Family's hue is nolonger blue

Nochtas' allegiance with son at U of L

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 29, 2008 

Page 188 of the University of Kentucky football media guide carries testament to the depth of John Nochta's Big Blue pedigree.

There you will see that 1973, '74 and '76 were the years Nochta earned varsity football letters at UK.

His last game was Kentucky's 21-0 whitewashing of North Carolina in the 1976 Peach Bowl.

In conversation, he quickly tells you that Fran Curci made him a student coach for 1977. Which means Nochta was up close and personal with the best Kentucky team of the post-Bear Bryant era, the 10-1 mashers of Art Still and Derrick Ramsey.

Across a long career as a Lexington high school football coach — which included taking Bryan Station to the 1999 Class 4A state finals — John Nochta maintained strong ties with UK football.

Nochta would often visit Kentucky practices. On those occasions, his son, Pete, would frequently tag along.

In the mid-1990s, Little Pete would spend practices riding with Bill Curry in the head coach's golf cart. He later became a game-day ball boy on the sidelines with Hal Mumme.

"Pete pretty much grew up with the Kentucky football program," John Nochta said Wednesday.

On Sunday, when Kentucky and Louisville renew the commonwealth's annual football Armageddon, the boy who seemed all but fated to be a Wildcat is slated to make his first college start.

At 6-foot-5, 242-pound redshirt sophomore, Pete Nochta is listed first string at tight end.

For Louisville.

This week in Lexington, a family with a very Blue past is showing only Cardinal red.

Don't think it's anything but weird for a former Cat to find his rooting interests opposite his old school on the week of its biggest game.

Last week, John Nochta — now the principal at Lexington's Henry Clay High School — ran into Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips at a birthday party.

The conversation between the former Cats never went past an update on Aaron Boyd, the former Henry Clay receiving star fighting through a case of mononucleosis in his first season at UK.

At Henry Clay this week, the school principal says his wardrobe has been heavy on red. One of his guidance counselors, Jackie Smith, meanwhile, has broken out her UK blue.

Smith is the wife of Chuck Smith, the same Chuck Smith who coaches the Kentucky linebackers.

Actually, the Nochta family got a taste of rooting for Louisville early in the 2000s. J.T. Haskins and Eric Shelton, the two stars who led Bryan Station to that '99 state title game, both wound up at U of L.

UK didn't offer Haskins a scholarship. When Shelton transferred home from Florida State, he opted to join his old high school quarterback at Louisville.

Pete Nochta's life plan, however, was to follow his dad's footsteps and be a Kentucky Wildcat.

Though he was a quarterback at Tates Creek High, Pete was projected as a college tight end. As signing day, 2006, approached, UK showed interest in his son, John Nochta says.

"But they said they thought it would take him some time to develop and they needed guys ready to play right away," John Nochta said. "Pete was more of a project."

U of L was willing to wait for him to develop.

Greg Nord, John Nochta's former UK teammate and the longtime Louisville assistant, recruited Pete. Ultimately, Pete narrowed his choices to Louisville and Michigan State before choosing the Cards.

He redshirted during Louisville's 12-1 season in 2006, then played in six games as a reserve tight end and special teams player last year.

With departed tight end Gary Barnidge and his 53 receptions now in the NFL, Nochta is running first team.

"As an old coach, I'd say next year at this time, Pete will be a really good college football player," Nochta said. "As a parent, I hope he speeds up the clock and becomes that player this year."

In the week before his son's first projected college start, John Nochta says his nerves are far worse than anything he remembers as either a player or coach.

"But the one I'm worried about is Mom," John Nochta said of his wife, Gene. "She's the one who is going to be hard to calm down."

A nurse practitioner, Gene Nochta's work takes her around Central Kentucky. She figures being a player's mom should earn her amnesty from the UK pre-game smack talk.

Not so.

"Oh, it's relentless," Gene says. "I'm like, 'Can't you just stop and look at me like a mother rather than a Cardinal?' They're like 'No, we hate Louisville.'"

For a family steeped in Big Blue, being the UK enemy in the week of the biggest football game of the year is a tad surreal.

"Hey, blood's thicker than water," John Nochta says.

Thicker than Blue, too.

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