UK football notebook: Webcast raises the bar for 2015 signing day

Herald-Leader staff writerFebruary 8, 2014 

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked about his highly rated recruiting class on Wednesday. For the first time, UK produced a live, four-hour web show coinciding with national signing day.

MARK CORNELISON — Herald Leader

Shane Fannin went to bed at 3 a.m. tinkering with his last-minute plans for national signing day.

He woke up an hour later and started his day.

No, Fannin wasn't up all night excited about the prospect of signing papers to play college football. The director of UK sports video was about to embark on a full day that included a live, four-hour web show unlike anything UK had tried to do before.

"We always do somewhat of a web cast and the thought's always out there of 'What can we do better?' and with this coaching staff — I have to give them 100 percent credit — from the day we suggested this, they bought in," Fannin said.

The days of a fixed camera pointed at an aging fax machine are long gone at UK.

Fannin, Greg Gorham and the sports video team put together a live webcast on the athletics website that worked in conjunction with just about every form of social media out there and nearly every department in UK athletics.

"It was a natural evolution over the last couple of years," said Guy Ramsey, assistant director of new media for UK athletics. "We did a live stream a couple years ago and it was really, really basic and we had a lot of dead air time, same thing last year. It was really about us figuring out good ways to fill that time."

The show included hosts Dick Gabriel and Matt Jones teaming with former Cats quarterbacks Tim Couch and Freddie Maggard as well as assistant coaches to break down film of signees as they rolled in.

"They're all about showing people what we are and what we're about and they're committed to that," Fannin said of the coaches. "That makes my job much easier."

There were multiple rooms, six cameras, a production truck and a freelance director involved.

There was an "X's and O's Room" breakdown of recruits with Couch and a large board where names of signees went up throughout the morning.

"Shane had big ideas and somehow executed it in a very short time frame," Ramsey said. "I still don't know how."

The day started with Fannin driving over to pick up Coach Mark Stoops at his house after an ice storm before dawn.

At 7:50 a.m., less than 10 minutes before the show went live, Fannin worried that it might not work.

"By 8:07, it was going so well that I was thinking about how we could make it even bigger next year," Fannin said.

Not many schools have tried to take on such a big task, Fannin said, so UK had to make it up as it went along. It helped having the former players jump on board and the coaches embrace the idea so fully.

"We have a good template now," Fannin said. "What we have is a good solid foundation and a lot of schools will look at it and come out with their own shows next year."

UK's gamble on the live webcast — which one UK official said cost less than $10,000 (but final cost numbers aren't in yet) — seems to have paid off.

Unique visitors to UK's site were up more than 50 percent from the year before. The number of visitors ranked seventh nationally among the schools whose sites are hosted by CBS (most BCS schools), and is up from 10th place in 2013.

The problem for Fannin and UK's marketing and media relations staffs is that they now have to find a way to make those numbers bounce again in 2015.

"It's kind of turned into a Big Blue Madness thing where we want to top ourselves every year now," Ramsey said.

Quarterback battle 'not going to drag on'

A note that goes with the longer story in today's paper about true freshman quarterback Drew Barker:

No matter who wins the quarterback battle for Kentucky leading up to this season, coaches don't want the competition to "drag on like it did last year," offensive coordinator Neal Brown told the Herald-Leader.

There won't be any question who is running the offense going into the Aug. 30 opener versus Tennessee-Martin.

"We've got to make a decision and get that person the amount of reps required to get ready to play," Brown said. "It's not going to be dragging on. I'm going to make sure it's not a distraction to the rest of the guys on the team."

Will it be after the spring game or a week or two into fall camp? Brown didn't offer a time frame.

■ On signing day, Barker was asked what it was like to be interviewed by former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch for the special show on ukathletics.com.

"It was pretty cool to sit down and talk to him," Barker said. "Hopefully one day I can be in the same position as him down the road. It would be pretty cool. You know, he was just a great guy and gave me a few tips on how to handle things and stuff, told me I could reach out to him at any time."

Speedy legs, speedier mouth

As a part of signing day, the seven UK signees who will participate in spring drills after enrolling early met with the media. Among the most entertaining of a personality-plus group was running back Mikel Horton.

He had enough quips to fill next week's notebook, but here are some of his best bits.

He was asked about how thick the UK playbook is.

"I mean, it's not a child's book, I'll tell you that. It's a lot of papers," he said. "If you take the time to focus and pay attention to your job, it's very easy to take down. I've got that — I've got the playbook locked down a little bit."

The biggest difference between his Lakota West High School playbook and UK's playbook?

"Man, in high school, we ran four plays," he said. "Here, it's different. You've got a lot of motions and a lot of stuff you've got to adjust to. But it's all the same game, just a little bit harder."

And how many of those four plays were for him?

"Three," he said with a smile.

Horton's new position coach, Chad Scott, was asked about his eager new running back's motor mouth and he laughed.

"I told him to wait and let his play do the talking," Scott said. "But you gotta love that in a young kid and that kid's got some great personality. ... It's an infectious personality, too."

Fill up on some leftovers

Some signing-day scraps always get left out of stories and there were a few I wanted to make sure get in the paper. So dig in:

■ Stoops confirmed earlier reports that quarterback Maxwell Smith will miss spring practices as he recovers from surgery on his right throwing shoulder.

■ Versatile linebacker TraVaughn Paschal, who had 39 tackles (including four for a loss) last season, probably will be held out of spring practice after he had a minor unspecified procedure.

■ Offensive lineman Jarrett LaRubbio, who signed with the Cats on Wednesday, is recovering from knee surgery and may need to redshirt his first season. "He's one that, if he was healthy, he'd probably be ready to come in and help," Stoops said.

■ Fellow 2014 signee Darius West, a four-star safety from Lima, Ohio, broke his tibia in January, but probably will be fine to play by the start of fall camp, Stoops said, adding that he'd be shocked if West didn't come in and help the Cats right away.

"He had an injury, and it didn't quite heal up the way it needed to," Stoops explained. "He went back in and had his surgery, and everything should be fine. He just needs time to heal. We need him to be ready."

Herald-Leader Staff Writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service