UK Football

UK football: Governor's Cup more than a game: It's a rivalry

Kentucky team raised the Governor's Cup after Kentucky defeated Louisville 23-16 in Papa Johns Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010. It was the Cats' last victory in the rivalry.
Kentucky team raised the Governor's Cup after Kentucky defeated Louisville 23-16 in Papa Johns Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010. It was the Cats' last victory in the rivalry.

Every Kentucky player on the Kentucky roster has a story.

He grew up cheering for Louisville or Kentucky.

He had family members or neighbors who cheered for the opposite team.

Houses divided and neighborhoods divided are a way of life in the Commonwealth.

But for the other players — especially the younger players, the ones from places like Ohio, Alabama, Georgia and Florida -- it's been a week of Cats-Cards cramming.

"Been educating the guys all week on the rivalry," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a Kentucky native and former UK wide receiver. "It's time for us to hold up our end of the bargain."

Former UK players who are now coaches like Brown, offensive lineman John Schlarman and running backs coach Chad Scott have discussed personal memories of their parts in rivalry games.

Current instate players like Frankfort's Ryan Timmons and Fort Thomas' Patrick Towles, Lexington's Zach West got up and spoke about their rivalry memories.

"They always tell us it's a very big deal," said senior wide receiver Javess Blue, a Florida transplant. "Anyone that's born in Kentucky, they know about the rivalry. It's something we have to take to heart when we go play."

There were highlight videos and a history lesson on "the Governor's Cup trophy and just how important it is," wide receiver Demarco Robinson said.

"We're just taking a little bit of our offensive meeting and trying to educate them, especially for some young guys from out of state, educating them, teaching them what a rivalry is and a little about Kentucky-Louisville," Brown explained.

Coach Mark Stoops, who had to learn about the rivalry himself as an Ohio native, said the coaches are giving the players different bits of information each day leading up to the game at No. 24 Louisville (8-3) on Saturday.

The Cardinals have won three in a row in the series, which Kentucky leads 14-12, including a 6-4 edge when the game has been played in Louisville.

Former players have come in to talk about their parts in the various games of note.

"We want to embrace that rivalry," Stoops said. "We want kids to be a part of that and know when they come play at Kentucky that Louisville is a big game for us."

During the process, even some coaches, like defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, an Oklahoma native, has learned a few things.

"This is as big a rivalry as anywhere I've been," he said. "The players want to win; the fans want to win. It's something that is special, and it's something that you really look forward to."

'Can't get her out of her UK jersey'

One Kentucky player who didn't need any extra education on the Cats-Cards football rivalry is Jason Hatcher, a Louisville native who grew up a Louisville fan.

Now that the sophomore defensive end from Trinity High School is wearing a blue jersey, even his mom has changed sides.

"She's doing pretty well with it," Hatcher said. "I can't get her out of her UK jersey now. She wears them to church and everything."

When asked if he still had other family members that would be wearing red to the rivalry game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, he nodded.

"It's sad to say, but I think so," he said. "Because I have a big family, and I'm going to be at home. This is still a home game to me, being from Louisville. So, I'm going to have a lot of family there, just not there to see me, to see the game."

Of course, if they got tickets from him, he wants control over their clothing colors. "There's rules to that. They're going to be in UK gear if they get my tickets."

Giving thanks

Brought on by Brown's statement that he's "thankful for another opportunity. We're glad we're not going to end it on the (Tennessee) game," several other UK players were asked the question: What are you thankful for?

Here are some select responses:

Blue: "I'm thankful for a year here, strength, health, family, the whole BBN (Big Blue Nation). It's hard being away from home, but I accept it, and everyone here accepts me. It's like I never left home."

Quarterback Patrick Towles: "I'm thankful for my offensive line. I'm thankful for my family, thankful for my teammates, my God. This team hopefully is going to be thankful for a sixth win and a bowl berth here come Sunday."

Wide receiver Demarco Robinson: "I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to go out and participate in this rivalry that could possibly send us to a bowl game. And after this, hopefully, I'll be thankful for winning this rivalry and going to a bowl game."

Offensive lineman Jordan Swindle: "All that God's blessed me with. I can't even put into words how much I'm blessed. My parents, my girlfriend, my family, everything like that. It's awesome."

Holiday plans

Kentucky had an early practice on Thursday in preparation for its big rivalry game at Louisville, followed by a team Thanksgiving feast together.

"Then they'll have the evening if they're close by to be able to go home and see some family or go with some friends," Stoops said on Wednesday at his final meeting with the media before the Louisville game.

Stoops told the players his house was a Thanksgiving option for them as well, but that suggestion may put him in the dog house with Chantel Stoops.

"We're going to have a dinner right afterwards here for the whole group and then I told them my house was open," he said. "So I may get anywhere from two to 100, who knows?"

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