UK Football

Kentucky receiver almost gave up on football. Then Mark Stoops ‘drew a line in the sand.’

Did Stoops have a chat with Blake Bone in the spring? 'Oh yeah'

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops discusses the wide receiver unit and gives a look when asked about Blake Bone.
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Kentucky coach Mark Stoops discusses the wide receiver unit and gives a look when asked about Blake Bone.

Some people wear their heart on their sleeves.

Kentucky’s Blake Bone wears his life on them: Sleeves of brightly colored tattoos up and down his long wide receiver arms.

There’s a clock that tells the story of his birth, nearly eight weeks earlier than it was supposed to be.

There’s an owl that he looks to for guidance “like my guardian angel looking over my path, my journey,” the Kentucky senior described recently.

There’s a rose as his symbol for life. It includes thorns because no person is perfect, he said.

All of these tattoos — and there are dozens — represent parts of his life, times and places that are important to him.

Bone’s favorite is his most recent: A black panther to symbolize “pride, strength, loyalty and courage.”

He’s needed all of those over the past year, the year the former four-star wide-out from South Carolina almost gave up on football.

A partially torn hamstring provided an easy out. It sidelined him much of last season, kept him from being able to run routes correctly, kept him from being able to walk comfortably.

“It kind of shut me down, made me lose my love for football, so I started caring less,” Bone said. “I took stuff less seriously, I became less of a team player.”

In the back of his mind, Bone thought he could grab football back when he felt like it.

Kentucky wide receiver Blake Bone, center, joked with cornerback Kendall Randolph before the team photo at media day last Sunday. Alex Slitz

“That was probably the biggest mistake on my part, me losing focus and forgetting to put football and God in the center of my life,” Bone said. “I got sloppy. Football didn’t have my full attention.”

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops and Bone’s other coaches let him know that they noticed.

“I drew a line in the sand,” Stoops said of conversations with Bone, who had five catches for 82 yards last season.

“We just sat down and talked it out like men,” Bone said of his talk with the head coach. “He asked me where I wanted to be, where I wanted to go and where he could see me going.”

And Stoops told Bone, who had 2,397 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Woodruff High School, that he had “tremendous talent and he didn’t want to see me waste it,” the senior said.

So it meant refocusing on football, reassessing the life he wears so colorfully on his sleeves.

After Friday's practice, Benny Snell, Courtney Love, Chris Westry and Kyle Meadows were asked which players have stood out during the first week of Kentucky football's fall camp?

“It’s like, ‘Look, do you want to do this or not? It’s your senior year,’” Bone said he decided. “I feel like I’ve responded the right way and now it’s time to work.”

By all accounts, from offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas, Bone has worked hard to get back into their good graces.

His name didn’t pop up on many of the football naughty lists for missed classes, missed meetings, missed workouts.

“It starts there,” Gran said of rebuilding trust with Bone, whom he applauded for making an impressive play at practice this week.

“But then tomorrow when we come out and he gets the same opportunity, make the same play. That's the consistency that I talked about. If he'll continue to do that, he'll play for us.”

The spring and summer were good for Bone.

That line in the sand drawn by his head coach? “I'm proud to say that he has responded very well,” Stoops said.

Blake Bone has 39 catches for 486 yards and three touchdowns during his three seasons at Kentucky. Mark Cornelison

Maybe that ticking clock on his arm can serve as a reminder of his time at Kentucky running out. Maybe the panther on the other arm can offer him the things he says it represents.

Pride, strength, loyalty and courage.

“I’ve seen a change in Blake,” said Thomas, his position coach. “I think the spring really helped him and he saw that there’s an opportunity. Last year during the offseason, he didn’t do what he was supposed to do. He questioned why he wasn’t playing, and I just went back to the offseason.

“This year, he’s come out with a whole different attitude. He’s eager at workouts. He did what he was supposed to do. … He’s doing a great job.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader


UK football fan day

9-10:15 a.m.: Autograph session at Nutter Field House

11 a.m-12:30 p.m.: Open practice at Joe Craft Football Training Facility practice fields

Admission: Free