The picture above was taken when the University of Kentucky introduced Mark Stoops as the new head football coach. At that presser Coach Stoops talked about ’embracing the process’. Since then he has emphasized the point almost as much as Coach Cal’s “we can’t hide you” and “you people are crazy” phrases, dropping in his new catchphrase often, including Monday morning. While it may seem as a somewhat broad term, Neal Brown summed it up best for us on KSR this morning, “It’s a process. I don’t want to talk to our players about any end goals. Bottom line is, we gotta get better in the next meeting we have, that’ll take us to our next practice, so on and so forth. If we can keep doing that, then we have a good chance at being a good, productive offense.”
This ideology is fundamental when rebuilding a program. The rebuilding process cannot happen overnight, so the staff must develop an attitude of consistent ‘blue-collar’ hard work, day in and day out. This mindset of taking ‘one day at a time’ is even more important considering the Murderer’s Row the Cats will be facing featuring Louisville, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama. Incorporating this mindset starts with the Senior leaders, a task Avery Williamson doesn’t take lightly. With only one year to play, Avery is leaving it all out on the field, ensuring that his teammates do the same, “[I tell them to] Take in all of the coaching they can from their coaches. I make sure they listen to the older guys at their position and most importantly play hard. Every down every play, play hard and the big plays will come.” However after speaking with many of the freshman today, I don’t think they’ll have a problem ’embracing the process’.
While Joker Phillips may not have been as adamant publicly about ’embracing the process’ as Coach Stoops, I am sure in private he harped to his team about working hard each and every day. Their process completely fell apart last season after many losses and many injuries, but rest assured that WILL NOT happen this year. The difference between 2012 and 2013 teams (besides the staff) that will make this season much greater, is the attitude and work ethic of the incoming freshman class. When guys like Jaleel Hytchye and Marcus McWilson were being recruited to Kentucky, they were sold on the chance to be a part of a turn around, while having the opportunity to see playing time immediately. They were sold, and now it is their time to sell the coaches that they can be on the field. Freshman safety Marcus McWilson is well prepared, “If you’re not ready to work like the rest of the guys, than it’s not the place for you to be. We’re here to compete, we’re here to give it our all and get out on the field and do good things.” It sounds like they have been listening to Mr. Williamson rather well.
Not only do these guys have the right mindset, but they possess the physical intangibles needed to play in the SEC. Upon first sight of McWilson, I was astounded at how big this 18 year old was, especially for a safety. His forearms are the size of a professional baseball player, with plenty of height and speed to eliminate big passes down the middle of the field. Hytchye’s skill set is based on his speed; a speed that is usually seen in the SEC but not at Kentucky. When asked about how difficult the speed transition to college was, Jaleel laughed, “I’m kind of a speed guy (a few more laughs). It wasn’t much of a transition for me, but it is different than high school. In high school they might have a couple fast guys, here everybody’s fast, but I didn’t take long.”
Their physical maturity is impressive, outdone only by their mature mindset. They understand what is necessary to become successful, while embracing the lofty goal of rebuilding a program in the toughest conference in college football. Rather than overcoming anxiety upon joining a new team and competing for a starting spot, they are anxious to compete everyday. The PR motto of ‘Attack Every Day’ has rubbed off on everyone, with evidence in yesterday’s first practice with a break of “COMPETE!”, with Seniors ending practice in the huddle saying, “We got better today, gotta get ready and come out ready to work hard tomorrow.” Like the offensive coach, McWilson didn’t have any set goals to reach by the end of the season, other than, “Compete, Compete, Compete, all the time.” The short term goal is simple, but building a sustainable program is a lofty long-term goal. Coach Stoops’ building metaphor describes it best, “We are going to build this program brick by brick, and we have to lay the foundation.” While most fans look to next season, the Class of 2013 (especially Stoops’ first verbal Hytchye) expects to present itself as the cornerstone of the new Stoops era. After yesterday, I don’t doubt it one bit.
Coach Stoops could sell a ketchup popsicle to a man in white gloves. He sold recruits to come here and has continued selling them his ideology since their arrival on campus. It will be difficult to weather the stormy season ahead. Injuries will happen, and there will be some home losses that are tough pills to swallow. The coaching staff will ensure that their players are Attacking Every Day, but can the fan base embrace this long-term process?
The most fun I’ve had doing this job, could very well be a story I tell my grandkids in the future. The freshman set themselves apart by their personalities alone, not to mention their exceptional skill set. This year and the years to come, are going to be a lot of fun. @RoushKSR