At 8 a.m. this morning, the local Kentucky media got a chance to interview Mark Stoops, DT Donte Rumph, RB Raymond Sanders and LB Avery Williamson before they were fed to the SEC Media wolves. While I avoid Johnny Football mania, here are some highlights from that session:
Stoops admitted he was a little nervous for his first SEC Media Days, and doesn’t really have any jokes planned for his first trip to the podium. Never force funny, Coach.
A lot of you have been asking about Marcus McWilson and Javess Blue’s eligibility. Here’s Stoops’ response: “We’re working on that. We’re working through some eligibility. We’ll let you know at the beginning of camp.”
On the leadership qualities he likes in Rumph, Sanders, and Williamson and why he brought them to Media Days:
“They’re mature, they’ve been through it. I think if you asked all three of those guys that are here, they’re tired of losing and they want to be put in a position to be successful. And that’s what I love about this team. We’ve had to make some changes and dismiss some players and continue to work on our character as a football program, but the players that are here, I’m very excited about. They want to be led in the right way and they’re working extremely hard and have a positive attitude, so that I’m very encouraged about.”
How many true freshman can we expect to play this fall?
“That’s a very hard question to answer. From the recruiting process and the things you hear in the summer, we feel we have a very good nucleus, a very good group with the right attitude. …Sometimes you may count on a certain person to come in and contribute, but they might not be ready.”
Of course, Stoops would prefer to redshirt players so they could add weight and mature, but that’s a “perfect world,” and UK’s not there just yet:
“In a perfect world in this league with a bunch of grown men, it would be good to have your team mature a little bit. That being said, some guys are ready to go. We will never put limitations on that. If they can come in and help our program, then that’s good.”
His answer to the obligatory “Yahtzee” question?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” [laughter]
Stoops was adamant that he and the staff won’t choose a starting quarterback until the answer is clear to them:
“We will make that decision when it’s clear. I think if you ask most of these coaches that have been around here a lot longer than me, it probably helps to have a quarterback in place for the leadership role and have your team working with him as the starting quarterback all summer, but also, why rush that situation if it’s not clear cut? That’s not fair to anybody and we want to make sure we make the right decision, and we will make that decision when it’s clear cut. If that takes one day, it takes one day, if it takes a week, it takes a couple weeks or maybe the end of the season. I think those players have earned that right.”
Stoops was most animated when asked if he’s ready to get back on the field with his players:
“Yes, absolutely. It’s hard being away from the players this long, but I know they’re in good hands with our strength and conditioning team.”
I want to note that Sanders didn’t stop smiling the whole time. He’s a media pro by now.
How are summer workouts going so far?
“Summer is going well, a lot of guys are working hard and coming in and getting the extra work and extra treatment. We’re pushing towards having a great season this year, so we’re taking it one step at a time, starting with this summer and I think we’re doing a good job there.”
I asked him what he’s looking forward to most in Neal Brown’s new offense:
“I’m looking forward to putting points on the board. It’s an offense that we’re able to get the ball around to different people and everyone gets the chance to touch the ball, so if we believe in the system and believe in what Coach Brown has for us, I think we can be very successful in his offense.”
The recurring theme from all three of UK’s players was that they really don’t want to be thought of as the SEC punching bag anymore:
“We just want to go out there and let everyone know we’re not pushovers in the SEC and that’s what we’re working towards this summer.”
I asked both Sanders and Williamson what it was like for them as seniors to see the changes happening in the fan base, and to see 19,000 fans at the Vanderbilt game last season and 50,000 at the Spring Game in April. Sanders’ response:
“It’s very exciting. You can’t help but to notice it and enjoy it. 50,000 fans at the spring game doesn’t happen everywhere. So we’re very grateful for that and grateful for the support. That’s why we’re working hard. We’ve seen that they want to come out and support us and come to the games, so we want to work hard and be successful for them.”
As a senior, what is it like for Sanders to see all of the excitement surrounding recruiting and the 2014 class?
“Whatever’s going to improve this program, I’m all for it. I’m just trying to be successful this year. I can’t worry about the 2014 class. I can help the 2013 class that’s come in and those guys that came in to work, and we’re gonna help as leaders and help those guys to come on board and coach them on how things are done. Other than that, we’re just working for this season to be successful this season. We love all the energy, all the hype that’s coming with that class and everything else because we know it’s going to help improve the program and improve the Kentucky tradition, but we’re going to focus on this year and take it one day at a time.”
I started by asking Avery what he’s going to tell the freshmen coming in to prepare to play in the toughest league in the nation:
“Just them like it is–go out there and play football. They’re guys like you, just a little bit older. You’ve just gotta be ready and it’s tough. It’s a different level, just go out there and play and be comfortable. I feel like we’ve got some guys who can really contribute early and once they get in the swing of things, they’ll really help us out a lot.”
His answer to my question about what it was like to go from 19,000 fans at the Vanderbilt game to 50,000 fans at the Spring Game?
“It was huge. I got chill bumps when i heard about how many tickets were sold. When the Spring Game sales first started, I was shocked when they said they sold 10,000, 15,000…I was like, “what??” It was a great feeling running out and seeing all those people in the stands. It was a great feeling. I’m getting chill bumps right now just thinking about it! It was amazing, so I was really proud of our fans for showing up and I feel like we put on a good show for them at the spring game.”
Williamson said that he commends Stoops for dismissing various players during the offseason, and says that it was necessary:
“[Stoops] definitely doesn’t take the stuff that happens off the field lightly. I commend him for that. You can only give so many chances to guys. If they don’t want to be here, then they don’t need to be here. That’s how I feel.”
Sadly, the session ended before I could talk to Donte Rumph, so I’ll make getting quotes from him a priority in the next session.
Stoops is coming up to the mic right now…