LOUISVILLE — Persistence has paid off for Donte Rumph and the University of Kentucky, and the defensive lineman from Saint Matthews, S.C., has finally qualified for freshman eligibility.
UK Coach Joker Phillips announced during the Governor's Cup Luncheon on Wednesday to promote the Sept. 4 season opener between Kentucky and Louisville that Rumph had qualified. Rumph signed with Kentucky in 2008 but did not meet the academic requirements to enroll. He then spent two seasons at Fork Union Military Academy.
Kentucky hung in there with Rumph, who was re-signed in 2009 and once again failed to qualify. UK signed Rumph for a third time in February, and Phillips said he was confident that Rumph would finally become a Wildcat. Phillips said he learned late Tuesday night that Rumph was good to go.
"It gives me cold chills that a guy has been persistent in trying to get here," Phillips said. "Listening to his dad go into tears, that means a lot to me, giving a guy like him an opportunity."
Phillips and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said they're ready to play some ball after spending the summer fulfilling the hectic off--field requirements of a head coach. When asked what had been the hardest part of the job so far, Strong quickly said, "All these speaking engagements."
"It's so hard to tell people no, and everybody wants your time," Strong said. "And when you tell someone no, they'll play Joker and I against each other. 'Well you can't come? Well, I'll get Joker.' "
Phillips knows the high-stakes that come with the rivalry, particularly for new coaches.
"It's a huge game for both involved," Phillips said. "It's huge because it's an in-state rivalry. It's huge because you've got two first-year coaches who want to get off on the right foot. And it's huge because the winner in this game, if you look at the history of it, usually comes out of it with momentum, and momentum is huge in college football."
Rumph's availability is good news for the Cats, who are extremely thin at defensive tackle going into camp. UK is trying to replace third-round NFL Draft choice Corey Peters. The status of redshirt freshman Mister Cobble, who was expected to start, is uncertain because of academics.
Rumph hasn't played competitive football since 2008 at Fork Union, but Phillips said he'll have to be thrown into the fire this fall.
"If we don't play him now, he'll be 40 years old before he finishes," Phillips said. "We need to play him."
But Phillips also warned that Rumph probably has a long way to go to polish off the rust and get into football shape.
"It's unrealistic to expect that he's going to come in here and set the world on fire after being away from this game for two years," Phillips said.
Phillips said he's still waiting for word on the eligibility of three other members of his 2010 class. He said Cobble's situation is "day-to-day."
"We told people that we thought Donte had a chance, and I think some people didn't believe us," Phillips said. "We feel good about the other guys' chances. It's a long process."
■ UK released on Wednesday the full schedule for Fan Day, set for Saturday, Aug. 7 at Commonwealth Stadium. Gates will open at 5 p.m., when 3-D posters and schedule cards will be given away.
Coach Joker Phillips will hold an open practice from 6 to 8 p.m. Afterward, the players will be introduced, and there will be an autograph session. A fireworks show will follow at about 9:30 p.m.
■ About 30 football players will help take donations for Pike County flood victims at the Christian Appalachian Project's warehouse (2592 Palumbo Drive) on Thursday. The interdenominational non-profit organization is accepting money, furniture, small appliances, air conditioners and canned food items. The players will be there at 3 p.m.