In less than two weeks, the University of Kentucky football veterans will be able to return to their off-campus apartments while the young players move into Smith Hall, the newest dormitory on South Campus.
But before they can settle into their cozy digs, the Wildcats players and a few members of the coaching staff must gut it out at the Kirwan I dormitory, a smaller building that was constructed more than 40 years ago.
There, the players are huddled up in smaller rooms with smaller beds, aren't allowed any visitors and must turn in their car keys. They spend around three hours a day in meetings, one hour getting ready for practice (tape, hot tubs, etc.), two hours on the practice field, another hour to two hours in the weight room, and they eat three scheduled meals a day plus a snack.
With summer school over and fall classes not scheduled to start until Aug. 26, there aren't many other students on campus. The players go from Kirwan I to the Nutter Training Facility to the Commons Dining Complex. That's it. The UK football team is truly in its own little world during fall camp.
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"It's all about football," said freshman linebacker Qua Huzzie. "You eat, drink, sleep and breathe football."
UK head coach of offense Joker Phillips, graduate assistants Matt McCutchan and Dontae Wright and assistant director of football operations Dan Mears all stay in the dorms with the team during fall camp.
"I've always been one of those guys that likes to get in there and get around the players," Phillips said. "Plus, I get up early, so it's easier for me and the family. I can get up and walk and just come right back over to the complex. You're a football player. This is camp. This is what you love. You see guys down the hall playing cards, playing music, dancing. That's what camp is about, to get away from the general population and come together as a football team."
McCutchan (Kentucky, 2006) and Wright (Miami University, 2006) aren't that far removed from fall camp as players. But if you listen to them describe life as a grad assistant in the dorm, you'd think you were talking to a pair of old men.
"I'm getting less sleep now than I did when I was a player," McCutchan said.
"It's baby-sitting, that's exactly what it is," Wright said. "We're like dorm mothers."
The players don't have that much free time to begin with. Randall Cobb and Corey Peters estimated it to be between 3-4 hours a day. McCutchan said most of the offensive linemen use that time for sleep.
"The O-linemen are usually so tired, they don't have the energy to be running around and playing cards and stuff," McCutchan said. "By about 10 o'clock or 10:15, they're usually out."
As for the rest of the crew, there's usually either a card game going on, NCAA College Football 2010 on the Xbox or music blasting. Often all three are going on at the same time.
That doesn't always make for the easiest of accommodations. Young college students and loud music go hand-in-hand. And a competitive game of cards or John Madden can get loud at any moment.
"You'd think the Super Bowl was going on down there," Wright said. "There's always a bunch of hootin' and hollerin' when the video games are going."
The laid-back Peters said he's just a casual observer of all the camp shenanigans.
"I tend to kind of sit around and laugh at it all," Peters said. "I just chill out and take it all in. I don't have too much energy to waste. You just have to make sure it doesn't go too far or get too crazy. Kids will be kids, and college kids are going to be college kids. You just reel 'em in and then let everybody go back to having fun."
But the downtime during fall camp isn't all about clowning around. There's some serious male bonding going on, even if the players don't realize it.
"It truly brings the guys together," Wright said. "From personal experience and seeing it here, you're kind of forced to hang around and conversate with each other. There's no cliques. It helps team chemistry."
"I get to spend every waking moment with my teammates, and it's cool to get to know everybody on the team that I didn't know," said freshman defensive tackle Mister Cobble said.
Peters said there's no serious freshman hazing that goes on but added a kicker.
"Now if they're asked to do something, they are expected to do it, within reason," Peters said. "If we're at dinner and somebody forgot to get ketchup or something, they'll send them to go get the ketchup."
One thing you'll hear a lot during fall camp, particularly before the full-pad practices begin, is several freshmen boasting about their high school credentials and how quick they're going to get in the lineup. Peters said it never fails.
"I came in with the attitude that I wasn't going to step on anybody's toes," Peters said. "I was just going to do my work and be quiet about it. I wanted to move up the depth chart, but I wasn't going to be vocal about it. A lot of guys come in saying, 'I'm about to start.'"
Peters said those types of freshmen can often dig themselves in a hole, particularly if they're not backing up their talk on the field.
"I don't think that's a smart move. You could be the best freshman in the country — if you're talking like that, we'll find the smallest things to pick on you about. And when one of the older guys gets on you, nobody's going to help you out. They'll just pile on. You're all alone. None of the other freshmen are going to stand up and get your back."
Peters said it doesn't take the veterans long to figure out which freshmen are ready and which ones aren't.
"People notice hard work," Peters said. "We talk amongst ourselves. Believe it or not, every upperclassman on this team knows which freshmen that they think are going to be playing. You look at their attitudes, how they act in the film room, how they're picking up on things and how hard they work."
Being closed up in tight quarters for so long might tempt some to slip away for a little bit, but the fear of the wrath of Coach Rich Brooks usually keeps them in check.
"Coach Brooks strikes the fear in them; they know he'll drop the hammer," McCutchan said. "This is business. If you want to play, you better not try anything stupid."
Besides, it won't be long before the team is back in its regular surroundings. Peters, a senior, said he isn't rushing it away.
"I'm enjoying it, actually," Peters said. "This is my last one. These are the times you think back to and remember from your college football days. I've had other people tell me that they'd love to get those days back, so I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can."