Ahead of the 2018 Kentucky football season, it feels different around the Joe Craft Football Training Center. From afar, it’s hard to put your finger on what it exactly is, but for guys within the facility like C.J. Conrad, the difference is obvious.
“I just think what’s different about this year and year’s past, I think our best players are our leaders this year,” Conrad said this morning on KSR. “We had guys who could go big time. Josh Allen is one of the best linebackers in the country. Benny Snell is one of the best running backs in the country. Mike Edwards is one of the best safeties in the country. The list goes on. I don’t think you could say that in the past. These guys are legit.
“These guys are getting national attention and they’re also the leaders of our team. I don’t know, there’s just something to be said about that. When these younger guys come in, they read about these guys and all of a sudden they’re doing things right. It just makes the program want to do things right because you see where they’re at and you want to aspire to be them.”
Head coach Mark Stoops can see how the leaders impact others everyday in practice.
“It makes a very big difference,” Stoops said. “They have to hold each other to a higher standard. We’ve been more consistent. I’ve been impressed, in particular with some of those guys on the offensive side of the ball.”
Consistency is key. It’s also been the Cats’ biggest problem in the past. To address it, players like Conrad and Benny Snell have urged the team to not let up, even after an excellent performance, like what happened in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Going into practice yesterday I told the offense, ‘You know the defense is upset. They got their pep talk. Let’s beat them again, and again,'” Conrad said. “That’s been the thing in the past, one day the offense wins and the next day the defense wins, because they’re mad about yesterday and the offense doesn’t bring it as much. I want to have that consistency on a daily basis because that’s what it takes to win in the SEC.”
Kentucky’s best players have the right work ethic, but exactly how good are these guys? Entering his fourth year, Conrad has seen many come and go, but they cannot compare to what’s on the Cats’ roster in 2018.
“This is definitely the most talent I’ve been around and the most developed; the most mature in general. Those guys playing as freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors. We’ve seen what guys were doing in the past that just wasn’t getting it done.”
So far, Stoops believes this team is getting it done, however, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game. Preparation has put them in a position to succeed. Now UK’s talented leaders must take what they’ve done on the practice field and execute on Saturdays.
“I feel like these guys have really done a lot to put us in a position, but as I told them yesterday, there’s not some magical switch where you just hit and say, ‘We’re ready to play.’ You have to make that happen,” Stoops said.
“Guys can’t get comfortable, just because there’s some experience and some guys have been around. That’s a recipe for disaster to just think that we’re going to turn it on and think that we’re going to play well. We have to play with our hair on fire each and every play.”
Hear all of Conrad’s comments below: