At an event to kick off football season in a state where two powers dominate the headlines, Kentucky was the headliner to open Southeastern Conference Media Days on Monday.
In his opening remarks, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told the stories of Kentucky’s players who broke the league’s color barrier 50 years ago when Nate Northington played in a football game on Sept. 30, 1967.
“By playing in a football game,” Sankey said, “Nate Northington affected us all.”
Sankey spent several minutes of his nearly 40-minute news conference discussing the contributions of Northington and Kentucky teammates like Greg Page, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg.
The four men and their accomplishments were honored last season with a statue in front of UK’s new football practice facility as well as several other celebrations of their contributions.
“These four men — one whose life was lost too soon — one who broke the color barrier in football in the Southeastern Conference and … dealt with realities most of us don’t understand, and they were not alone over the years this change took place,” Sankey said.
The commissioner also announced that Hackett, Northington, Hogg and representatives of Page’s family will be honored at the 2017 SEC championship game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The men and their families will “join us in remembering, honoring and celebrating what they helped change 50 years ago,” Sankey continued.
As Sankey spoke about the Kentucky trailblazers, a picture of the statue featuring the men appeared on the big screens behind the commissioner.
“We are indeed caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” Sankey continued, reeling off the names of others who were firsts in their respective sports. “Those who endured in the early moments of change, serve as a reminder of our mutual responsibility to support the opportunities for young people today.”
Other SEC news and notes
A year ago, media here made Tennessee an overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East, but after starting the season 5-0, the Vols sputtered down the stretch, including a stunning loss to Vanderbilt.
But Coach Butch Jones, who is replacing top talent on both sides of the ball including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and defensive end Derek Barnett, said he didn’t consider it a disappointing season for the Volunteers.
They finished 9-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC and earned a win over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
“The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to,” Jones said. “And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship.
“So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.”
Jones said he was pleased with the way his team responded. “The lessons you learned from last year, the resolve, the resiliency, are going to serve you for many years down the road in life.”
▪ Several SEC coaches voiced their displeasure or at least their apprehension over the new schedule that comes with the new early signing period announced in May.
It’s Sankey’s understanding that the NCAA plans to review these new rules over the next two years and the league itself has formed a committee to “engage in dialogue (on) what is happening on the recruiting trail and what might optimally we seek as a longer term solution.”
The committee will include athletics directors Scott Stricklin (Florida), Jeff Long (Arkansas) and four coaches, including Missouri’s Barry Odom, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
“We had a conference call once to talk about the reality, to talk about what may happen and look forward to that dialogue continuing,” Sankey said.
▪ Remember that offseason buzz about a potential realignment of the East and West? It’s all talk, Sankey said when asked about it Monday. “Has not been an agenda item in the meeting,” he said. “It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.”
Kentucky news and notes
Coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky players will have their turn at Media Days on Wednesday, but UK’s official media guide was released Monday as part of the event.
The school released a depth chart that it said is “subject to extensive change” before the opener on Sept. 2. But there were a few things of note:
▪ With the graduation of Courtney Miggins (28 tackles, four for loss) and the dismissal of Alvonte Bell (27 tackles, four starts) at the defensive end spot, UK has to figure out some things quickly on that side of the line. The new depth chart lists sophomore T.J. Carter (11 tackles) as the starter going into camp and being backed up by junior Kengera Daniel.
▪ Senior Nick Haynes, the Cats’ 13-game starter at left guard is now listed as the starter at right guard. Haynes’ backup last season, sophomore Logan Stenberg, is listed as the starter at left guard.
▪ As expected, Stephen Johnson is listed as the starter at quarterback, but his backup is still up for grabs with an “OR” between junior Drew Barker, a former starter who missed much of last season with a back injury, and redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak.
▪ There’s been some shuffling at the wide receiver spots, with starters at four positions listed as Tavin Richardson, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker and Charles Walker. Clevan Thomas, who is listed behind Johnson at the “F” wide-out spot, is the only true freshman on the depth chart.
▪ Jersey numbers were published for incoming freshmen who were not early enrollees. They are: No. 1 Lynn Bowden; No. 4 Joshua Paschal; No. 15 Jordan Wright; No. 23 Tyrell Ajian; No. 26 Michael Nesbitt; No. 29 Yusuf Corker; No. 38 William Nalty; No. 58 Alex King; No. 61 Austin Dotson; No. 66 Naasir Watkins; No. 76 Sebastien Dolcine; No. 80 Javonte Richardson; No. 81 Isaiah Epps; No. 82 Josh Ali; No. 92 Phil Hoskins; No. 94 Chris Whittaker; No. 95 Quinton Bohanna and No. 96 Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald.
SEC Media Days
When: Through Thursday
Where: Hoover, Ala.
Schedule of teams
Tuesday: Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Wednesday: Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas A&M
Thursday: Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina