Prior to this past weekend, updates on UK linebacker Chris Oats were few and far between.
News broke of a serious medical emergency that put the junior linebacker in the hospital back in May, followed by a confirmation that Oats was moved to a rehabilitation center in June. As for the specifics, though, the UK program and Oats’ family have been hesitant to release much.
Going into the weekend, several of the Cincinnati, OH native’s family members announced on their social media pages that Oats was returning home from rehab and would be able to watch Kentucky’s matchup against Mississippi State.
After the team’s 22-point win – their first of the season – UK head coach Mark Stoops, associate head coach Vince Marrow, and linebackers coach Jon Sumrall visited Oats at his home and presented him the game ball.
“So overjoyed [Chris Oats] got to return home this weekend,” Stoops said on his Twitter page. “We played #22OatsStrong, won by 22, and shared a special moment with him personally delivering the game ball.”
So overjoyed @Christopheroats got to return home this weekend.
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) October 11, 2020
When asked about the moment, Stoops said it was “really special” and “touching” to see his standout linebacker back home and present him with the game ball after such a difficult summer.
“It was really special. So glad I went up with Coach Sumrall, Coach Marrow,” Stoops said during his call-in radio show Monday evening. “We were talking on FaceTime, giving him some encouragement and visiting with him, I told him we were going to give him that game ball. His mom was telling me that, that morning, he was saying it. We didn’t tell anybody, but he knew I was going to show up with that game ball.
“It was touching, to see what he’s going through, it’s hard to even put into words. In certain ways he looks like Chris, he looks big and strong, but he’s in that chair. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but he’s got a long way to go. There’s a lot of love on this team. He’s very cognitive and he watches those games. He understands what’s going on. It was special being able to bring him that game ball.”
Despite avoiding the specifics of the situation, Stoops was asked about Oats’ status as a football player moving forward and whether he would be able to return to the field at Kentucky.
While it may be a bit optimistic and there’s an understanding that he has a “long, long way to go,” Stoops genuinely believes Oats will suit up again as a Wildcat.
“I do [think he will], I do. That is being very optimistic, but that is what I believe,” he said on his call-in show. “He has a long, long way to go, and he needs our prayers.”
As a sophomore in 2019, Oats played in 12 of UK’s 13 games, with two starting assignments against Mississippi State and Missouri. (Miss. State and Missouri). On the year, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound linebacker totaled 46 tackles (fifth on the team), 2.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.