UK football notebook: Joker adjusts

First spring off the recruiting trail for new coach

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 9, 2010 

Joker Phillips started his acclimation to head coach during Kentucky's recently completed spring practice. If the change didn't hit him then, it certainly has now as programs are in the middle of the spring recruiting period.

Phillips, who's been at the forefront of UK's recruiting efforts since he returned with Rich Brooks in 2002, is usually out on the road from April 15 to May 31. But because head coaches are not allowed to participate in off-campus recruiting during the spring period, Phillips has been putting in a lot of office time.

"It has been a little weird," he admitted. "I'm so used to being on the road at this time of year. It really felt strange that first week when I was sitting in the office. But once the week got going, I knew there were so many things that I wanted to get done that I never got around to. Now I have plenty of time."

One thing Phillips can do is contact recruits by telephone. Head coaches are allowed one phone call to a prospect during the spring period.

"I'm trying to take advantage of that," Phillips said. "I can't go out, but I can spend some time with a kid on the phone and take some time with him and get to know him."

Assistant coaches are allowed two evaluations of a prospect during the spring period, one to assess the prospect's athletic ability and one to assess the prospect's academic situation.

Addressing academics

Grade-point averages were a hot topic in the Bluegrass sports world last week. The football team posted a grade-point average of 2.352 for the fall semester, which ranked ahead of men's soccer (2.274) and basketball (2.025) but below men's golf (3.156), baseball (3.104), swimming/diving (2.98), rifle (2.963), men's track (2.74) and men's tennis (2.377). The spring semester was Phillips' first official semester as head coach, and he said he's placed an emphasis on academics.

"We are holding guys accountable," Phillips said. "We're talking to kids about getting to class early. You talk to a kid, and he says, 'Coach, I was at class. Yeah, but you were 15 minutes late. We expect them to be at (football) position meetings on time, and we expect them to be dressed and ready to go, not just walking in with your street clothes on. And we also expect them to be in the classroom early and sitting up front. And when they do miss, believe me they do not want to see us."

Phillips said he expects new strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver's influence to pay dividends in getting the players to live up to their academic responsibilities.

"Rock is building relationships with the players," he said. "They know he cares about them, so when they don't do what they need to do, they feel like they let him down. You start out trying to motivate by fear. Then you motivate with incentives. Lastly, you motivate with relationships, and I think that's one of Rock's strengths."

Phillips hopes for headline-free summer

With finals being completed, many players will head home before returning for the eight-week second summer session in June. Phillips made it a point to let the players know to keep their noses clean during the off-season.

"We don't want to be in the headlines," Phillips said. "A lot of things are happening around different campuses. In our position, we can't afford to lose any players. Yeah, you might lose some to injuries, but what you can't have is losing guys to off-the-field stuff."

Johnson signs with Giants

Former UK linebacker Micah Johnson has signed a free-agent contract with the New York Giants. Johnson, who earned second-team All-SEC honors as a senior with 105 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, was not selected in last month's NFL Draft. He attended the Giants' mini-camp on a tryout basis and was offered a free-agent deal. Eight draftees and free agents this year give UK a total of 25 players who have signed NFL contracts from the 2007, '08 and '09 senior classes.

Lyons gets another shot

Former UK receiver Dicky Lyons Jr.'s NFL chances were in doubt last year when he was cut two days after signing a free-agent deal with Atlanta.

But Lyons got a call for a tryout at the Denver Broncos' minicamp last weekend and signed a contract on Monday. Lyons' next step will be to make the 53-man roster in training camp this fall.

The Broncos traded No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall to Miami in the off-season. Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney are the top three veterans returning, and the Broncos drafted two wide receivers last month: Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas (first round) and Minnesota's Eric Decker (third).

Lyons said he learned a lesson from last year's Falcons experience.

"I tried to come into this situation humble and being a total professional," he said. "There's no time for goofing off. This is a business. And I'm going to stay humble and work hard. I've still got a long way to go. But I'm going to make sure I have the offense down pat and make sure I'm 100 percent ready for training camp."

Kudos for Brooks

Recently retired Kentucky coach Rich Brooks was honored by collegefootballnews.com blogger Barrett Sallee as the fifth-best hire of the decade in the SEC. Brooks ranked behind Urban Meyer (Florida), Nick Saban (Alabama), Saban again (Louisiana State), and Georgia's Mark Richt.

Top 10 for 2011

KentuckyPreps.com released its list of the top 10 football prospects in the Bluegrass in 2011:

1. DaMarcus Smith, QB, Seneca (Louisville commitment);

2. Lamar Dawson, LB, Boyle County (UK target);

3. Darrian Miller, OL, Bryan Station (UK commitment);

4. Zach West, OL, Lexington Christian (UK target);

5. Jon Davis, ATH, Eastern (UK commitment);

6. DeVante Parker, WR, Ballard (U of L commitment);

7. Jerrell Moore, RB, Fern Creek (U of L commitment);

8. Jamon Brown, DL, Fern Creek (U of L commitment);

9. Jalen Harrington, S, Fern Creek (U of L commitment);

10. Mitchell Henry, TE, Elizabethtown

SEC Media Days set

Southeastern Conference Media Days will be held July 21-23 at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. UK Coach Joker Phillips and two Wildcats will address the media on July 21.

Here's the schedule:

July 21: Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, Kentucky

July 22: Arkansas, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina

July 23: Auburn, Tennessee, Louisiana State, Mississippi

Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. Reached him at ccosby@herald-leader.com.

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