on Erik Korem and the new training facility. I got to speak to Korem at the Clinic and was blown away by what he had to say about the facility and the impact his high-performance program is having on the players. Stay tuned…
Jojo Kemp was the Wildcat hero of South Carolina. Boom Williams was dynamite in overtime against Florida and at Louisville. And then there’s Mikel Horton.
The true freshman came to Kentucky a semester early, with much anticipation. The first time I saw the powerful back in person, flashbacks of Michael Bush ensued. When the Cats needed a push inside, Horton would hear the call.
Unfortunately, Mikel’s (pronounced MY-kell) freshman season didn’t follow the perceived plan. He started the season with a bang, running for two touchdowns against UT-Martin. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but his touches began to dwindle after fumbling his first carry of the game against #1 Mississippi State, putting them deep into Kentucky territory.
Neal Brown admitted afterward that he was too quick to jump the gun by pulling out the nervous true freshmen, but there was more behind Horton’s story. To be blunt – he was out of shape.
“I felt heavy,” Horton said in a Spring interview. The explosiveness he displayed in high school just wasn’t there. Back then, being bigger than everybody paid off, but the SEC is a different story. To hit the holes faster and harder, he had to change.
“When I first came here I was about 245, about 14% body fat,” Horton said. “I didn’t really look like a running back, more like a linebacker.”
In the offseason, the competition at the running back position inspired him to change his body. He took the initiative to play with a higher tempo, by living life with a higher tempo. He cut bread out of his diet. After morning workouts and class, he went back to the training center to hop on the exercise bike for a couple of hours.
“Now I’m 220, 8% body fat and I’m moving quick,” Horton said after only three months of intensive conditioning. “The way I was before, I thought I was being selfish because I wasn’t giving it my all as far as getting my body weight right, making sure I was fit and ready to go at practice.”
It was a quick transition, but it wasn’t easy an easy one. Everyday he had to remind himself before hopping on the bike, “I’m doing something better for myself and my team.”
After repeating the process over and over, Horton has thrust himself into an ideal position to compete for snaps at running back. People focus too often on the quarterback position, even though the running backs are probably the most intense. They aren’t just competing in practice, they’re racing Coach Scott to meetings. The losers have 20 pushups.
During the few practices we were allowed to watch, Horton’s transformation was obvious. A guy that would’ve been used exclusively between the tackles last year made one of the most athletic catches of the Spring. Motioned out to the slot, Horton slid behind the outside receiver on a wheel route, snagging a slightly overthrown ball down the sideline. Horton no longer feels heavy.
Horton exemplifies the learning curve of collegiate football. It took some early lumps, but he’s discovered the daily steps it takes to compete at the highest level. Any extra time on the field is time well spent, whether it’s practicing before a bowl game, or arriving early to campus, “If I wouldn’t have came here early, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I’d probably still be 240,” Horton said. “It helped me grow up quick.”
Horton was already grown when he arrived to Kentucky. Now he’s a man that’s ready to be heard this Fall.
“I’m a complete back now.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 23rd, 2015 @ 11:00pm
Yesterday, the media toured Commonwealth Stadium, and to the layman’s eye, it looked like there is still a lot of work left to do. With 43 days left until the season opener against Louisiana Lafayette, the clock is ticking and, even though construction crews are working 22 out of 24 hours each day, we need to accept that on September 5, the stadium may not be completely finished. And that’s okay.
In fact, since it looks like that’s going to be the case, here are some suggestions for UK to make the best out of the situation:
Draw your name in the concrete at Fan Day!
The pictures show that most of the concourses still don’t have concrete flooring. According to my very minimal Googling, concrete takes 28 days to properly cure to achieve full strength and hardness. By a rough timeline, that means they should pour around the time of Fan Day, which is on August 8. Fan Day will be held in Nutter Field House, but why not give fans a chance to leave their own stamp on the stadium and draw their initials in the wet concrete? With supervision, of course.
Pregame mud wrestling along Alumni Drive
It’s not just the stadium that’s under construction; the entire area around the stadium is undergoing a major transformation, including Alumni Drive, which has a new roundabout that’s sure to cause some headaches. The major roadwork appears to be close to finished, but the land around it will probably still be a mess. Since the game’s at night and traffic is expected to be terrible, tailgating will be going on all day long. You know what goes great with lots of really drunk people? Mud wrestling.
Maybe Ryan Lemond can find this guy during the Pregame Show and finally get some revenge:
Free hard hat giveaway to the first 61,000 fans
Fun, practical, and a great head start for your Halloween costume!
Find a nail, get a free ticket
My house was renovated two years ago and we’re still finding spare nails around the back porch. Although I’m sure the cleanup crews will do their best to sweep up every last nail, staple, and screw, there will inevitably be a few left over. Make cleanup fun by asking fans to collect all the nails they find, and offer the fan with the most a prize, like a free ticket. Just be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and put gloves on the kiddos if they want to get in on the action.
Whiny Media Tweets Bingo
One of the major changes won’t affect fans, but they’ll definitely hear about it: the press box moved from above the lower bowl to above the upper deck. When the media got to check out their new digs yesterday, most of the tweets and pictures were of the press box even though fans couldn’t care less about it. It’ll probably be even worse on game day. Cell service in the stadium is supposed to be better, so pull up Twitter and use this bingo card to play along during timeouts! We’ll definitely use it on the live blog.
Free dust masks with your first drink (Club and Suite levels only)
Pardon the dust, but enjoy that beer! Isn’t it nice not to have to sneak it in?
Dim the lights on all the parts that aren’t 100%
The first game’s at night, so nature will provide some coverage for the exterior parts that aren’t totally done or strategically lit. The majority of the work seems to be on the inside, so use mood lighting to mask areas of concern. Once people get a few drinks in them, they won’t notice anyways.
Let people just deal with it
Like the product on the field, the stadium isn’t 100% yet, but it sure is better than what we had before. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the game.
“There will be a game.”
That’s what one construction worker told me today during my tour of the massive construction site that was once, and will soon be again, Commonwealth Stadium. Other than that, no promises. There is still a long, long way to go.
Senior associate AD Russ Pear, who is overseeing the renovation, knows that more than anyone. He told us, “If I said there’s not much left to do, you would all think I’m nuts. There is a lot of work to do and the commitment is there to get it done.”
Pear is confident the New CWS will be ready for the first home game in 44 days, but admits it won’t be 100 percent when fans storm through the gates to see the newly renovated stadium for the first time. He likened it to moving into a new house, but needing a little extra work to make it home. That “little extra work” better be minor, or UK will have a disaster on its hands.
Before I go any further, let me tell you I know very little about projects like this, if anything at all. I dressed up like a construction worker during a Village People skit on a cruise ship once, and that’s the extent of my knowledge in the field. I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, either.
With that small caveat in mind, let me say I’m not nearly as confident as Pear. I don’t have the blueprints or the schedule, and I haven’t been on site everyday to witness the progress, but I do have eyeballs. And those eyeballs saw a pretty big mess in every level of the stadium today. I had hoped at least one interior area would be near completion, and that was not the case. I just saw a whole bunch of dirt and unfinished business.
But enough about what I think. Take a walk with me through the New CWS renovation as it stands today and you can form your own opinion.
First and foremost, the most positive aspect of the renovation: the new synthetic field looks incredible. Click on any of the images below for a closer look at the turf and you will agree. From the checkerboard blue end zones to the alternating shades of green in the field of play, it will undoubtedly be one of the best looking fields in college football next season. Money very well spent.
When the team takes the brand new field, it will be coming from a brand new tunnel in the East end zone. The team used to sprint from an entrance in the Northeast corner, but now it will emerge from underneath the new student section and multi-purpose recruiting room.
Here’s a look at the tunnel…
Before sprinting through the tunnel, the team will gather in a new area behind the East end zone. In years past the players would return to the locker room after warming up on the field, but now they will go into a new pre-kickoff room 20-25 minutes before game time. I’m calling it the hype room, and it has a ways to go, as you can see…
Now for my favorite part of the entire renovation: the brand new multi-purpose recruiting room. This area will host recruits and their families on game days in a prime spot in the East end zone. The interior isn’t ready, but the patio is awesome.
(Oscar Combs is not a recruit.)
The main concourse is where I began to worry about completion. My first thought was “not a chance in hell,” but others seem optimistic. I’ll let you be the judge…
Some concrete flooring would make me feel better.
Hey, can we get this ladder out of here?
WHO APPROVED THIS LADDER
On to the South sideline, where the new Field Level, Mezzanine Level and Loge Club areas will be a hit with the big spenders. Here’s a look at the Mezzanine Level interior and deck…
If you’re the proud owner of a suite, check out how your spot looks as of today…
I’m sure you were hoping for something a little more suite-like. Good luck?
This was written on some dry wall…
And now for the press box, the area none of you care about. It was moved to the top of the stadium to make room for the Loge Club.
That’s a pretty cool shot of the entire stadium from the press view. Click that one.
Overall, it’s going to be a stressful 44 days for all parties involved. It will take a buzzer-beater to be completely ready for the opener. Can it be done? Russ Pear has convinced himself it will. Me, I have my doubts. I guess we’ll find out on September 5.
Either way, the New CWS is going to be awesome when it’s completed, whenever that may be.
Last week, UK distributed the 2015 football media guide, which means it’s time for that age old tradition of looking through it for fun facts about our favorite football players. I’ve done this same exercise the past few years, so if some facts seem familiar, it’s probably because they are. Think of it as a refresher course in UK football trivia.
These players chose their jersey numbers because…
- #3, Fred Tiller, senior cornerback: …of Andre’ Woodson
- #8, Blake Bone, sophomore wide receiver: …it represents infinity if you turn it sideways
- #8, Kobie Walker, freshman linebacker: …I’m swaggy
- #9, Garrett Johnson, sophomore wide receiver: …I’m a single-digit guy and 9 looks good on me
- #11, JD Harmon, junior cornerback: …One is so nice, I had to rock it twice
- #18, Stanley “Boom” Williams, sophomore running back: …I wanted to follow the legacy of Randall Cobb and Jacob Tamme
- #65, Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings, freshman center: …It was Coach Schlarman’s number – “make it legendary”
- #99, Austin MacGinnis, sophomore kicker: …It is the definition of kicker swag
There are a whole lot of nicknames in this group. Here are some of the best:
- Big Blue: Logan Blue, freshman linebacker/long snapper
- Big Daddy: Matt Elam, sophomore nose guard
- Hatch Attack: Jason Hatcher, junior defensive end/linebacker
- Peezy: Mikel Horton, sophomore running back
- Faro: Farrington Huguenin, senior defensive end
- The Real Deal: Jaleel Hytchye, junior cornerback
- Juice: Garrett Johnson, sophomore wide receiver
- D-Raw: Darryl Long, freshman tight end
- Ice: Blake McClain, junior safety
- Zoe: Regie Meant, sophomore defensive tackle
- Como: Cole Mosier, sophomore offensive guard
- Swindiesel: Jordan Swindle, senior offensive tackle
- Fredo: Fred Tiller, senior cornerback
- Rimmons: Ryan Timmons, junior wide receiver
- Chief Jon Standing Bear: Jon Toth, junior center
- K-Walk: Kobie Walker, freshman linebacker
- Big Boy: Zach West: senior offensive guard
- Zulu: Zane Williams, junior defensive tackle
- Sifi: Sihiem King, freshman running back
Wanna be like Gronk
Three players would rather trade places with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, aka “Gronk,” than any other athlete: Freshman tight end CJ Conrad, sophomore offensive tackle Kyle Meadows, and freshman offensive lineman Logan Stenberg.
Among the team’s hidden talents are…
- Zack Blaylock, junior safety: Snowboarding
- Daron Blaylock, senior linebacker: “I take vocal lessons for a Broadway show I’m preparing for” (Could he be the next Jeremy Jarmon?)
- Rhomel Fields, freshman safety: “I write poetry”
- Ryan Flannigan, senior linebacker: “I can eat 100 wings in 20 minutes”
- Ryan Kendall, freshman wide receiver: Snowboarding
- Bryan Kirshe, freshman punter: “I love shoes”
- Darryl Long, freshman tight end: “arguing and persuasive writing”
- Blake McClain, junior safety: Whistling
- Marcus McWilson, junior safety: “Walking on my hands”
- Alexander Montgomery, sophomore wide receiver: Sleeping
- Thaddeus Snodgrass, freshmanwide receiver: Singing in the shower
- Patrick Towles, junior quarterback: “I’m learning the harmonica”
- Boom Williams, sophomore running back: Playing drums
What event would you like to witness past, present, or future?
- 1980 USA vs. Russia hockey game, aka “Miracle on Ice”: Freshman offensive guard David Baumer, sophomore center Dylan Greenberg, senior long snapper Kelly Mason and sophomore offensive guard Cole Mosier
- Baseball in the 1920s and ‘30s: Freshman offensive tackle Nick Richardson (We should have him listen to Tomlin’s old timey baseball roundups from the old podcasts)
- UK’s upset of #1 LSU in 2007: Sophomore running back Mikel Horton and sophomore nose guard/fullback Jacob Hyde
- Woodstock: Senior linebacker Daron Blaylock and senior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle
(This video from 2012 still cracks me up)
If these players could trade places with Coach Stoops for one day, they would…
- David Bouvier, wide receiver: “Throw a party”
- Tanner Fink, tight end: “Take the team to an amusement park”
- Josh Forrest, senior linebacker: “Give Josh all of my watches”
- JD Harmon, junior cornerback: “Take the week off and visit Italy”
- Courtney Love, sophomore linebacker: “Call a team meeting and not show up”
- Kelly Mason, senior long snapper: “Let me play quarterback at practice”
- Zach Myers, junior center: “Order all the Nike gear possible”
- Jon Toth, junior center: “I would: sit on an iron throne”
- Patrick Towles, junior quarterback: “Get free ice cream for everyone!!!”
- Zach West: senior offensive guard: “Take over the seven kingdoms”
- Calvin Taylor, Jr., freshman offensive lineman: “Let me catch a TD”
Dream jobs outside of football:
- Kengera Daniel, defensive end: neurologist
- Cameron Fogle, sophomore wide receiver: Country music singer
- Landon Foster, senior punter: Athletic director/SEC commissioner
- Nick Haynes, sophomore guard: Being the governor of Florida (he’s a Florida native)
- Khalid Henderson, senior linebacker: film director
- Jacob Hyde, sophomore nose guard/fullback: Warden at a prison / major case worker
- Adrian Middleton, freshman defensive tackle: graphic designer (“I’m a big fan of anime”)
Did you know…
- Junior cornerback JD Harmon has 17 siblings
- Drew Barker has a pet turtle named Nemo
- Freshman DE/LB Denzil Ware is a huge “Orange is the New Black” fan
- Junior kicker Max Strong really wants to own a tiger someday
- The celebrity freshman offensive guard Jarrett LaRubbio would most like to be friends with is Mark Wahlberg
- Freshman linebacker Dorian Hendrix meditates every day
- Senior defensive end/linebacker Jabari Johnson’s ideal vacation spot is China
- Freshman linebacker Jordan Jones thinks the coolest think about UK is “how many people love the color blue.”
- Junior center Zach Myers’ game-day superstition is putting his grandfather’s jersey in his sock
Rubik’s Cube Wars
Both sophomore offensive tackle Kyle Meadows and senior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle say they’re good at the Rubik’s Cube, with Meadows able to solve it in a minute thirty seconds and Swindle in a minute. Maybe we will put them to the test at Media Day?
UK released a July 21 update on the progress of The New CWS this morning with aerial photos from Aerial Innovations of TN & KY. You can check out the entire gallery here.
Things are looking great inside the stadium, but the parking situation looks like a complete mess with only 46 days to get it ready for tailgating.
Alumni Drive looks like a war zone.
KSR will tour the stadium tomorrow and we will have plenty of photos and updates from inside. UK senior associate athletic director Russ Pear will be on hand to answer questions, so we’ll know a lot more about the current state and how it will look during the season opener once we hear from him.
As the NBA Summer League wraps up tonight in Las Vegas, let’s take a look back at the individual performances by the former Wildcats around the NBA, from the future stars to the guys barely hanging on. We saw some of the Cats play their way into contracts, while others fell short in what may be their last shot at another run in the league.
We’ll start with Aaron Harrison, the one who needed a big summer more than anyone…
Aaron Harrison, Charlotte Hornets
(13.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 29 MPG)
The undrafted Harrison played out of position in the Orlando Summer League, taking on the role of point guard for the Hornets. Harrison had never played point guard before, but he accepted the new challenge and handled it very well.
Patrick Ewing, an assistant with Charlotte, said, “If he’s gonna make an NBA roster the position he’ll have to play is the point. But I think he’s done a fantastic job. He’s running the ball club, he’s taking his shots when he has it, but he’s also sharing it with other guys on the team.”
Harrison’s stellar play at the point earned him a two-year contract immediately after summer league play concluded. He will still have to work to earn a spot, but he has the potential, and now the opportunity, to be one of the rare undrafted players to make it in the league.
Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies
(5.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 RPB, 23.2 MPG)
While Aaron Harrison had a terrific summer, Andrew would probably like a do-over. The second-round draft pick had an up-and-done five games with Memphis, leaving a lot of room for improvement heading into training camp in September.
Like his brother, Andrew was asked to take on a new role, playing off the ball at shooting guard alongside Russ Smith. Smith was outstanding at the point, adding to the pressure for Harrison to step it up. It’s possible those two are competing for the team’s third PG spot, and Smith was the MVP for the Orlando Summer League champion Grizzlies.
If Andrew is to make the team, he can thank his size and defense, not anything he did in Orlando. It helps that Nick Calathes just announced he will leave the team to return to Greece.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
(12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 31.2 MPG)
The No. 1 overall pick didn’t have to prove himself in Las Vegas to earn a spot with his new team. Towns is good. He’ll be a starter right out of the gate as a rookie.
But he did participate in summer league play, as all rookies do, and he gave Timberwolves fans a lot to look forward to, proving his worth on both ends of the floor.
Though it wasn’t the showing Jahlil Okafor gave Sixers fans in Vegas, Towns showed flashes of what he will one day become, while reminding us he is still a rook. He began his summer league career with an airballed three-pointer, but also made some moves in the paint that demonstrated why he went first overall and will undoubtedly be a star.
For Towns it was simply about getting some run in his new jersey and staying healthy, and that was a success.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings
(11.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.8 BPM, 22.4 MPG)
There are some who believe Willie Cauley-Stein went too early at sixth overall to Sacramento, and he did all he could to silence those critics in the Las Vegas Summer League.
The consensus All-American lived up to the hype defensively, with 2.8 blocks per game on the stats sheet, though it seemed like many more. (It was many more.) He also stayed in his lane offensively, scoring when it came to him within the flow and not forcing anything. That explains his .512 field goal percentage over five games.
Stats and analysis aside, this one hustle play pretty much sums up Cauley-Stein’s summer league:
That alone has Kings fans pumped to see what he can do with DeMarcus Cousins this fall.
Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz
(11.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 24.2 MPG)
Lyles missed Utah’s first two games in the Utah Summer League while he worked out his rookie deal, then joined the team for the final game in Utah and the five Las Vegas Summer League games.
The late start made for a slow one, but he wrapped up his summer run with a 20-point game against Julius Randle and the Lakers, one that included four made three-pointers and nine boards for a near double-double.
Mike Gallagher of RotoWorld.com called Lyles a “steal” for the Jazz and a great fit in the offense with his ability to stretch the floor and play both forward positions. (Lyles has John Calipari to thank for that.)
His versatility has his new franchise salivating.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
(15.3 PPG, 40.0 3P%, 4.9 RPG, 30.4 MPG)
A 31-point performance in the semifinal was the highlight of the Las Vegas Summer League for Devin Booker. That was all he needed to make some noise entering his rookie season in the NBA.
It was a slow start for the youngster, however. He missed 11 of his first 13 three-point attempts in the first three games, before finding the hot hand and shooting 11-for-27 from downtown in the next four. It reminded me of his Kentucky debut in the Bahamas when he couldn’t buy a bucket, and we all know how that turned out once the real basketball rolled around.
Booker will be more than fine in Phoenix in that Kentucky-heavy backcourt.
Dakari Johnson, Oklahoma City Thunder
(7.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 26.7 MPG)
Johnson was the third-leading rebounder in the Orlando Summer League with almost nine rebounds per game. He had games with 11, 11 and 10 rebounds and played 10 more minutes per game than he did at Kentucky. That’s a testament to his hard work and conditioning leading up to the draft and throughout the summer. He arrived in Orlando in great physical shape, by his standards.
Scott Howard-Cooper of SI.com, who ranked Johnson sixth on his July 17 Rookie Ladder, wrote, “Call it an encouraging start to what could be a long process.”
Luckily, Johnson doesn’t have the pressure of being thrown into action right away. He will likely be the third option inside for OKC, assuming he makes the final roster.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
(11.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 RPG 20.5 MPG)
Randle was just happy to see an NBA floor again after missing all but one game in his rookie season. He made the most of his return to the floor in Las Vegas, looking like a star on the young Lakers roster. It appears the rust is gone and he’s ready to be a playmaker alongside Kobe Bryant and D’Angelo Russell next season. I foresee several screen-and-rolls in his future with that L.A. backcourt.
A little bit of this, too:
It’s going to be a big year for Randle.
James Young, Boston Celtics
(9.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 21.2 MPG)
The biggest news from James Young’s summer is that he will work out with Kevin Durant in the coming weeks leading up to training camp. Durant, who shares an agent with Young, invited the former Cat out to Los Angeles to work out together.
Young said, “I can’t wait. He’s a great guy, a great offensive player, one of the best players in the league, one of my favorite players growing up. He’s an older guy, he’s been in the league and he’s doing great, and why not learn from somebody who is doing great? It will definitely take my game up to another level, especially confidence-wise, too.”
As for how he played in five summer leagues games in Utah and Vegas, Young was inconsistent, but showed promise. He scored 16 points with nine rebounds in his final game with the Celtics. He also showed an improved energy level, drawing praise from his teammates for his hustle. He still has a ways to go, however.
Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns
(15.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 26.9 MPG)
Goodwin still has only one speed and it’s full throttle, and he can’t get away from lowering his head when he drives through the lane. He has improved, though, and had a pretty solid summer in Vegas.
With four games with at least 18 points, Goodwin showed his ability to score the basketball. Problem is, he now has Devin Booker to compete with for minutes, and Booker also played very well.
Goodwin needs a good camp to see a substantial increase in minutes in his third season.
Josh Harrellson, Phoenix Suns
(8.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 42.3 3P%, 17.1 MPG)
Will Jorts get another shot in the NBA? If not, it won’t be for a lack of effort in Las Vegas. He played about as well as he could in seven games with Phoenix, likely earning an invite to training camp, at the very least. If he keeps it up in camp, he very well may end up in a permanent Suns uniform next season.
Considering Tyson Chandler is old and Alex Len is fragile, Harrellson could be a big help to the Suns’ depth inside.
DeAndre Liggins, Sacramento Kings
(7.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 22.4 MPG)
Liggins led the Kings in scoring with 14 points in his final game in Las Vegas with the team. Whether or not he will get another opportunity remains to be seen, but he played well in his brief stint with Sacramento.
Personally, I believe he earned an invite to training camp, but I’m not the one who makes that call. Maybe DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Willie Cauley-Stein can put in a good word for their fellow Wildcat.
Darius Miller, Dallas Mavericks
(4.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 16.3 MPG)
Miller played in three games with Dallas in Las Vegas but left the team before the weekend to get married. He went 0-for-4 for 0 points in his third and final game, but was 4-for-7 from the field in his first two for outputs of six and seven points.
Doron Lamb, Golden State Warriors
(4.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 36.4 3P%, 13.0 MPG)
Lamb had one good game with Golden State, the finale, when he scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, 3-of-6 on three-balls. Other than that, he didn’t do a lot to make his case for another year in the NBA.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders believes a lack of consistency will keep Lamb from making a team.
He’s still an First Team All-NBA on Twitter, though.
Marquis Teague, Oklahoma City Thunder
A star in the 2013 NBA Summer League, Marquis Teague did not see the floor in Orlando for Oklahoma City.
Daniel Orton, Portland Trail Blazers
(5.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 19.8 MPG)
Portland gave Orton plenty of opportunities to prove himself with almost 20 minutes per game in Las Vegas, including four starts, but the journeymen big man is likely taking another journey overseas. He just didn’t do enough to stand out, although he did have one nasty block against the Raptors. That probably won’t be enough, unfortunately.
Keith Bogans, Portland Trail Blazers
(0.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 16.8 MPG)
The 35-year-old vet was the oldest player in Las Vegas, hoping to get another shot after 18 months out of the league. He told CBSSports.com, “I didn’t think I was too good to come play Summer League. It was my idea. It ain’t like, ‘Keith, you gotta play Summer League,’ you know? I wanted to play.”
It had been 11 years since Bogans last played in Las Vegas. He claims to be in the best shape of his life, but knows he’s still a longshot to return to the NBA.
In four summer league games, Bogans played Keith Bogans basketball: a defender and role player. Now he sits by the phone and waits.
We’ll revisit once training camp rolls around.
After two and half days of cold conference rooms and non-stop football talk, I’ve finally returned from SEC Media Days. I feel like I’ve already written a novel about the event (half of which you all probably skimmed), but for the sake of all the loose ends dangling around in my mind, here’s one final wrap-up to put it to bed.
Here are the eight issues that stuck with me once I left the Hyatt Regency…
1. The cost of attendance stipend is a major issue
…Mostly because no one really seems to fully understand it. To catch you up, starting this season, student athletes will receive a cost of attendance stipend to give them some pocket change to go visit their families, have extra money for food, etc. etc. The stipend varies per school. Kentucky’s is $2,284, the lowest in the SEC. As you might imagine, a recruit could look at the varying amounts per school and decide Kentucky may not be the best option if money was a factor.
Because of that discrepancy, the method in which that figure is determined came under fire this week at Media Days. Right now, it’s determined by each school’s financial aid figures, which are based on federal guidelines from the US Department of Education. Stoops was asked about it and had a pretty diplomatic, “my hands are tied” answer:
“Not real clear on where the numbers come from other than I know they don’t come from the athletic department. So it’s an administrative decision. It is what it is. We’ll play under the rules that they give us. Again, I’m glad, like most coaches will tell you, that we’re giving them something.”
Hopefully as the first year of the stipends goes on, the NCAA can come up with a better way to determine the amount each school gets. They probably won’t, but fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a major issue in recruiting…yet.
2. The SEC Network has changed how the media is covering the event
Normally, KSR is criticized by other local media because we don’t cover enough events in person. This year, it was kind of the other way around. I didn’t go down to Hoover until Tuesday morning, but when I got there, Lonny Demaree and WKYT were the only UK media outlets there. The local media contingent came down for UK’s rounds on Wednesday then went home. This doesn’t bother me at all–if it did, I’d be one hell of a hypocrite–but, I think it speaks to how much access and coverage the SEC Network provides. There were at least three programs covering Media Days for the Network, and one anchor desk inside the main room. Each coach’s speech was televised live and those watching at home got even more coverage of the coaches and players at the desk with Finebaum or the other anchors. Add in all the free transcripts you could dream of on the SEC’s website and that makes covering it from the couch look pretty appealing; however, as I’m always reminded when I cover events in person, there is something nice about being able to interact with the players and get the “feel” of an event. In this case, that “feel” was utter chaos.
3. The “Beyond the Field” feature was great
On that same note, my favorite part of Media Days this year was the “Beyond the Field” initiative, which featured a player from each school whose story off the field is as inspiring as their performance on it. I’ve already profiled Melvin Lewis in depth for you all, but it was fascinating to learn about the Beyond the Field representatives from each school. Georgia’s Malcom Mitchell told us about the children’s book he wrote after drawing inspiration from a book club he attended made up of mostly older women; LSU’s Leonard Fournette talked about living on a bridge with his family for five days after Hurricane Katrina; and Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs talked about his passion for aerospace engineering. I’m a sucker for these sorts of stories and hearing them at Media Days gave the event a refreshing new angle. You can only hear so much coach speak, after all.
4. I really wish UK had brought Patrick Towles
Look, I get it. Stoops is using the “quarterback competition” as motivation to keep both Patrick Towles and Drew Barker on their toes heading into fall camp. It’s an age-old tactic, but no matter how many times Jordan Swindle insisted the competition was legit, I’m not buying it. Towles is on the cover of the Cats Pause Yearbook in Harry Potter gear for goodness sake. Swindle, AJ Stamps, and Melvin Lewis were excellent ambassadors for the program–articulate, informed, and enthusiastic–but it would have been great to see Towles come in as a leader of the team and sell the program to the naysayers. Because there are still a LOT of naysayers.
5. Other SEC media are still copying and pasting old Kentucky Media Days articles
Yesterday, Freddie Maggard sent me a link to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Seth Emerson entitled “The idle interest in Kentucky football.” I don’t know Seth personally, I follow him on Twitter and think he’s pretty entertaining, but this article really bothered me. I won’t link it as to not give him hits, but you can find it easily on your own. Emerson basically pitied the three UK players at Media Days because he feels UK fans don’t care anything about football, nor do the media at the event.
The latter is partially true, but once again, Kentucky had the unfortunate draw of following Alabama, an impossible situation for any school in the league. Everything pales in comparison to Saban at Media Days; however, Stoops actually had one of the longer media sessions if you (very unscientifically) judge by transcript length. I can’t find the duration of each speech, but I know for certain Stoops was in there longer than Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Georgia’s Mark Richt. Emerson used attendance numbers to argue UK fans don’t care about football as much as other schools in the league, and well, numbers are hard to refute, but the interest in football has spiked considerably since Stoops took over. Just look at the interest in recruiting. Did we even care about Signing Day during Joker’s tenure?
The main thing that bothered me about Emerson’s article is it’s the same tired narrative that UK football’s constantly fighting against. Instead of writing something original and interesting about Stoops’ effort to turn the program around, Melvin Lewis’ story, or the high performance program stats that had everyone talking yesterday, he chose to take the lazy route and recycle a column from last year.
6. Dan Mullen and Bret Bielema are trying to be the cool new guys
Mississippi State’s head coach and Arkansas’ head coach seem to be battling for the title of “coolest new guy on the block.” (Even if Mullen’s been in the league since 2009.) It doesn’t hurt that they look alike, both wore flashy shoes–Mullen adidas and Bielema Nike–and both entertained the hell out of reporters during their sessions. I like both Mullen and Bielema–probably Bielema more, he’s hilarious–but seeing their attempts to “swag it up” was slightly cringeworthy; however, I love the effort.
7. Spurrier and Miles are still the best
Try as they may, neither Mullen nor Bielema can take the SEC Media Days throne from Steve Spurrier. Les Miles is a close second. Both Spurrier and Miles seemed amused but unthreatened by their younger counterparts, Miles telling reporters he’s just “wearing normal socks and shoes” compared to their flashy kicks. Seeing the two coaches talk is always a highlight of Media Days because they really don’t give an eff about what people think; as of right now, it feels like Mullen and Bielema care a little too much.
8. I swear I wasn’t the media member that gave Kentucky a first-place vote
When the media ballots were released this morning, I actually laughed out loud when I saw one media member voted UK to finish first in the SEC East. The news rippled around the main room, and I turned to Lonny, one of my few media friends, and asked him if he was the one who voted for UK. He gave me the strangest look and said “Aww, no. Why would I do that?”. I love my Cats, but good question.
Unless I woke up in the middle of the night and got on my computer while sleepwalking, I can say with certainty that I was NOT the media member who gave the Cats the number one vote, simply because I forgot to fill out the ballot. Whoops.
I’m sure everyone thinks I did it, though. I kind of wish I had.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 15th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
At 6’4″, 332 lbs., Melvin Lewis is a big guy; however, as the senior nose guard stood before a group of reporters this morning, a mixture of nerves, excitement, and pure joy crossed over his face, making him look all of twelve years old again.
“I grew up in Compton, California, which is notoriously known as a rough neighborhood. I’ve been through a lot of adversity throughout my life,” Lewis said softly. “But, I’m just happy to be in the situation I am today. I’m just overwhelmed to be here in general.”
When I asked him how he was enjoying the day so far, his face broke into a huge smile.
“It’s been great, being able to enjoy it with Coach Stoops, AJ, and Swindle. Feels like a dream.”
Straight outta Compton
Lewis represented Kentucky today as part of the SEC’s “Beyond the Field” initiative, which features players whose stories off the field are just as inspiring as their performances on it. Life wasn’t easy for Lewis growing up. His father was in gangs and in and out of jail during Lewis’ childhood, leaving his mother to carry most of the burden of raising four children alone; however, Lewis is careful not to villainize his dad.
“My father, he was on drugs and stuff a lot when we were young, but he made sure that we didn’t make the same mistakes that he made,” Lewis said in an interview with The SEC Network. “Seeing my mom struggle while he was in prison and seeing all the things my father went through, I just wanted something better for my life.”
Lewis is the first male in his family to go to college, paving the path for his two younger brothers. He graduated from UK in May with a degree in community and leadership development, a moment he said eclipsed playing in his first SEC game.
“Graduation was probably the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. I’m the first male in my family to ever graduate from college, so that was huge. I have a younger brother, Chris Lewis, who has graduated from junior college who will play football down in New Mexico for the Lobos. I feel like I sort of paved the way for my younger brother and my baby brother just graduated high school and is gonna go play basketball at Washington State.”
A talk with Richard Sherman sent him down a new path
NFL star Richard Sherman visited the UK football team while in town in May, and took time to visit with Lewis, a fellow Compton native. Lewis said his words hit home.
“I was able to sit down and talk to him for about thirty minutes afterwards. He pulled me to the side and was talking about, ‘just keep fighting, just don’t ever give up because you don’t want to go back to our city and just be one of those guys who said ‘well, I was there, but this happened, so.’ That was definitely an influential talk for me.”
Sherman’s talk inspired Lewis to step up and be a leader not just in his family, but on his team. In recent months, Mark Stoops says Lewis has become a mentor to several players, specifically Matt Elam.
“If he’s not giving 100 percent, I’m the first one to get on him,” Lewis said of the offseason workouts with Elam. “I tell him, ‘Let’s go. You gotta play this year. You have to make plays. You can’t make mistakes.’ I’m the first one on him every time. And I’m always pulling him after, just doing little extra stuff. I’ll hang out with him and stuff like that to let him know I’m here for him.”
Mark Stoops says Melvin’s leadership is making a huge difference in Elam’s progress.
“I don’t know if Melvin touched on this or not, he was probably being humble, but I think Melvin has been a guy that has really tried to lead and help Matt in that area and give him that extra motivation and be the guy,” Stoops said. “Melvin has been a good leader.”
To Lewis, giving younger players guidance is just continuing the legacy of those who came before him.
“The guys did it for me when I first got here. Mike Douglas, Christian Coleman, Za’Darius, Bud, those guys they brought me along and I just thought I should do the same thing for guys that are younger than me,” Lewis said, adding that sometimes, players respond better to people closer to their age. “Coaches can only do so much.”
The cost of attendance stipend has been a popular topic at Media Days, and when asked, Lewis, who also has a job at Paul Miller Ford, told reporters that he plans to send the $3,598 to his family back home in Compton.
“To me, personally, it means I can be able to send more money home to help my family because being in that neighborhood is rough with my mom working alone,” Lewis said, pausing to stare down at the table for a minute. “We’ll figure something out.”
UK’s cost of attendance stipend is one of the lowest in the SEC, but despite his family’s situation, Lewis said that doesn’t make him regret picking Kentucky.
“The money doesn’t really matter, it’s about getting that feel around the players and coaches, getting that home right feel,” Lewis said. “Even if another school offered more money, I’d still choose Kentucky.”
Lewis says that even if professional football isn’t his path, he’s excited about his future.
“Just going back home and being impactful, just helping direct the young kids to a different path, not a path of destruction like most guys go down,” Lewis said. “I would love to teach, I would love to coach, any kind of way I can have an impact I can have on their life. It doesn’t matter to me.”
There goes Melvin, being humble again.
This is Mark Stoops’ third year at SEC Media Days and by the end of his session, he looked the most at ease that we’ve seen him on the big stage. After a short interview session with local media, Stoops took the podium in the main room and started off a little shaky.
“My third year here at the SEC media days,” Stoops began. “Really glad the first two years trying to build this program didn’t kill me, but the first two years really went extremely fast.”
About that year three…
With more talent on the team and renovations being made to the facilities, there is progress, but Stoops is ready to see results.
“Optimistic, excited, year three, we should be better. We are better,” Stoops said. “I think one of the big things that stands out to me is just the unity of our football team. They’re all in together. They’ve worked hard throughout winter conditioning. They’ve worked hard this summer. They’re anxious and more confident.”
Stoops admitted that his team “wasn’t able to handle the work that I gave them” in his first year, and although he was pleased with how the team began the second year, going 5-1, the reality of playing in the SEC took its toll.
“We were in the middle of a tough stretch in the SEC, and physically and mentally we did not handle it. We have to continue to grow,” Stoops said. “We have a long way to go. I knew what I was doing when I took this job, and I’m very optimistic about where we’re at and where we’re going.”
Stoops brought up basketball first
Every year, it’s only a matter of time until Stoops is asked about John Calipari and basketball. This year, Stoops beat reporters to the punch by being the first to bring it up, mentioning how beneficial basketball is to the football program.
“Basketball does nothing but help us,” Stoops said when asked about fan expectations. “That atmosphere they set, Coach Cal, what he does to help me and help our program, the recruiting, just the environment of that arena. We may bring a prospect in for the first time and bring them to a game, and they see our fan base. Believe me, our fan base goes well beyond the basketball team.”
I vowed to throw paper wads at the reporter who asked about basketball. Those wads are still sitting next to my computer. Maybe I can throw them at the guy behind me who decided to watch a video during Stoops’ session without headphones.
Melvin Lewis is mentoring Matt Elam
I’ll have more on this tonight, but Melvin Lewis had the story of the day when he told us how he’s taken Matt Elam under his wing.
“Matt Elam, he’s making huge strides this offseason with being more consistent and stuff like that,” Lewis told reporters this morning. “There’s been times where I went outside and just saw him running on his own. You can see that he wants it. He has that hunger now. So I really believe that he’s going to make a lot of good plays this year.”
Stoops said Melvin’s leadership has been huge for Elam’s progression.
“I think Melvin has been a guy that has really tried to lead and help Matt in that area and give him that extra motivation and be the guy, and that’s what it takes for all of our team,” Stoops said. “We need more and more leaders. We worked extremely hard developing leadership in our program. Melvin has been a good leader, but I see that dedication. I see the hunger of our team.”
Stoops couldn’t be more pleased with Shannon Dawson
Stoops raved about all of his staff, but he seemed the most pleased with Shannon Dawson, his new offensive coordinator.
“Very excited about him. I feel like we made great progress in 15 practices in the spring,” Stoops said. “I also like the way our players respond to him. They like playing for him, and they’re very excited about what we’re going to do.”
With all the times Stoops mentioned rushing today, you might forget Dawson runs a version of the Air Raid, but that’s further proof that his more balanced attack may be what sealed the deal.
“I like the creativity out of the run game, and I love the mentality that he has out of the run game,” Stoops said. “We all know, every coach will talk about that, certainly the defensive guys, but balance is a big thing. Being able to run the ball is a big thing. It helps your defense practicing against the run game. It helps the defense. So I think the nuances in the run game and getting the ball down the field are a few things that are different with Coach Dawson [than former OC Neal Brown].”
Stoops on soap operas
UK’s Thursday night game against Auburn is getting A LOT of press here today, and when asked, he said he’s just thankful the Cats are hosting, not traveling.
“It’s not a lot of fun to go on the road for a Thursday game. It’s just weird. You travel on a Wednesday, and you get to the hotel, and there’s soap operas on or something instead of football. I don’t know. It’s just different traveling on a Wednesday.”
Sadly, I didn’t get to ask my follow up question, so we’ll never know what his favorite soap opera is.
After an early morning drive and a long day at the Hyatt Regency, I am back at the hotel with my feet up and pajamas on. This is my third SEC Media Days, so I’m used to the madness now, but a full day of press conferences and having your chair bumped by big media bellies is enough to wear anyone out.
Before I turn in to get some sleep before Kentucky’s big day, here are my takeaways from Day Two of SEC Media Madness…
I don’t want Steve Spurrier to ever retire
Believe it or not, the Ole Ball Coach is 70 now, and coming off one of his worst seasons, faced a lot of questions about retirement. Spurrier rolled with the punches, telling reporters that he plans to “breeze right on through 70″ like he did ages 60 and 65.
“I can still remember just about everything,” Spurrier said, rattling off a list of public figures around his age still working (Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, Coach K). “That retirement thing, I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I can go to the beach and stay four or five days, and, hey, let’s get on out of here. We’ve been here long enough.”
[Insert hangover and sunburn jokes here]
Once Kentucky broke the Spurrier curse a few years back, I’ve grown to love the Ole Ball Coach if for any other reason than he makes SEC Media Days entertaining. In fact, if he does retire, I’m totally for Mark Ennis’ suggestion:
Imagine an SEC Network show with retired Steve Spurrier and Rich Brooks just judging stuff. Like, Antiques Roadshow format but anything.
— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) July 14, 2015
Spurrier wants odds on every SEC coach being at their school in 4 years, so let’s do it
Danny Sheridan is a famous sports handicapper, and while talking about retirement, Spurrier said he wanted Sheridan to do the odds on every SEC coach being at their respective school four years from now. So, let’s do that.
- Gus Malzahn (Auburn): 6-1
- Despite a minor setback last season, the Tigers are a National Championship contender; however, Auburn has proved they won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a coach if things go south.
- Jim McElwain (Florida): 12-1
- I don’t know much about McElwain, but considering he doesn’t have enough common sense to put on sunscreen, I’m skeptical.
- Derek Mason (Vanderbilt): 20-1
- I really like Mason, but for a program like
VandyWest End, it’s a steep climb unless you’re James Franklin. I hope he proves me wrong.
- I really like Mason, but for a program like
- Steve Spurrier (South Carolina): 15-1
- I love the Ole Ball Coach, but something tells me retirement will sound nicer and nicer as the next four years go by.
- Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M): 8-1
- Sumlin just hired a new defensive coordinator and has the newly renovated Kyle Field to call home. I honestly don’t follow him enough to know whether or not he’d turn down the NFL or a more prestigious program.
- Dan Mullen (Mississippi State): 7-1
- No one was more surprised that Mullen got the Bulldogs to #1 last season than me. Will he stay in Starkville if things stay rosy or get out because it’s Starkville?
- Butch Jones (Tennessee): 10-1
- This one was tricky, but I think Jones has the Vols primed for a breakout year. I also think he’ll stick around even if bigger schools come calling.
- Nick Saban (Alabama): 3-1
- I don’t see Saban leaving anytime soon, even for the NFL. Alabama will keep pouring money his way to make sure that never happens.
- Mark Stoops (Kentucky): 8-1
- I have faith that Stoops will get the Cats to a bowl game and next season will be the year they really make some noise, but as a long-suffering Kentucky fan, I also fear if that happens, someone bigger will come scoop him up. Stay away, Florida State!
- Gary Pinkel (Missouri): 3-1
- Missouri’s won the SEC East two years in a row and Pinkel, age 63, has a contract with the Tigers through 2021. Seems like a retirement track to me.
- Bret Bielema (Arkansas): 8-1
- Bielema’s turning the Razorbacks around, but if they continue to progress, will he stay with them or bolt for a bigger name job?
- Mark Richt (Georgia): 9-1
- Even though Georgia always seems pretty good, Richt always seems to be on the hot seat.
- Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss): 5-1
- Freeze turned Ole Miss around, and even if big schools try to poach him, leaving Oxford is stupid.
- Les Miles (LSU): 6-1
- LSU has had a few subpar seasons, but it’s Les Miles. Why would you ever get rid of him?
A list of things that never change at Media Days
- The rooms being freezing cold
- The weather outside being brutally hot
- Too much Dr. Pepper and not enough Diet Pepsi
- Paul Finebaum wandering around not talking to anyone
- Creepy old men hitting on young women
- Lonny Demaree being awesome
- No lines in the women’s restrooms (take that, men!)
- Only sweet tea at the buffet, no unsweet
- Excellent people watching in the media lobby
- Men asking way too many questions about fashion
- The awesome look of disappointment that crosses the fans’ faces when you come down the Escalator of Disappointment
A list of things that did change at Media Days
- There were more women in the main room–hooray for us!
- Selfie sticks (ugh)
- Periscoping EVERYWHERE
- New charging stations for your phones:
- Freddie Maggard’s excellent analysis
- The SEC Network has a desk inside the main room, which means you’re pretty much guaranteed to be on TV at some point, which makes me paranoid about my posture and things stuck in my teeth
- Players from opposing teams talking about how Kentucky is on the rise
I’m sure that list will grow as the week goes on. Finally…
Someone explain how this works to me
A few of these mysterious rotating mini helmets were on display on Radio Row today, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they work. Magnets? Magic? Maybe I’ll ask Space Dobbs.
Mark Stoops, Jordan Swindle, AJ Stamps, and Melvin Lewis are up tomorrow around 10:30 a.m. CT. There’s a local media opportunity before then, so post questions you’d like me to ask. I’ll also be Periscoping throughout the day, so be sure to follow me @MrsTylerKSR. Hopefully this shorty can fight to the front to give you all a good view.
Drake Jackson made his first Kentucky Sports Radio radio appearance when he called in to the show this morning.
The four-star offensive lineman spoke about his relationship with the coaching staff, saying John Schlarman is like his uncle, and raved about the future of Kentucky football.
“We’re going to do big things,” he said. “There’s no better time to be at Kentucky.”
Jackson also talked about his fellow UK commits and what it takes to hold the class together.
Listen to Jackson’s interview at about the halfway mark below:
While you’re at it, listen to the second hour of today’s podcast too: