Louisville native Alfonso Smith was laughed at when he committed to the University of Kentucky back in 2005.
"Everybody was like, 'Why are you going to UK? You could go to Boston College or U of L. You're crazy. You'll never go to a bowl game there,' " Smith recalled.
But as Smith and 25 other seniors prepare for their final home game against Tennessee, they'll leave as one of the most successful senior classes in Kentucky history. They're the first to go to four straight bowl games and, if they can pull off the win, they'll finish an unprecedented second place in the SEC East and win eight games in the regular season for the first time since 1984.
"Coach (Rich) Brooks sold us on hard work and a dream, and we're starting to see the fruits of our labor here," senior offensive tackle Zipp Duncan said.
"It's a great feeling," senior center Jorge Gonzalez said. "I kind of wish we could have done a little bit more, but I'm the type that's never satisfied with what we have. But to be able to win and go to bowl games, that's what I expected when I came here. That's why I signed."
Brooks is certainly appreciative of the class that helped turn it all around.
"Most of them obviously came in prior to some of the success, and they bought into the vision and the hope to do something here at Kentucky," Brooks said. "This class arguably has done more than any class in a half of a century during their four years in the program. We've still got a lot left to accomplish hopefully. I'm just pleased these guys four and five years ago decided to come here and put their faith in what was going to happen here, and they came here and helped make it happen."
Now Brooks wants the seniors to put one of the finishing touches on an impressive run by knocking off Tennessee.
"I think this class could make their own identity rather than just going to the fourth straight bowl and keeping that string alive if they were able to beat Tennessee and finish second in the SEC East," he said. "Obviously that would be a major statement."
Members of the class who played as true freshmen, such as Corey Peters, Calvin Harrison, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell, Justin Jeffries, and Maurice Grinter, have experienced nothing but winning seasons and bowl games.
But there have been some tough times and adversity. Christian Johnson missed a year due to academic and back issues. Center Jorge Gonzalez overcame a serious knee injury. Not long after many members of the 2009 class signed, there was serious talk that Brooks wouldn't be around to coach them. And some players, such as Smith, didn't quite reach the lofty heights they had set for themselves. But Smith doesn't carry any regrets.
"I'm still going to a fourth consecutive bowl, and the program is on the up, and that's all I really wanted to see happen," he said. "I wanted to see this program turn around and win some games, and everything came to place. I've seen it all. Injuries, guys coming and going, big wins, heartbreaking losses, fourth-quarter comebacks, you name it. It's special. I'll never forget it. I'm going to tell my kids and my grandkids about it."
Brooks hopes the fans will file into Commonwealth Stadium in time to take in the Senior Day ceremony.
"I would like to see our fans in there early enough to honor this senior class," Brooks said. "I know that the game-day activities in the parking lot are part of the experience and part of the fun. But hopefully they can do that all day long and get in there and honor this senior class. They deserve it."
Cat Walk at 4:45
Fans wishing to participate in the "Cat Walk," cheering the Wildcats when they enter Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, should be at Gate 1 of the stadium at 4:45 p.m.
26 UK Seniors
x Stephen Ball, FB
Ross Bogue, TE
x Trey Bowland, RB
Anthony Cecil, WR
x Chris Cessna, LB
Ashton Cobb, SS
John Conner, FB
T.C. Drake, TE
Zipp Duncan, OT
x Will Fidler, QB
Jorge Gonzalez, C
x Daryl Faulkner, DB
Maurice Grinter, TE
Calvin Harrison, FS
Justin Jeffries, OT
Christian Johnson, OG
Micah Johnson, LB
Trevard Lindley, CB
Dustin Luck, OG
Mikhail Mabry, LB
Sam Maxwell, LB
A.J. Nance, FB
Corey Peters, DT
x Michael Schwindel, LB
Lones Seiber, K
Alfonso Smith, RB
x — Ball, Bowland, Fidler and Faulkner are giving up their senior season of eligibility and will participate in Senior Day activities. Cessna and Schwindel had to give up football during the last year due to injury. UK will also recognize the family of Chris Mosby, who committed to Kentucky but passed away in a car accident on Dec. 31, 2005.