There’s still plenty of show in Lamar Thomas.
When Kentucky’s new wide receivers coach was asked recently if his college championships and NFL credentials give him extra credibility with the players, he flashed a wide grin and some blinding bling.
“Well, I like to wear my championship rings, there’s no doubt about it,” he said, pretending to scratch at his beard while displaying a piece of portable hardware from his time as a player at Miami.
At a recent practice, Thomas was running up and down the sideline with his players, wildly waving his arms as a wide receiver scored.
“That’s six, baby, that’s six,” he said, sporting sunglasses indoors.
In that same practice — in which the 46-year-old former NFL player was Mic’d Up for a Wildcats TV segment — Thomas said if practice kept going well, he was going to learn how to pole vault.
In meeting rooms with the players, he talks about his hardships, his own challenges as a player and reminds the UK wide-outs that he was once in their cleats.
“I was able to make it,” Thomas said. “And I tell them all the time, you guys are probably better athletes than I ever was.”
As he relays the story, he looks slyly at the media huddled around.
“I lie a little bit, make ’em feel better,” he smiled.
Whether it’s a little white lie, a big flashy ring or a gallop down the sideline, Thomas is having an impact on the players in the wide receiver room.
“I definitely like the swag part,” redshirt freshman receiver Jabari Greenwood said. “That’s what wide-out’s all about, position that’s the most swag, the most juice. I definitely like that side of him.”
Thomas is rubbing off on his players, junior Garrett Johnson said.
“He displays confidence every day and eventually us looking up to him and just seeing it every day is going to fall on us.”
Confidence was seriously lacking when Thomas took over the position this winter, replacing wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord, who was fired by Coach Mark Stoops in December along with offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
A position group that requires a little showmanship and swag had neither, he said.
But with each made catch, with each properly run route, he’s seeing the confidence grow for a position that was much maligned following the Cats’ 5-7 season last year.
Everything we do on the field and off the field is competing. We’re competing with one another in the room, and that’s something that we haven’t been doing in the past that’s really helping us as a wide receiver group get better.
Ryan Timmons, UK receiver
Thomas said he intentionally didn’t watch any film of the UK wide-outs from last season, all of whom are back, led by Dorian Baker (55 catches, 608 yards, three touchdowns), Johnson (46 catches, 694 yards, two TDs) and Jeff Badet (29 catches, 430 yards, two TDs).
Thomas wanted the group, plagued by drops and inconsistency, to know it had a clean slate.
That’s all led to better competition all over the field, senior Ryan Timmons said.
“Everything we do on the field and off the field is competing,” he said. “We’re competing with one another in the room, and that’s something that we haven’t been doing in the past that’s really helping us as a wide receiver group get better.”
It’s exactly what Stoops had in mind when he hired Thomas to Kentucky. He recently called the NFL veteran “a good influence” on that position group.
More than anything Thomas hopes the wide-outs learn that the bling, the flash, the show don’t come because of what they do on Saturdays in the fall.
“I want guys that want the ball, but I also want guys willing to work their tailbones off,” he said. “In order to be confident and cocky, you’ve got to put the work in. I tell them all the time, if that’s what you want to do, then let me see the work. I’ve got to see the work.”
Stoops doesn’t want to see any “false confidence” from this group moving forward.
“You’re never going to talk your way into having confidence,” the head coach said. “I’m not into the false confidence and jumping around and hoopla when you’re not doing it. You get confidence by a lot of hard work and the details.”
As they’ve worked on the fundamentals and basics this spring, Thomas is seeing a different group of wide receivers emerge.
“Guys that maybe didn’t have the confidence coming into the spring practice, they’re getting the confidence and they’re understanding how to put things behind them and continue to build on success,” Thomas said.
“The guys are looking forward to each day of practice, getting better. They’re coming in, watching more film, asking more questions. Just wanting to know how to get open.”
And with plenty of show, he’s showing them.