SEC Media Days notes: Kentucky players say new conditioning program making visible difference

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2013 

HOOVER, Ala. — Excuse Kentucky's players if they have to stop and stare.

"When you've got all those mirrors in the weight room, it's not hard to find a mirror to flex into," running back Raymond Sanders said during Kentucky's turn at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Wednesday.

The new High Performance program put in by Erik Korem and his staff at UK has given the players reasons to spend time striking poses at the football training facility.

"I remember spring break, I saw everybody in front of the mirrors," said defensive lineman Donte Rumph, who like fellow UK representatives Avery Williamson and Sanders has seen a dramatic decrease in body fat. "I was like, 'Are you all serious right now?' It's a good thing. We can see changes. We're moving in the right direction."

When asked to name names, Sanders chose to keep his lips locked.

"I can't give those guys away, but there's some guys," the senior said. "When you see your body change and you see improvement, your body fat goes down and you get stronger, you sit there and look at yourself like, 'Yeah.' You're not as small as you used to be. It's just fun."

Sanders admitted he's busted himself looking a time or two.

"I'm confident," he said. "I'm starting to look better. I feel better. It helps build your confidence. But I'm pretty sure there's a lot more guys in mirrors without shirts more than me."

Williamson called out junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith for being a looking-glass poser.

"I always catch 'Z' looking at himself in the mirror," Williamson said. "After he's done with a rep, he'll kind of look to the side, look at his arm. I'm like, 'For real? Come on, man.' But I catch myself doing it, too, doing a couple of reps and checking on my arms."

Nutrition has been a big focus in the off-season as well as more explosion-type lifting in the weight room and injury prevention exercises.

It's not necessarily a more difficult off-season conditioning program than in seasons past, but it's different than anything they've done before.

"I was tired, but it was a different type of tired," Rumph said. "I've never been that kind of tired before. I was tired to where I can't go again."

Sanders said his roommate tight end/wide receiver Ronnie Shields has undergone a major body transformation, but he's just one of many.

"This program is just helping build speed, strength and power, and you can see it when you're out there working out with those guys," the running back said.

The players aren't the only ones noticing the changes.

"From what our strength and conditioning people are telling me, there's been a lot of progress made," new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. "We're excited about the work that has been done."

Phillips wasn't kidding

On his way out the door, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips urged fans to give the new staff time and to support them by buying tickets and coming to games.

"We all have a hand if we want this thing to succeed," the former UK letterman said in November. "We all have a hand in making sure this thing succeeds. It's not moaning and groaning when we don't get the results."

He apparently wasn't kidding. A search of the UK football season ticket holders showed the new Florida wide receivers coach and his wife, Leslie, have five seats between them in sections 126 and 127.

Cats senior defensive lineman Donte Rumph said that was not a surprise to him.

"UK, that's his roots," Rumph said, adding that he hopes the coach doesn't come to games in Gators gear. "This is where he's from. It doesn't surprise me at all, and it shows you the type of guy he is."

Trying to get eligible

Two key recruits at two key positions have not yet met their eligibility requirements, Stoops said Wednesday.

Junior college wide receiver Javess Blue and safety Marcus McWilson are trying to get academically eligible to play for UK.

"We're working on that," Stoops said when asked about them. "We're working through some eligibility (issues). We'll let you know at the beginning of summer, of camp."

At receiver, UK is down to four scholarship players who saw action at that position last season: Daryl Collins, Rashad Cunningham, A.J. Legree and Demarco Robinson.

At safety, Kentucky is waiting to find out if it will be without starter Ashely Lowery, who was cited for driving under the influence after a serious car wreck in May in his hometown of Cleveland, Ga.

Getting 'on board'

Eleven players have departed the UK program this off-season under Stoops, including five players kicked off the team for various violations of team rules, most recently brothers Pancho and Khalid Thomas for alleged possession of a controlled substance.

Stoops said he hopes he's sent a clear message to the players remaining: "They have to have the discipline to stay within the structure that we expect within our program. Yeah, we've had to let some kids go that have not lived by the standards that we set."

The coach was asked how Lowery's driving under the influence situation was different than the Thomas brothers, who also haven't been convicted of anything yet.

"There have been some other incidents," Stoops said. "With us, we have a guideline and some policies and there are some strikes involved."

Rumph said he and his fellow seniors have been doing their best to make sure players understand expectations.

"He's coming in to change things, and it's either get on board or get off the train," Rumph said of Stoops. "Everybody's on board and we're moving in the same direction and we expect to do big things."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.Computer assisted reporting coordinator Linda Johnson contributed to this article.

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