UK football notes: Energy still high at remaining practices

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 12, 2012 

University of Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips held a news conference following practice at the UK Football practice facility in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The University announced on Sunday that Joker Phillips will no longer be the coach after this season. On Monday, the University announced that Phillips had decided to coach the remaining 2 games. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

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  • Tennessee at Kentucky

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

    TV: ESPNU

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

On Saturday, Joker Phillips will coach his final game at Commonwealth Stadium.

A week from Saturday, he'll coach his final down of Kentucky football at Tennessee.

If those things weigh heavy on the shoulders of the Cats coach, who was dismissed a week ago, he doesn't show it.

Phillips' weekly news conference went as scheduled.

It was clear the coach was more interested in discussing the football team he heads up for two more games, starting with Samford on Saturday, than his future or his past.

"Practices have been good, upbeat," Phillips said. "We've had some upbeat practices, been positive, had some fun. Again, you're so young, guys are just excited to be out there on the football field."

That practice attitude starts with the coaches, who haven't changed at all despite knowing they'll be out of work by the end of the month, players said.

"Everybody's attacking everything the same," junior running back Jonathan George said. "Coaches are coming out and they're not coaching anyone any differently. We're still wanting to play well, practice well and get ready to go out there and win another game."

The gloom and doom that everyone expects would hang over the program just isn't there, he added.

"You'd be surprised, but it's really been pretty energetic," George said of practices during the bye week, which came after Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips' firing via a letter on the school Web site.

"Nobody's really changed their mood or how they feel. Coach is coming out and having a good time. We're all having a good time, taking this week like every other week."

But it's not all fun and games, Phillips said, adding that the expectations for his players haven't changed.

"I told our players ... what will hurt Joker Phillips the most is if they do not continue doing the things that we've taught them," he said. "I'll be destroyed — that it will destroy me if our kids just go another way, don't finish out the semester well."

The head coach, who has spent more than 20 years at UK as either a player, assistant coach, coordinator or head coach, was asked if he'd taken the time to let the moments soak in as the clock ticks down on his tenure.

"I've always taken it in and soaked it in," he said. "I've been very appreciative the whole time. That's the reason why I tried to carry myself the way I did."

Sweat may miss rest of season

Wide receiver and kick returner DeMarcus Sweat wasn't listed on the Cats depth chart this week and likely won't make an appearance the rest of the season, Phillips said.

"Yeah, we're looking at maybe pulling DeMarcus and just allowing him to focus on academics," Phillips said. "This thing is bigger than myself. I'm looking for the future of this program and also the future of DeMarcus Sweat. At this point we're looking at maybe just letting him focus on his academics."

Sweat has four catches for 84 yards this season, including two for touchdowns, but he has only one catch since the Western Kentucky game. The freshman has returned 25 kicks for 512 yards, with a long of 51 yards.

Big Blue Crush ongoing

The annual "Big Blue Crush" blood drive between Kentucky and Tennessee fans runs today through Friday. Donations can be made at any of the Kentucky Blood Centers around the state. Kentucky has won the trophy the past two seasons, but the Volunteers lead the competition 12-11-1. Donors will receiver a commemorative T-shirt.

For more information or to find a donation location, visit www.kybloodcenter.org or call (800) 775-2522.

Quick hits

• Kentucky's kickoff at Tennessee has been set for 12:21 p.m. on Nov. 24. The game will be shown on the SEC Network.

• Injury report: Linebacker Jabari Johnson (hamstring) is listed as day to day and safety Martavius Neloms (hamstring) is expected to be back at practice on Tuesday, Phillips said.

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