UK Football

Kentucky football’s team poster honors pioneers of integration

The University of Kentucky’s 2016 football poster.
The University of Kentucky’s 2016 football poster.

The University of Kentucky tapped into history with the unveiling of its 2016 football poster Tuesday.

The design of the poster is modeled after a statue honoring the four UK players who integrated Southeastern Conference football in the late 1960s — Nate Northington, Greg Page, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg. That statue will be unveiled Sept. 22 in front of UK’s new football practice facility.

The poster, which UK produces annually to promote its season and schedule, features four players from this year’s team in poses modeled after the statue. It features the slogan “Make a Stand.”

Northington and Hackett were in attendance as the poster was unveiled at a team meeting last week, getting a standing ovation from the team when they were introduced. Both former Wildcats addressed the team and shared their perspective as two of the first black SEC football players. The 2016 season marks 50 years since Northington and Page enrolled at UK in 1966.

“When you watch the game today and you come here and look and see the diversity, I never would have thought this would happen at UK or much less the SEC,” Northington told the team, according to a UK news release. “We’re very, very proud we were able to do that for the state, for ourselves, for our family. We’re very proud of you all, very proud of this university because you are part of history.”

Northington explained the theme of the poster.

“We just believed it was time that Kentucky made a stand,” Northington said. “So ‘Make a Stand’ is very, very unique and correct because we did make a stand. We felt like it was the right thing to do. The time was right.”

Hackett encouraged the current UK team to carry on that legacy.

“You have an opportunity to change history, to make history, change what Kentucky is doing in football,” said Hackett, the first black team captain in any SEC sport. “I’m so glad, I’m so proud to be a part of this.”

The poster will be available in Kroger stores starting Saturday.

Mullen gets grilled

Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen needed his snazzy, much-discussed Yeezy sneakers to dance around multiple questions during SEC Media Days on Tuesday about the Bulldogs allowing freshman defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons to play with the Bulldogs.

The five-star recruit, who was captured on video repeatedly striking a woman while she lay on the ground, received a one-game suspension for his actions.

When asked about the one-game suspension instead of stiffer penalties, Mullen said it was a university decision, noting that Mississippi State did a “very, very thorough investigation” into the events around the assault.

If Simmons is involved in another incident, but this time on campus, who is responsible? Mullen was asked.

“We’re all responsible,” he said. “If that happens, all of us, to be honest with you, I’m responsible for all of the actions for every one of my players. I’m responsible as a head coach.”

Mullen said he sees an opportunity to bring Simmons on campus and help redirect the player’s life.

“I take a lot of pride as a coach in developing young men to be champions, not just on the field, off the field, and every part of their life to be successful in whatever it is they do, and that’s not an easy process,” Mullen said.

Tennessee’s own issues

Mississippi State’s Mullen wasn’t the only coach who had to answer questions about campus policies and misdeeds by athletes. Tennessee’s Butch Jones also was asked about the university’s $2.48 million settlement reached in a Title IX lawsuit.

The suit, which was filed by eight unnamed UT students, claimed the university created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assaults involving athletes.

But Jones said just because the lawsuit has been resolved doesn’t mean the discussions about it shouldn’t continue. He noted that more than 70 speakers have been brought in to discuss issues with student athletes on campus.

“We don’t look at it as something of the past or something that’s been settled,” he said. “Everything is a teaching unit. These are very, very serious issues that surround every college campus. They surround society today, and we’ll continue to educate our players on the importance of it.”

Summitt salute

There’s not usually a lot of women’s basketball talk at the annual football media event in the SEC, but Pat Summitt proved to be the exception.

The legendary Tennessee coach, who passed away on June 27 after a battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was on the mind of Volunteers Coach Butch Jones when he had his meeting with the media Tuesday.

“Every day I start my morning off, I look outside my window and I look down at her statue,” Jones said of Summitt, who won eight national titles at Tennessee. “And so I wanted to make sure I spoke about that, because she’s near and dear to all of our hearts. And everything is about excellence and leaving a legacy, and she definitely did that.”

Jones called Summitt one of the “greatest coaches of all time, regardless of sport.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey opened the event Monday also with talk of Summitt, whose life will be celebrated Thursday in Knoxville with a memorial event.

“Pat was a pillar of the Southeastern Conference,” Sankey said, noting that 100 percent of the Lady Vols who completed their eligibility under Summitt graduated. “She’s on par with many of the great names, may have set the standard for all of the great names that are a part of this conference. Her impact is felt every day in the lives of the young people she mentored.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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