Mark Stoops on Kentucky’s strengths for 2019
Kentucky was an ideal landing spot for Xavier Peters, a transfer from Florida State who wanted to be closer to his infant son after complications prevented he and the boy’s mother from moving to Florida in the last year.
Peters, a native of West Chester, Ohio, didn’t want to go all the way back home and play for the University of Cincinnati, however. Yeah, it’s closer to where Xavier Peters Jr. resides, but “there’s way too many bad role models” where he’s from, he said.
Enter UK, the program to which Peters originally committed before signing with the Seminoles in 2018. He’s still in the midst of an appeal to the NCAA for immediate eligibility, and thinks he could have an answer within the next two weeks.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound redshirt freshman will compete for a starting job at outside linebacker if he’s ruled eligible. Coaches aren’t planning to give him first-team reps until something’s put in stone, but that doesn’t deter Peters.
“I approach practicing like I know I’m playing on the 31st, guaranteed,” Peters said of the season opener vs. Toledo. “But you know how the NCAA goes. It’s an iffy thing.”
It’s worth the wait, Peters said, even if he isn’t able to play this season. He believes he had an opportunity to start at Florida State if he’d stuck around, but thought he made the best decision “as a man” to come closer to home and his child.
“When I came back home for Christmas break, my son was walking,” Peters said. “When I left, he was crawling. What made me really scared is that I would come back home and he’s gonna be riding a bike or something. ... It was killing me, man. It was killing me.”
Availability a non-issue
Head coach Mark Stoops said linebacker Jordan Wright had a slight setback in the summer but has been cleared to practice, albeit without contact early on. Outside of Davonte Robinson, who suffered a season-ending quad injury last week, UK’s full roster of players was available at the start of fall practice.
“Cole Mosier maybe three years ago, Landon Young and now Davonte, we take a big hit (each year),” Stoops said. “But it is what it is. Our players know that. We have to have the mentality of the next man up. We feel for Davonte most because I know the amount of work that he’s put in to put himself in a position to be one of the guys.”
Kentucky is high on its group of tight ends, but Keaton Upshaw elicited unique praise from Stoops on Friday.
“We’re all kind of mesmerized by him,” Stoops said of the 6-6, 225-pound redshirt freshman from Lima, Ohio. “He’s what you’re hunting. He’s first off the bus.”
“My No. 1 goal for this year is just to stay healthy,” Upshaw said. “Coming into camp, I just want to compete, have fun and continue to get better on and off the field. It’s been a long process for me but I’m 100 percent and ready to take off. I’ve got things to prove to people and gotta show Big Blue Nation what I’ve got.”
Nicholasville native Eli Cox, who starred for West Jessamine High School, knows it’ll be tough to crack the offensive line rotation as a freshman, given the position’s depth. The Cats boast eight returning linemen who’ve seen the field, headlined by returning starters Drake Jackson, Logan Stenberg and Landon Young, in addition to three redshirt returnees.
Cox is cool with that.
“That’s a great thing,” Cox said. “As a freshman, we don’t want to have to play freshmen unless they’re truly the best player on the field. ... The most valuable experience is in games and in practice. You can watch film all you want, but it’s never the same until you’re actually on the field running full speed. They have three to four years of that experience and I have three months. They know the ins and outs.”
Cox described Jackson as a “player-coach” in the film room.
“He knows the offense just as well as our coaches do,” Cox said. “He’s the guy that if you want to learn the offense, you want to learn how this system works, you should sit down and watch film with Drake.”
True freshman Amani Gilmore said Lexington is “way different” than his hometown — Amite, La.
The 6-2, 202-pound quarterback hails from a town with a population slightly north of 4,100 people, or about 1.3 percent that of Lexington. There could be 4,100 people at Kroger Field when Gilmore experiences his first Fan Day on Saturday.
“I think I can get used to staying out here for a while,” Gilmore said with a laugh.
It seldom snows in Louisiana, where the average year-round temperature is about 70 degrees.
“I ain’t never had a lot of snow,” Gilmore said. “I want to see what that’s like, just to experience it.”