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For the First Time, I Believe in UK Football


Sometimes everything you were certain was true crumbles right in front of you. That line could easily be the start of a boring story of someone’s monumental life change or it could also be for something far more important, college sports. And the last couple of weeks have clearly shown me, everything I thought about Kentucky football could very well be wrong. The past few weeks worth of knowledge culminated today when Kentucky brought in its highest rated recruiting class in school history. Rivals ranks the class at #28 (I know other sites have it slightly lower, but one has to choose some site to follow and I will pick Rivals) with the previous high a #38 ranked class in 2006. Even though Mark Stoops only had eight weeks to do it, he found a way to assemble not just a good class, but the best in school history. That is completely mind-blowing. To get an understanding of how much greater Stoops’ performance is than average, take a look at where the commitments Joker had assembled, but Stoops decided were not good enough for UK, ended up on Signing Day (h/t to Gyero):

Jalen Battle – Illinois St.
Ander Bodkin – Jacksonville University
Jake Boynton – Marshall?
Darren Dowdell – East Carolina
Jevontey Smith – Middle Tennessee St
Deangelo Yancey – Purdue
David Washington – Unknown

The above list is not meant to criticize the kids or even Joker Phillips. Most would agree that prior to Stoops, Joker was the best recruiter UK has had since at least the Fran Curci era. But in eight short weeks, Stoops has gone from players that ended up at Illinois State and Jacksonville to beating the best of the best head-on for players. Take a look at some of the recruiting wins:

Ryan Timmons — Cats beat Ohio State and Florida
Jason Hatcher — Cats beat USC and Louisville
Marcus McWilson — Cats flip him from Nebraska
Zadarius Smith — Cats beat Texas, Texas A&M and Auburn

And the list goes on. Even the “mid-level” Stoops recruits had offers not from MAC schools, but from legitimate BCS-caliber competition. He beat out West Virginia, a team that was a darling of college football for a good part of the last four years, for FIVE players over the last four weeks. That is simply phenomenal. And that has led to scenes like the one below, where Ryan Timmons did something he never thought possible even three months ago, putting on a UK blue hat:

Timmons is a player that if he lived in any state besides Kentucky, would be considered one of the best 75 players in America. And Mark Stoops was able to convince him and others that Kentucky is a rising giant in college football. Take the case of Jason Hatcher. The Trinity Defensive Lineman admitted that he had almost no interest in Kentucky before Stoops arrival. He thought Kentucky played old-school, boring football and the chances of success there were, both as a team and personally, were almost zero. Then, Stoops and company arrived, and Hatcher turned down the advances of the West Coast and USC, ignored the ranting of the suddenly paranoid home city Louisville fans, and came to be part of something new and special. It takes a certain kind of salesperson to make something like that happen. Even more impressively, Stoops did a similar sales job with McWilson, who decommitted from NEBRASKA to go to Lexington. The idea of making that type of impression, with an out-of-state kid, is unbelievable and illustrative of how special what we are witnessing truly is. McWilson for his part, celebrated today by tweeting out his picture with Ashley Judd, showcasing that for the first time in recent memory, UK football recruits are stars too:

The last point is the most critical. The national media and Kentucky football fans are “all-in” now and excited/optimistic about the UK football program. Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote his national Signing Day column about SEC football recruiting and focused on Kentucky in particular. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit praised Mark Stoops and the Cats on television and said their performance was one of the stories of the day. But more importantly, the fans have totally bought in. Take KSR today. The final numbers aren’t in yet, but we are on pace to have one of the three most visited days in the site’s history (along with the day after the National Championship and the day the Harrison Twins committed). In years past, Signing Day has been a slight bump, but nothing worth writing home about. This year, it produces record traffic and contends for our biggest day ever. Why? Because fans care and are energized. Our radio stream shut down today for a few minutes due to traffic, not because people wanted to discuss a mundane win over South Carolina, but because they needed to know if Jason Hatcher would really be a Cat.

Which brings me back to my original point. Last year, when interviewing Joker Phillips at Media Day, he got on me rather hard about my lack of belief in the team. When I told him that I had made a $1,000 bet that UK would win five games (a bet that looks like charity now), he lectured me that I should bet twice that and believe in the team. I told him I did, but my heart wasn’t really in it. But now, for the first time maybe ever, I really and truly believe that Kentucky can be successful in football. I have always been a fan, but skeptical of the team’s ability to compete with the many structural impediments to success in the SEC in this state. While those impediments certainly do exist, Mark Stoops has come in and shattered my belief as to whether they can be overcome. He has taken what I thought was a weakness, and made it into a strength. Whereas Kentucky football used to engage in recruiting battles with this result:

Now Mark Stoops and company see the difficulties and turn them into benefits. Case in point. I always thought that Kentucky being the northern-most school in the SEC hurt the Wildcats when competing versus the teams in the South with more top talent in their state. But today, UK Coach Vince Marrow, who does a lot of recruiting for Stoops, says Kentucky’s location is a benefit. “Being the northern-most state in the SEC, I consider Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky as a place where we have an advantage over every other SEC school. We are closer. Then when recruiting against Ohio State, Michigan and the Big Ten, I sell getting a chance to play in the best conference in the country. That way those areas we can claim as our ground, no matter who we are going against.” Its simply a new way of thinking, but one that clearly works. Mark Stoops said today that Kentucky was going to be in a lot of recruiting battles with a lot of good teams and “we are going to win our fair share of them.” After today, I totally believe him.

With all of that said, I won’t get too ahead of myself. This staff must translate the talent in the recruiting arena to success on the field. Even with the highest rated class in school history, the Cats still ranked 13th out of the 14 teams in the SEC today and Mark Stoops has yet to win one game in Blue. However, after watching the faxes come pouring in today and talking to the coaches this afternoon, I firmly believe real success is coming to Kentucky football. This is a young, hungry group of coaches who seem genuinely excited and ready to make it happen in Lexington. More than one said that a “sleeping giant was about to be awoken” and an energy permeated the building that I never felt even during the best days of the Brooks/Phillips era. You can tell when a person not only talks a big game because they are supposed to, but believes it because they know it to be to true. This group believes.

After Mark Stoops came on my radio show a few weeks ago, he thanked us for having him on and said that he appreciated the energy we had for the football team. He told me that he had been amazed at the power of the Big Blue Nation and the “how much the people in this state want to win.” I asked him about some of our rivals and how we would compete and he immediately made it clear his philosophy about the coming years in Kentucky football. Looking me directly in the eye he said, “This is just the beginning. We will back down from no one and people are going to like whats coming.” I loved the confidence I saw from Stoops then, knowing that we finally had a coach with real contagious confidence and swagger. Now two weeks later, after watching what he accomplished in recruiting I not only love the mindset, I am finally also a believer

Article written by Matt Jones

67 Comments for For the First Time, I Believe in UK Football

  1. Juanita Broderick
    9:34 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    welcome to the club matt

  2. KCK
    9:37 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    “Kentucky will never compete for the SEC East or have 9-10 wins in a season. Ever. Just be happy with six wins and a bowl. Gotta give Joker a chance.” It took awhile, Matt, but welcome to the other side who refuse to settle for mediocrity, no matter the history of our program.

  3. I Hear Sirens
    9:39 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Many of us have believed UK could be competitive for years. What has been frustrating is a school that wouldn’t commit resources needed and a media that had no vision or expectations. Being told for decades by both to shut up and accept it almost worked (see this years attendance). Thankfully it got so bad that even those with a laissez faire attitude toward the program began smelling the death stench and decided to act before we hit the event horizon. Kudos to all who have worked and continue to work toward a better product for the players, the school, and the fans. Not to mention the money.

  4. fakinnomah
    9:40 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Come on in BBN the water is fine. I too always had a guarded optimism for UK football. Half of me always wanted to believe that UK could compete and wanted to see that happen, but the other half always said this is a basketball school and UK would never make the commitment to football. Well, I was wrong and I am as excited as I have ever been for a football season. I know we haven’t even practiced yet, but please…please…please let UL come into Commonwealth undefeated and overconfident and leave with an “L”.

    Go CATS

  5. Orangello
    9:45 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Strange clip. Why would u do that to someone? It’s funny to watch, but dang…

    I’ve really got my hopes up for a good, no great, football season. I hope i dont end up like Charlie Brown layin flat on my back after Lucy pulls the ball out from in front of him.

  6. doin it
    9:49 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Well said Matt. I agree 100%. Somebody said it on another thread, but I think the road to UK success in football will be a progression, not like the Cal immediate climb to the top. But with the resources were putting into UK football, and the ability Stoops and co have shown to sell UK, I think we will be that great, just give it time, and stick with the optimism through the tough “growing” years.

    9:54 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    BBN, we have to pack EVERY home game even when we struggle. Stoops WILL have UK in the conversation of SEC Champs.

  8. Garrett
    9:55 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Everything I see says David Washington has signed with Kentucky.

    9:55 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    7. Card Troll, Is that Jason Hatcher theft still stinging. haha

    9:57 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Matt I love the emotion in this post. However your brilliance once again shows the lack of talent you have currently writing for the site. Boy how I long for the Turkey Hunter’s humor, Matt Jones articulation of TRUE BLUE FANDOM and many other great contributors from the original KSR crew. I would love if just one of the KSR OG’s provided one post a week. Wishful Thinking, I Know. Regardless GREAT DAY TO BE A WILDCAT-GREAT DAY TO BE ALIVE!!! #BBN #StoopsTroops

  11. JBR
    10:00 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Well, I’m glad that you finally decided to jump on board. We have an excited fan base, but still fairly low on knowledge with regards to football. Matt, you have to understand why there was so much animosity over the past few years on this topic. You are a perfect example of why. I can count on one hand how many other posters on here understood the real problems with our program. What was sad was that people who could see what was up were often thrown into a stereotyped group. There were either “haters” of the program or “appeasers”, like yourself, that could not stomach the criticism of Joker, and thought he was the best we could because he was a “good guy” and a Kentucky boy. Any of us that complained about Jokers horrendous coaching and lack of control of the team were thrown into the group of “haters”. Although we may have seemed negative…well, it was reality then. But, we always believed that UK could be a “destination” school for football. There is no reason it can’t. We are in the best conference in the nation, and if the administration commits fully to the program, it could grow to that level. Now, I am not naive…it won’t be easy, and it won’t be next year…but UK has a lot to offer, and Stoops said it best…we are a “sleeping giant” due to our loyal fans. Now, these loyal fans just need to learn more about the game.

  12. Coach
    10:01 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    I hope Kentucky fans give Stoops time. I honestly see the cats only getting 5 wins this year, but I think next year it will be 6 or 7 and by third year watch out. I think if the cats win 5+ games this year and stay competive in all the games, then this year will be a success.

  13. T
    10:02 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Ditto! This is just about what I wrote on an earlier post. Just Believe!

  14. UKgrad
    10:05 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Love the direction and overall feel of the football program. This will take time to build into a true contender and the staff will have to continue recruiting at a high level like this to build the depth necessary to compete in this league. All that said- this staff has me believing they can make it happen.

  15. UKgrad
    10:05 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    13— totally agree

  16. cracka
    10:08 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    who cares about uk sports, where’s my bachelor update? i guess i have to wait until the following morning as usual

  17. Eric K
    10:15 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    #13 yes sir, sounds like the plan. GO CATS!!

  18. David from San Diego
    10:19 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    The greatest takeaway from this writeup, and viewpoint held by the coaching staff, is that one could leverage UK’s geographic location. This obviously, is contingent upon the SEC dominance witnessed for nearly a decade, being a tremendous draw to players from around the country, but its spot on. Sometimes it takes a person or group of people looking in from outside to see light at the end of a tunnel, others have not been able to see. This has occurred with this group of coaches and I’m patiently optimistic to see what the next few years bring in UK football. Should be fun as the staff appears to be sharp, talented, and driven…… I think they’ll stick together for a few years to see if they can really make a mark for their careers with our program. Go Cats!

  19. UK FAN
    10:22 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Wow what a coach can do for a program. 8 weeks and took UK to a top 30 recruiting class… Can’t be done at UK boys just can’t be done if I had a dollar for everytime I heard that non-sense. The coach makes the program not the name of the school.

  20. Trublupopeye
    10:25 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Matt, I really appreciated your piece and here’s why. My son and you are very close to the same age. As I drug him to football game after game it became sort of amusement for him to make fun of me. He too would talk to me on the drive home from the games on the reasons Ky football could never win. The problem was I had seen our football program win and there are a great number of us that has hung on to the belief that one day the stars would align and things would be put right. My son has a engineering degree from UK and is alot smarter than his old man. However he’s starting to see that Ky was a sleeping giant in football and maybe the old man knew something he couldn’t see.Matt I also want to say that part of the star aligning IMO is your own KSR and the daily attention you have brought to the woes of our long suffering football program. Thank you.

  21. TShlew
    10:28 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    I honestly see us making a bowl game year one. Some may say that’s an unfair expectation, and I’m not saying I will be upset if we don’t. I just truly believe it’s going to happen. Finally it can be FUN to be a UK football fan!

  22. WOTS
    10:30 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    James Hearns and Tevin Lawson will be Cats by end of next week easily putting Kentucky in the top 25 classes, for the first time ever. Good day to all.

  23. daveragonsucks
    10:33 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    FIRST!!!! ]]:-}

  24. The Tain't
    10:34 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    When I think about me making sure I put the Spring Blue/White game on my calendar to spend the day, well, things they are a’changin’! STOOOOOOOOPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. BlueTexan
    10:36 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Been down this road before…from the John Ray hire til now. Must admit…for the first time in a looooong time – I’m excited…Stoops came in and delivered…I “Believe”.

  26. dave
    10:37 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    22- win all 3 — WKU, miamioh, bama st
    which 3 do we win here for 6 wins? — mizz, uofl, ut, @vandy, @miss st
    unless we can win 1 of — uf, @usc, bama, @uga
    ill take 5 wins. which hopefully will also equate to us not getting blown out 2-3 times

  27. Buckets
    10:40 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink


  28. Tired of Being 1 of 12 Games
    10:43 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    I never bought all of the “sky is falling” when Tee Martin left. Stoops and his asst coaches have already out did any thing he did recruiting, plus Martin was the worst WR coach ever.

  29. I "Stoops" Ice Cream
    10:48 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Stoops! I’m a believer! On on U of K!

  30. quickie
    10:51 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Matt may have to learn a little something about football.

  31. ciggy
    10:51 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    really excited about uk football, but really tired of seeing that worn out has been ashley judd’s picture.

  32. KyTom
    10:51 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    STOOPENDIOUS!!! Just curious….why did Joker have a reputation as a top notch recruiter??? Maybe when he was an assistant at South Carolina, where you can cherry pick players?? He couldn’t even get top talent to sniff at UK, much less take a visit here. With Stoops, we will have a recruiting base in Florida and Ohio and now open up that pipeline to Louisville Trinity and St. X…..well, this will be VERY special.

  33. Lee
    10:52 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Not the first time you were wrong Bubba…..

  34. louis joseph sipes
    10:55 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    You just Now believe in Coach Stoops! And UK Football!! If you did not recognise on day one the natural leader that he is you are a retard! And I have been coming to this site since day one. No more. You are lost!

  35. William in Nelson County
    10:55 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Coach Curci,one of the most successful coaches at UK always recruited Ohio successfully. Glad thats back. Good job Coach Stoops….Lets stop dishing former coaches though. It shows no class!!!

  36. Matt Jones
    11:00 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    #35, we will miss your hits, but your loss will apparently increase the average, grammar, spelling and vocabulary ability of our readers. So its a wash

  37. Chitown_Manny
    11:13 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Radio stream didn’t go out for a bit, mine never came back on. Amazing day none the less.

  38. Blue Texan
    11:14 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    #37 – Amen! I DO believe the long nightmare of Kentucky football has ended…oh, it’s going to take some time…but, we finally have positive direction…and, for that – I’m excited!

  39. Crump Seed
    11:15 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    21 That’s awesome, have felt the same way for years! 37 LMAO! Go Cats!!

  40. El CID
    11:22 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    This is a very encouraging FIRST step and commencement of a self propelled upward movement in the program. The more important steps for this new regime is to develop the talent and create a disciplined team. This will be more difficult.

  41. tyson
    11:24 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Matt, good post, with the exception of calling Joker a good recruiter. Did you see the class rankings from the previous post over the last 3 years?

    How about a list of the twitter handles for the signees?

  42. B
    11:26 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Matt, your title sounds like Michelle Obama’s famous quote: “For the first time in my life, I am proud to be an American”. Wasn’t right then, and it ain’t right now. What about 2007? What about 1999? I am as disappointed in you as I am dissapointed in our First Lady…

  43. B
    11:27 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    disappionted in my spelling, too.

  44. Catfan
    11:34 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Last I saw we were 13th out of 14 in recruiting in the sec. I always hope we will make a move and we have improved in recruiting this year, but we are 2nd to last in sec recruiting why would anyone that realizes this have improved expectations over previous seasons. Curb your enthusiasm BBN, we only beat Missouri in recruiting, I think the definition of isanity may be doing the same thing and excepting different results, well we are at the bottom of the sec once again, therefore any excpected result other than what we have recently seen is just insane wishful thinking

  45. Logan
    11:37 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink


  46. Randy Marsh
    11:44 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    @ 45 – See Drew Franklin’s post from earlier.

  47. Louis Joseph Sipes
    11:45 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Truth hurts, doesn’t it. Sorry, my passion overrode my spell check! You are either a coward for not saying what you thought after the radio show, or you are a fair weather fan.

  48. Uk22
    11:46 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Atta boy j hatch!!!!!

  49. blue in bama
    11:49 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    I am excited about this class simply because I feel the coaches recruited the type of players that fit their system. Get them on campus, start developing them for success on the field, and it opens the door for bigger, better, more talented recruits. That is what Saban did at Bama. String 3-4 really nice classes together, win some big games along the way, and then make UK a place where players want to come. I believe Stoops and crew can do that. Go Cats!!!

  50. FatBoyDonuts
    11:52 pm February 6, 2013 Permalink

    Rivals has moved UK up a spot to the #27 overall class!

  51. I BELIEVE!!!!
    12:01 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    As bad as the coaching was with the last staff, how many times did they stay close for a while making you think there was a possibility they could win? Better coach’s, better recruit’s, better scheme’s on both side’s of the ball, (sniff, sniff) what’s that I smell? I think I may smell some upset’s brewing…at least, I BELIEVE! I BELIEVE I’m more excited than I was during the 2007 season. I BELIEVE I have just seen the dark cloud’s that have hung over Commonwealth Stadium finnaly part and I can see the sun starting to shine. I BELIEVE.

  52. checkitout
    12:03 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    if you check the rankings on you will see the only reason mississippi state is ranked higher than us is because they have 1 five star recruit. if not for their 1 five star recruit we are ranked higher than them. we have more players signed, including more 4* ad 3* players…not to mention we would have way more 4* if rivals rating system was similar to espns rating system..according to espn we have six 4* on our team

  53. WHODAT
    12:08 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    not to mention their 5* is ranked rivals top250 and #8 in his position

  54. ummm youre an idiot
    12:11 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    #54 mississippi states 5 star is # 20 player in nation and #2 in his position. dunno what you were looking at. lol

  55. BigBlueDude
    1:28 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    I am very excited about this recruiting class. However, I would not get overly excited or get my hopes up. A 6-6 regular season and a bowl bid would be ideal in Stoops’ first season and anyone who expects any more than that simply does not realize the difficulty of winning in the best conference in college football. Give him a few years and we could be back to the “Andre Woodson days” where we could possibly rack up an 8 or 9 win regular season on a yearly basis. Which I would be ecstatic about.

  56. BravoBigBlue
    6:19 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Amazing job by Coach Stoops and his staff. Considering that Joker had taken this program to the depths of the Bill Curry days, it is indeed cause for optimism. Now they must get it done on the field. Honestly, I expect at least 6-6 in year 1. And then build from that. Go BBN!

  57. klassact32
    7:17 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Mr. Jones,

    I am glad you finally saw the light. I have never understood why people felt UK could not be a factor in football. We play in the best conference in all of college sports, national exposure and play on prime time tv. What else do you need? It didn’t take a rocket scientist, just someone who belives! Welcome aboard and hold on! What a ride it has been and will continue to be.

  58. Behind Enemy Lines
    7:57 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Important question: Why is Coach Stoops holding a tampon?

  59. Beavis
    8:01 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    After all the hype,,,people need to realize that the Cats will not be super next year. Will be a struggle. What I did not like about Joker’s teams was the fact that they did not look coached. Could not even get in the correct alignments on offense and defense. You will not see that problem with Stoops. We will compete with the big boys. May not win but the guys will look like they have a coach and they will be competitive. Will be fun to watch.

  60. TDMC
    8:12 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    I am of the belief we win 4-5 games this Fall and are competitive we will be on the right track. Stoops and company r doing great on the recruiting trail. That will eventually translate to more wins.Barnhart looks more like a genius everyday.

  61. knightynight
    8:43 am February 7, 2013 Permalink


  62. still the best
    8:57 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Matt if you choose to follow rivals rankings then please have your writers do the same when reporting on players

  63. CPACAT
    9:42 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    #59) Can’t believe you don’t see the symbolism…he was sent here to stop the bleeding.

  64. njCat
    11:28 am February 7, 2013 Permalink

    just like he did w/ the bball program.. Mitch waiting until it totally melted down before he took action. its great that he now has two outstanding coaches, but for the life of me I cannot understand why he, like everyone else, could not see the train wrecks coming.

    Stoops will be successful where Joker was not because he is a true leader and has enthusiasm for what he is doing. The success of any organization is dependent on the qualities of its leaders. Joker had none of those qualities, either before he was hired or after. Amazing that Mitch couldn’t see that and had to let the house burn down before he took action.

    Good also to see that Matt has changed his tune. It was so frustrating hearing him repeat the same old cannards about KY being a ‘basketball school’, and that recruiting was impossible.

  65. Hilarious Stuff
    1:19 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    #64 & 59 absolute gold!

  66. ken grizzle
    6:10 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Not only did we get Ryan Timmons and his amazing talent. We also get a number of beautiful female family members of his to grace our stadium. Win-Win