Want to start a fight in the Kentucky locker room?
It takes just two words: Connect Four.
“You’d think it was fourth-and-1 on the goal line,” described longtime Kentucky football media relations guru Tony Neely. “They’ll lay on the floor of the locker room, yelling and screaming at each other.”
It all started months ago when wide receiver Alexander Montgomery brought in his Connect Four game and declared himself the undisputed ruler of the vertical board with the colorful discs and detachable legs.
“I’m the best Connect Four player ever,” he confirmed a few weeks ago.
And who’s second best? “Me.”
As one might imagine, when a player declares himself the best at something in a locker room full of 100 crazy-competitive Southeastern Conference football players, that doesn’t go over well.
“J.D. Harmon will tell you he’s the best,” center Jon Toth said. “The defensive backs, I thought they were going to get in a fight the other day arguing about who was the best.”
Ask senior running back Jojo Kemp who’s atop the locker room leaderboard for the game trademarked by Milton Bradley in 1974 — before some of the players’ parents were born — and he doesn’t hesitate.
“I’m putting myself on top,” Kemp replied. “Then probably Alex and then Toth. We thought Toth was going to be good, you know, ’cause he’s an engineering major, but nah, it doesn’t work that way.”
Toth lamented that there is zero math involved, which might have given the mechanical engineering major an upper hand.
Nope, no calculations necessary, but “there’s definitely strategy,” he explained. “It’s like chess almost, because you have to play offense and defense at the same time to set it up.”
It requires “brains,” Kemp said. “Brains and a little technique.”
And Montgomery claims to be the leader in both brains and technique.
“J.D. came to my house one time and said, ‘Let’s play,’” the junior wideout said. “He thought he was really good. I killed him. Jojo thought he was really good and I killed him. Jojo is really good, but he over-thinks, so I beat him every time.”
The back and forth of the game has spilled into the digital world, with many of the UK players now facing off in Connect Four against one another on their phones.
Ask any of the individual players involved — and there are loads of them on both sides of the ball — and he knows his given record against other players.
“Alex might be the best,” said Harmon, a senior defensive back. “He has real good strategy, but I’ve beat him twice. So right now I’m winning that right now. But Alex is probably the best.”
Montgomery, who had to give up football after a third ligament tear in his knees, said he tries to gain an advantage by playing the game on his laptop set on expert level.
“I lose a majority of the time,” he said. “It’s on expert. You can’t beat expert, but I learn from that game, so when I play somebody normal, I can win easy.”
One of the best parts of the game is that it doesn’t take long, which is good for a group of players with limited time on their hands between football practices, classwork, lifting, running and other obligations.
“It’s a quick little fun game, and you can get a bunch of games in,” Toth said. “It’s fun to play that when you’re just sitting around the locker room.”
It’s perfect to fill the short spurts of downtime for the Cats.
“We just hang out in the locker room and sometimes we’re waiting for meetings or waiting for practice or waiting for workouts,” Kemp explained. “So in our free time, we play a little Connect Four, play a couple of board games. You know, family, sticking together.”
And like many family gatherings, it can get a little bit contentious.
“There’s some heated reactions for a while when you catch a guy off-guard,” Toth said. “You’re setting something up for a while and they didn’t see it. Sometimes you catch a guy off-guard, he gets a little upset. But it’s all in good fun.”
While other people their age in college might be fixated on the latest gaming station, this collection of Cats is obsessed with not only Connect Four, but also Trouble, as well as the card game Spades and even competitive rock-paper-scissors.
“Jojo has to be one of the luckiest guys when it comes to Trouble,” said Harmon of the old school board game with the dice in the middle of a large bubble. “I’m the best at Trouble, though.”
Harmon, a senior who will play his last game in a Kentucky jersey on Dec. 31 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, got a little nostalgic thinking about gathering around a table playing games with his teammates.
“It brings back a lot of old memories, things you used to do as a kid. Playing with them is a lot more fun,” he said. “It’s a great time with those guys.”
A connection via Connect Four.
“It builds a lot of good chemistry between players,” Harmon continued. “Building those relationships is fun. You’ve got guys in different position groups who aren’t usually bonding, it’s something we can all do together.”
Kentucky vs. Georgia Tech
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31
Where: EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Records: Kentucky 7-5, Georgia Tech 8-4