The beauty of KSR is that we can do many things that “real” journalists like Jerry Tipton, Kyle Tucker, and Larry Vaught can’t. Photoshops of Rick Pitino and Pat Forde shirtless are always nice, but it is most beneficial when interns like myself, are students on campus covering fellow students. Not only do I get to see the professional side they show in front of a camera, but I also get the chance to interact with them ‘on the reg’ around campus. I didn’t know who Avery Williamson was when we had STA 210 freshman year, now he’s the face of the football program, with a his wide smile and large frame posted anywhere the marketers can find an empty space. After spending my first summer in Lex, here is a little bit of what I’ve heard and observed from some of my peers, who also happen to play on the football team.
When High Performance Coach Erik Korem first came to campus, a lot of hullabaloo was raised over his ingenius new program, but little information was given (other than the highly publicized personal GPSs placed on players during practice). I of course became highly curious, but more skeptical than anything. That all changed when I saw defensive lineman Mike Douglas at Blazer Dining Hall. I went up to say hey, when I saw he was being followed around by a middle-aged woman. Her job was to guide Mike through his dinner choices, ensuring that he had the best all-around meal available. The funniest part about the diet program? What the High Performance stresses most to players, is digesting a variety of colors each meal. Our mothers always told us to eat our greens, but the staff wants to make sure they get their orange, red, and yellow in too. I don’t know if the Gatorade cooler counts; if so, they have plenty of products at their disposal. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t buy on the shelves, with players receiving shakes, gelatin stuff, and God knows what else once practice is over.
This is the part of the process that players talk about often, “I’m just going to work hard this off-season, becoming stronger to be the best player I can be” is the general quote given by many (especially during Spring Practice). They say it, but what do they actually do during their summer in Lexington? Most importantly, they attend class, after all they are STUDENT-athletes (the NCAA is going to love that one). With class rotating around their lifting schedule, the players then have 2 hours to workout with their fellow position players. A lot of it is what you’d expect: an hour of running, an hour of lifting, and ABSOLUTELY now work with a football in hand.
Even though it seems like a pretty typical summer workout from the outside, what goes down on the field and in the weight room is different than any other program in the country. It isn’t like what you used to do in high school with a ‘squat day’ or a ‘bench day’, it’s WAY too complicated for that. A big point of emphasis is stretching. As my old high school coach used to put in our practice plan next to the stretch part of practice, “Stretching maximizes performance and decreases the risk of injury”. Doing crazy, almost yoga-esque stretches ‘on the reg’, players can stretch muscles and tendons that are normally neglected in the regular process of playing. While most teams around the NCAA will encourage players to participate in yoga, the do not put it into practice in the weight room. What exactly these lifts are? I have no idea. But when players are using “bars I didn’t even know existed”, it’s a testament to Korem’s innovative genius.
The last thing that impressed me most about what this staff has done involves their cardio conditioning. As a former player, nothing was worse than doing the same ole gassers day in and day out. When our new strength coach introduced tire flips and one-man sleds my Senior year, I appreciated the competitive atmosphere, making it the closest thing to game-like. This staff ensures that they aren’t wasting their time running 40-yard dashes; they condition the players primarily in a game setting, using change of direction drills to not only improve their cardiac performance, but also improve the player’s footwork and agility.
It should be noted that all of this information is basic secondhand knowledge. As a guy they know that shows up during media time, the talk of football is bound to come up in conversation. What this staff does on the field is important, but what they’ve done for the players off the field is why I think Mark Stoops will become one of UK’s greatest football coaches. During Stoops’ introductory press conference, this quote stuck out to me the most, “They’re going to enjoy playing for us. They’re going to enjoy being a part of this Kentucky family. They’re going to hold their heads high walking around this campus.” The players haven’t played a game yet, but in 8 months, Coach Stoops has already accomplished those three goals. I empathized for players that had to sit through class when their classmates had nothing but bad things to say about them, and their team. The next time you get the chance to walk on campus, you can see football players riding high with their chest puffed out, proud to play football for the University of Kentucky.