Fans of UK Football left Saturday’s historic Spring game with smiles on their faces. Sirens normally are the most annoying sound in the world (almost), but the symbol of the return of the Air Raid was more beautiful than one of Beethoven’s Symphonies Saturday night. The coaches were excited to show off their Spring product to the public. Most importantly, new (very high-rated) recruits got the chance to be impressed by the show being put on for Big Blue Nation. The fans, coaches, and recruits enjoyed the day, but how did the players feel after the game?
Jalen Whitlow was the most impressive player at the QB position. Whitlow remained humble after the game, but understands that he is much more mature than a year ago, leading him to be hungrier than ever.
“Last fall I was a little 18 year old just trying to grasp everything, everything was moving so fast. But now, the college life, it’s not a big thing anymore so just coming in and focusing on football and school and being grounded is the biggest thing. Like I said, maturity [is the biggest difference]. I just tried to come out here and play my best. You try to play like you have a chip on your shoulder. Sleep like that, eat like that, so you have to come out and show what you can do.”
Whitlow’s game made it much harder for Senior to-be MLB Avery Williamson. There’s not doubt that if Whitlow gets the starting nod in the fall, his feet will impact how defenses will prepare for the Cats’ Air Raid offense.
“He’s real tough. He’s a great player and he fits really well in this offense, I feel like, because he can throw the ball and he’s light. He’s got life and speed. He’s a very great athlete.”
The team had been waiting all month to put on a performance for the fans, and Avery was just as nervous as the rest of them.
“It was great. It was a great feeling coming out here and seeing all of these fans come out and just flying around and having a great time. I had a few butterflies at the beginning, I won’t lie. But, I had a great time.”
The only person that may have had more butterflies was Za’Darius Smith. Za’Darius had never played before a large SEC crowd after 2 years in Junior College, with Saturday’s crowd of 50,000+ being the most people that Z had ever played for.
“I mean my heart dropped. It just jumped like ‘Oh man.’ I was kind of nervous. I had chills. I had to get over it to make more plays.”
The crowd increase meant a lot to life-long UK fan Patrick Towles. Towles has seen Commonwealth at its’ best as a fan, and seen Commonwealth at its’ worst as a player.
“It was awesome. I told somebody earlier, this was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of at Commonwealth and it was for the spring game. I’ve been here, in ’07, when we beat LSU and it was sold out, rushed the field. That was unbelievable and I think that this year, with this energy, that there’s no reason we can’t get there again and get even better.”
Saturday’s Spring game helped cleanse some of the bad memories from last year for Max Smith. The atmosphere made it fun again for the UK Quarterback.
“Completely different. Completely different. It was so much fun today. East Scott, he’s a police officer, told me how rowdy it was when I was over at Nutter facility and I was just getting really excited over there. It was just really fun.”
The Fans expected a good show, but what they saw was probably better than what the players expected. You never know how well players will transfer what they learned in practice onto the game field, but LB Pancho Thomas believes they looked better than they had all Spring.
“Pretty much everyone stepped it up. Some of the stuff we didn’t see in practice we saw today. Everyone was doing their job and doing what they were supposed to do. We had a successful scrimmage today. That offense shocked me today. They did their thing.”
Last Saturday was the first positive step in the right direction, but the work doesn’t end with Spring Practice. The players are continually working in the weight room with High Performance Coach Erik Korem. If Korem’s motivation doesn’t work, the attendance for the Blue/White game is more than enough motivation to keep them working hard; Senior leader Avery Williamson is ready for the offseason challenge.
“I feel like we took a great step forward today and it was good to have pressure on us because it makes everybody work harder. I feel like we’re going to – I know we’re going to work harder. I’m going to push these guys as well as all the other defensive and offensive guys. We’re going to push each other and we’re going to grind it out this summer.”