UK-Arkansas football notes: John L. Smith remains close friends with UK assistants

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 12, 2012 

Arkansas Bowl Hopes Football

Arkansas NCAA football coach John L. Smith talks to reporters before a meeting of the Touchdown Club in Little Rock, Ark., Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

DANNY JOHNSTON — ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

It sounds like someplace you'd send your 10-year-old kids in July, but apparently Arkansas' head coach and several members of the Kentucky coaching staff spend a few days each summer at "Cowboy Camp."

The "camp" involves John L. Smith and his good friends, UK special teams coach Greg Nord and offensive line coach Mike Summers, as well as others riding around the back woods of Kentucky on horseback.

"We ride for a few days up in hills and tell the war stories," Smith said with a smirk at his news conference this week to preview the Kentucky game on Saturday.

The coaches go back a long way. Nord was tight ends coach under Smith at Louisville from 1998-2002. Summers spent two years at Arkansas (2008-09) before landing at UK in 2010.

Smith was asked whether the Cowboy Camp experience involved log cabins or other amenities.

"Do we look that soft?" Smith asked the reporter. "We go pitch a tent. We go sleep out on the ground — or some people go sleep in the horse trailers — and we ride for a couple days."

When asked whether it would be difficult to compete against longtime friends, Smith said no. It's part of the profession.

"It just works out," he explained. "The friends back there are still your friends. You have to go compete against those guys. It's like your brother ... You get in a fight with your brother, then you give yourself a hug and kiss when it's over and say, 'Let's come back again and meet next year.'"

Those aren't the only connections between the staffs.

Summers, Nord and defensive backs coach Mike Cassity were all at Louisville with Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Nord also coached the Cardinals with current Hogs defensive coordinator Paul Haynes.

Getting to know Witthuhn

With the number of injuries at quarterback in the past few weeks, it was a natural question to ask: If Jalen Whitlow's the starter and Morgan Newton's his backup, who backs up Newton?

Meet true freshman Jeff Witthuhn, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound walk-on from Greenwood. Witthuhn had an offer from Georgetown College and a preferred walk-on offer from Western Kentucky before choosing the Cats.

"We'll have three quarterbacks there ... two that have played and one that has not played," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "We just feel like we have to take Witthuhn with us to help us get out of the game, possibly."

Little is known about Witthuhn. Phillips' only mention of the freshman this week was his ability to grow facial hair.

"I know last week Randy (Sanders) had three quarterbacks in his quarterback warm-ups, and none of them were shaving except for Witthuhn, and he had been shaving since the sixth grade, or so," the head coach joked.

Witthuhn threw for 1,527 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior season and led the Gators in rushing with 576 yards and 14 touchdowns, according to the Bowling Green Daily News.

On the defensive side of the ball, he had 48 tackles with four interceptions for Greenwood, which finished 6-6 last season.

Babies on board

Of the 68 Kentucky players expected to travel to Arkansas, 42 are sophomores or younger.

Phillips, who traveled to Florida with a similarly youthful crew, said for many of the players it will be their first time on a plane.

It was that way for wide receiver Demarcus Sweat when he accompanied the team to Gainesville. The coach said Sweat was worried most of the trip down there.

"We'll find out who else is this week," he said. "Should be a few more of them."

When asked why it's so difficult to travel with freshmen, senior center Matt Smith smiled broadly.

"It's easy to lose focus," he said, noting it's an airport, a nice hotel, new surroundings that can all be distracting.

"It's still a business trip and you have to remember that," Smith said. "We're here for a reason and not just to hang out and watch TV when we're in the room and have a break in the middle of the day. We just try to keep them focused."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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