There are 45-pound plates that Stephen Johnson lugs around the weight room to help strengthen his hands and forearms.
And then there are what must seem like 45-pound plates the Kentucky quarterback is loading his meals on this spring.
After coaches were done praising the senior for his leadership and knowledge of the offense on Tuesday after practice, Johnson talked about his other battle this spring: putting on pounds.
“They really have me eating a lot of food,” Johnson said. “Like, I have two smoothies right now and a goodie bag to take home with me. So just trying to eat really good food and eat as much as I can.”
Team trainers would like to see the senior who led UK to its first bowl game since 2010 add a few more pounds to his frame by the time the season kicks off on Sept. 2.
“I’m close to my goal that I want right now,” said Johnson, who was listed at 185 on the pre-spring roster. “If I can get to 195, then I’ll be pretty good. Two hundred would be even better, but 195 is my goal.”
That means Johnson is eating roughly 5,000 calories a day, which is four meals and four snacks a day on days when he can manage that.
“During the day, you get tired of eating,” he confessed.
The key black mark on what turned out to be a dream first season in Lexington for Johnson was his inability to hold on to the ball. The junior college standout had 10 fumbles last season, losing six of them, tied for second most in the nation.
There are plenty of factors that played into the slips, but Johnson wants to make sure his strength and size don’t play into it next season.
“His strength levels have gone up, which is really good and his weight is slowly going up, so we want to put good weight on,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. “He’s getting better and better and better.”
As for some of the intangibles, Hinshaw couldn’t be more pleased.
“He’s really taken a great leadership and ownership,” Hinshaw said. “He’s mastering the offense and he’s getting more and more comfortable there behind center.”
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran agreed.
“I really like where Stephen is right now,” he said of the quarterback, who started in nine games last season, throwing for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns while running for 327 yards and three additional scores.
“He’s been really consistent in what he’s doing, making really good decisions. I like how he’s leading.”
Other quarterback talk
Kentucky coaches also seem pleased with the development of redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak, who is running with the second team this spring.
“Gunnar is looking a lot more comfortable; he really is,” Gran said. “Gunnar had another pretty good day today. He looks a lot more confident.”
There have been some redshirt freshman mistakes, Hinshaw said of Hoak, but he noted that the QB is “light years ahead” of where he was last season.
“He’s playing winning football,” Hinshaw said of Hoak. “I think we can win in the SEC with Gunnar Hoak, 100 percent. My job is to get him ready to play.”
▪ Last year’s early-season starter, Drew Barker, has been getting into the rotation more regularly as he recovers from back surgery in November.
“He’s got more cobwebs and rust he’s got to break through to continue to get better, which he will,” Hinshaw said.
▪ True freshman quarterback Danny Clark threw a touchdown in the first scrimmage on Saturday, but he still has a long way to go with the mental hurdles of the position, his coaches said.
▪ Former Lafayette standout Walker Wood, who had surgery on his leg during the offseason, has continued to improve while on campus, coaches said. “They’d like to have him out there throwing some routes before the end of spring,” Hinshaw added.
Badet lands; now what?
Jeff Badet is leaving one Stoops to play for another, the speedy wide receiver announced on Twitter on Tuesday morning, just as his former coaches were discussing how UK will be replacing the senior.
Badet, a graduate transfer, tweeted: “Same goals. Same mindset. Different location.” And the hashtag familiar to Oklahoma fans: “BoomerSooner.”
It means Badet, who seemed to indicate he wanted to play in a more pass-oriented offense during his final season, now will be playing for Mark Stoops’ older brother Bob.
The 6-foot wide receiver from Orlando, Fla., caught 31 passes for 670 yards and four touchdowns. He led the league and was sixth nationally in yards per catch. Badet’s 31 catches were second-most on the team behind Garrett Johnson’s 39.
Johnson’s name has been mentioned regularly among those most likely to replace Badet at the outside receiver spot. While it’s difficult to replace Badet’s speed, wideouts coach Lamar Thomas likes his options.
“Jeff was a different type of player, very explosive, but we’re also going to throw Garrett out there,” he said. “Tavin (Richardson) and (Blake) Bone and Kayaune (Ross), Jabari (Greenwood), are all guys, they’re not as fast as Badet, but they use their height and their longness.
“They’re different players. We all embrace the fact that Jeff’s no longer with us. And they’re excited about the opportunity they have in front of them.”
And just because none of those players have the speed of a Badet necessarily doesn’t mean they don’t have other attributes that will make them difference-makers this season, Thomas said.
“Sometimes — I learned this in college — you don’t have to be the fastest guy, you’ve just got to know what you’re doing and know how to read defenses and know when to go at full speed. They’re all embracing it and there’s not a drop-off so far.”
Holtzclaw leaves team
A redshirt freshman wide receiver that potentially was being looked at as an option at tight end has decided to part ways with Kentucky, a team spokesman confirmed on Tuesday after practice.
Dakota Holtzclaw, a 6-foot-7 player from Columbus, Ohio, is the fourth player to leave the program this spring, including linebackers De’Niro Laster, Kobie Walker and Nico Firios.
Holtzclaw, who graduated a semester early from Worthington Kilbourne High School, was expected to provide some depth for the UK offense. He was a three-star prospect by all four major recruiting services.
The latest departure brings UK to 85 total scholarship players, the NCAA’s limit per season.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 14
TV: SEC Network