UK Football

John Clay: New UK coaches ready to 'make some noise' in Louisville

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops directed players in the first half of the annual Blue/White Spring Scrimmage on April 13, 2013 at Commonwealth Stadium. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops directed players in the first half of the annual Blue/White Spring Scrimmage on April 13, 2013 at Commonwealth Stadium. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — They watched U of L football win the Sugar Bowl and U of L men's basketball win the national title and U of L Coach Rick Pitino be voted into the Hall of Fame and U of L women's basketball reach the national finals and U of L baseball make the College World Series.

For UK fans living in Jefferson County it has been a solid six months of U of L, U of L, U of L.

So no wonder Friday afternoon a sellout crowd of 815 members of the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Association packed the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville to pool their unguarded optimism into what they hope and pray is a new and different dawn.

Yes, we're talking Kentucky football.

They hopped to their feet and commenced clapping when a blue bugler broke into the On, On, U of K fight song.

When the man of the hour, new football coach Mark Stoops, uttered the magic words they all came to hear, they erupted in an enthusiastic cheer.

Those words being:

"We want people to know up here in Louisville," said Stoops, "that Kentucky is here and we're not messing around."

The crowd did not begin singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but no one would have been surprised.

This is Louisville we're talking about, remember. The biggest city in the state. The city with the most high school football talent in the state. The city that houses UK's biggest rival in the state.

"It's big to get into the biggest media market in the state," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown. "The Jefferson County Alumni, for them to show up in record numbers gives you a lot of energy, to go back and tell our guys about the enthusiasm."

The moment the River City chapter of the BBN realized Stoops and his current staff were, in fact, not messing around was last January when it marched into Trinity High School and convinced star defensive end Jason Hatcher to renounce his Southern Cal commitment and sign instead with UK.

"You have to have some substance, and that's why we signed Jason Hatcher," Stoops told the crowd Friday. "Not because of the way we carried ourselves in that building, but because of the substance that would go behind it.

"Y'all can listen to me right now and you know I don't have a silver tongue, but it's about substance. ... We wouldn't have signed Jason Hatcher without genuinely recruiting him. We've had great success with defensive linemen at Florida State prior to being here, and we worked relentlessly to get that flipped."

After two straight losing, bowl-less Kentucky football seasons — including the ash heap of a winless conference campaign a year ago — the entire Big Blue Nation has its heart set on a turnaround, yet no faction wants to flip the script more than Louisville.

And Stoops has spent a good part of the week in the River City. He attended the Governor's Cup Luncheon at Hurstbourne Country Club on Wednesday. He participated in a good question-and-answer session, moderated by Tom Leach, along with Brown and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot on Friday.

"We want to be a big presence in this city," Eliot said. "It's the largest city in the state. We've got a lot of alumni here, good high school football players here, so want to be here as much as we can."

Not to mention, U of L is here, as well. And right now, the Cardinals have it rolling. Those disputing that fact are in denial.

So the Kentucky fans who have lived with that up close and personal in 2013 just want to believe a climate change is coming.

"There's no question," said Brown. "Obviously, we want to make our presence (known), obviously, we've got a rival here. We want to get in this area and make some noise."

On the banks of the Ohio, noise was made Friday.

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