This is part two of a two-part series describing my experiences at the UK Football Women’s Clinic this past Saturday. Go read part one.
Getting to Know You
Before lunch, the coaches introduced some of the players still on campus (several players, including Danny Trevathan, took the opportunity to go home before reporting for camp this week), starting with the freshman. A few notes: freshman QB Maxwell Smith is impressive. I know we all love Bookie, but the coaches are really high on Smith so far, especially Andre Woodson, who told me he is “the real deal” and will be an absolute star when his time comes. Another freshman that impressed me was TE Alvin “Bud” Dupree, who is ripped. Tee Martin said that when Joker went to visit him during his recruitment, Dupree was dunking basketballs in the gym; when Tee asked him about it, he even went as far to claim he could do a two-handed 360° dunk. Finally, the player with the best name in the freshmen class, DL Shaquille Love, is just as much of a character as you would think. He’s sporting an orange/blonde streak in his hair, which may or may not have something to do with the Tennessee losing streak, which hits close to home for Love, who hails from the heart of Volunteer country. When asked what he wants to accomplish this season, Love said, loud and clear in the mic, “beat Tennessee.” Needless to say, the crowd loved that.
As a side note, during the afternoon presentations, freshmen DB Glenn Faulkner and his mother reported to campus and stopped by the clinic. Tee Martin was giddy. He and the other coaches rushed to greet him and it’s clear they are pumped about his potential.
Aaron Boyd is on his best behavior
Once Tee introduced the freshmen and the offense, DL coach David Turner introduced the defense. I’m not sure if it’s because he showed up late or what, but WR Aaron Boyd came up at the end and had Turner ask him a few questions in front of the crowd. This was very interesting to me; it’s no secret that Boyd has been a disappointment so far at UK. Boyd knows that. When Turner asked him a question, Boyd was ready with a textbook, team-first answer that was clearly rehearsed. When I spoke to him one-on-one, it was the same; despite his ridiculous Twitter feed, Boyd knows that he has to be on his best behavior right now. Hopefully Boyd realizes that time is running out for him and has a breakout year on the field as well.
Who loves shoes more: women or men?
Since this was a ladies’ camp, I figured I should observe something “girly,” so I tried to pay attention to what shoes the guys were wearing. And let me tell you, these men seemed to care much more about their shoes than any of the women there did. During the players’ “meet and greet,” I got a minute or two with Morgan Newton and Aaron Boyd. After asking them a few questions, I noticed they were wearing the same pair of shoes–bright white and blue Air Jordans. When I asked, they told me they were “True Blue 3”s, the “tightest” shoes around. I felt very old and white. Similarly, LaRod King was basically a walking ad for his Sperry’s, which I called boat shoes and unsuccessfully attempted to tease him about. Oh yeah, Tee Martin also wears Sperry’s, so they must really be cool.
Ladies who lunch
Probably the most enjoyable part of the camp for me was getting to know some of the ladies that attended. I had lunch (catered by Rafferty’s, natch) with five women who really know their UK football: Kathleen, Pat, Barbara, Becke, and Suzie. Pat has been to every UK Football Women’s Camp since they started back in 1979. When I asked what made her such a football fan, she said that she really didn’t start watching until she had children and needed something to do while they napped on Saturdays. Then, she was hooked. Glenn Holt and his girlfriend also sat with us for a while, and the ladies at our table loved on them like mother hens. After lunch, we were invited to tour the field and locker room, which was smaller than I imagined. As you can see, I left a nice message for the players, who I’m sure are wondering who the hell “BTI” is.
About those video boards…
Probably the biggest “news” out of the women’s camp was the ongoing installation of the new LED video boards. The picture I tweeted out on Saturday shows the empty frame of the old boards. The new boards will encompass the entire space of the existing frame. Russ Pear, Senior Associate Athletics Director, showed a few clips of what the board will look like “in motion,” with ads rotating on and off the screen’s sidebars and “full screen” moments, like play replays and pre- and in-game fan entertainment. Separately, each screen is the 15th largest in college football; together (if you put them side by side), they are the 3rd largest LED system in college football. And yes, they will be done by September 10th. “Or else,” Russ Pear said Mitch Barnhardt told him. When asked, Pear didn’t have an answer about what would happen to the Ring of Fame, which will soon be covered up by video boards; however, he assured fans that UK’s past greats would be honored in some way inside the stadium.
Rise, Rise, Rise
If I had a nickel for every time someone said “rise” at the women’s clinic, I would be a very rich lady. They said it so often that I almost wished Drew Franklin was with me and we could make it a drinking game. “Rise” was everywhere: the camp t-shirts, programs, TV graphics, toilet paper (okay, not really). The staff is really behind this theme. They even showed a “Rise” video shot in Commonwealth Stadium featuring a gospel choir, similar to the Atlanta Falcons video from last year. While the video got everyone standing and clapping, it needs some work if it’s going to be the pulse-pounding, head-bashing, adrenaline rush that Kentucky needs in its pregame experience. But, it’s a million times better than pregame videos of the past, so I’ll take it.
The Rise campaign reflects the staff’s attempt to change the players and fans’ attitude about the football program. Believe me, Joker and the rest of the coaches are aware of the negativity in the fanbase and the media. They are determined to change it. Yes, wins will help more than anything, and the BBVA Compass Bowl left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but rest assured, the staff has moved on and wants you to do the same.
Joker wants you to RISE
Before the afternoon presentations began, I got some alone time with Joker to ask him a few questions. I started by asking what Kentucky needs to do to move past the lower tier of the SEC. Joker pointed out how Kentucky has been on the cusp the past few years, with big wins over South Carolina and Georgia. He also said that for Kentucky to become a legitimate SEC competitor, fans and players will have to change their attitudes. No more snickering when a player says their number one goal this season is winning the SEC Championship. This was a point that Joker kept coming back to all day–to win championships, this program has to expect to win championships. There is no room for negativity.
When asked about the Rise campaign, Joker stressed the importance of creating a “wow” factor around UK football through new video boards, uniforms, etc. Did you know that when Coach Brooks retired and Joker moved into his office, the first thing he did was completely redecorate it? Not just moving potted plants, but a total overhaul. He wanted to create an environment in which a recruit could come in and be “wowed.” Call it cultivating that “SEC swagger.”
I had to ask about Twitter. Joker said that last Thursday, players attended a mandatory presentation on social media, in which they learned how Twitter/Facebook can be a tool to improve their “brand.” Social media can help your brand and it can also hurt it. He cited Peyton Manning and Emmit Smith as athletes who have used the media to enhance their brand. Also important is the UK football brand, which coaches are encouraging players to support via Twitter with the #rise hashtags. When I asked how the players responded to the presentation, Joker said that most listened, but there were “one or two” who probably wouldn’t change their tweeting habits (cough, Bookie). Selfishly, I’m happy about this, because Tweet Beat would get pretty boring if they did.
I finished my conversation with Joker by asking about “the streak.” While he didn’t guarantee we would beat Tennessee like I had hoped, Joker did say that the coaches are more frustrated than anyone about the losing streak. He also brought up something I didn’t really realize until then: the last time Kentucky beat Tennessee was in 1984, Joker’s senior year at UK. Trust me, the importance of ending the steak is not lost on him.
Tee Martin “gets it”
I’ve got a video of my interview with Tee, which I’ll cut up into segments and post later this week. But, I have to gush for a minute. I knew going in to the camp that Tee was one of the people I wanted to spend some time with, and man, it was worth it. Like Calipari on the basketball side, Tee Martin “gets it.” He knows where Kentucky is lacking and he knows what they need to do to improve–both on the field and off. Plus, he’s incredibly charismatic; it’s no wonder Alabama tried to lure him away. Tee was a pleasure to interview, and went out of his way to help me out. His wife, Toya, is equally as likeable, and she even assisted him during his wide receivers’ presentation. I don’t want to spoil my interview with him, but he had a lot of good things to say about Gene McCaskill, who is returning from an ACL injury. However, no one is perfect; I caught Tee nodding off during one of the afternoon presentations, due to the combination of a delicious lunch and warm breeze, no doubt.
While there was a certain amount of “here are things you can go home and teach your husband” at the women’s camp, I really felt like the staff’s focus was letting female fans know how much their support is appreciated. If I could come away with one thing from my time speaking to the coaches, especially Joker, it would be that they are aware of the negativity and low expectations surrounding the program and are ready to change the tone. “Rise” isn’t just about new uniforms and video boards; it’s about cultivating a positive atmosphere around UK football in which the team and its fans should not only want to win, but expect it.