UK Football

Three UK football transfers experience trip of a lifetime before suiting up for Cats

Tight end Greg Hart spent some time with children in Ethiopia on a UK Athletics service trip this summer.
Tight end Greg Hart spent some time with children in Ethiopia on a UK Athletics service trip this summer. UK Athletics

Fall camp is exhausting and endless.

Even in a brand-new, shiny, perfect weight room with 15,000 square feet of space, it’s hard to get up for working out every day.

But you will never hear a word of complaint from three Kentucky players.

This $45 million practice facility built for building bigger, faster football players is a surreal juxtaposition for Courtney Love, De’Niro Laster and Greg Hart.

The three players, on their UK-sponsored service trip to Ethiopia this summer, saw the lengths others will go to just to work out.

While there, the UK players saw a makeshift workout area in the backyard of a house that takes in street children and educates them. In the yard was a homemade set of monkey bars and a makeshift curl bar made of wood, paint cans and cement.

“It was crazy to see the innovation they had, the want to work out,” Love said. “And the initiative. … They want to work out. They still have dreams to be body builders and professional athletes.”

The Kentucky players offered up some workouts the boys could do to get bigger and stronger in their makeshift gym, and worked out a little with them, too.

“Sometimes we complain we have to go work out and we’ve got this beautiful weight room, beautiful weights and they’re lifting with cement, paint cans and a piece of wood, which is just crazy,” Love said. “Just helps us appreciate things we have here more.”

Something all three appreciated, too, was the opportunity to take that trip even though none of them has played a down of football in a Kentucky jersey.

It just so happened that the three selected for the trip, Love and Hart, players from Nebraska, and Laster, a former Minnesota standout, were transfers.

“We always look for three guys that we feel like it can make an impact ... and it just worked out that way,” Coach Mark Stoops said of picking the transfers.

The trip ended up being just another bonding experience for the new Cats, who became fast friends while waiting out per NCAA transfer rules.

“We were already kind of bonded because we had to sit out last year,” explained Laster, a linebacker. “So we worked out together every day and we’ve seen each other through our ups and downs.”

Being part of the program from a distance was difficult, said Hart, who recalled the three watching home games from the Commonwealth Stadium stands last season and watching road games from their couches.

“Us three, we went through a hard time with transferring and going through that whole process,” the tight end said.

All three said their goal as scout team members last season was to make the other players play better. It was that sort of servant leadership that made them a natural fit for this trip, Laster said.

“I love to help people,” he said. “I feel like I have the biggest, loving heart ever. So going to Ethiopia it just made me more appreciative of what I have. I already love helping people.”

The plan is to keep helping the people of Ethiopia that they met, one of whom was a single mother whose children hadn’t eaten anything substantial in two weeks. The UK players offered her food and gave her money for three month’s rent.

“She was losing hope,” Laster said. “She wasn’t expecting money. She knew she might get some food and clothing, but she wasn’t expecting the money.”

Love got quiet as he recalled that moment. “She burst in tears because she was so thankful for that.”

The three transfers are collecting money from teammates to help build several homes for people there. The coaches have promised to match whatever funds they raise, Laster said.

It’s just a small part of the leadership that Stoops said he’s seen from the three transfers who likely will play significant roles for Kentucky this season.

“You can see the players be grateful and talk about all the things that we have — not all the things that we don’t have — whether we’re in the old building, old stadium, new stadium, new building, whatever it is,” Stoops said. “We’re all very blessed and sometimes we don’t always look at it that way. …

“They’ve been very good at getting the message across and talking with the guys and being grateful for what we have.”

Present, future roster analysis

Few schools around the country will have shorter Senior Day celebrations than Kentucky this season, with the Cats’ latest roster listing just 11 players as seniors: Will Thomas Collins, J.D. Harmon, Tanner Fink, Jojo Kemp, Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson, Courtney Miggins, Zach Myers, Ryan Timmons, Jon Toth and Zane Williams.

Of those players, just eight are on scholarship, something Stoops noted at one of his speaking engagements this week.

“We only lose eight players off this roster for next year and we have a great junior class and a great sophomore class and we believe in this freshman class as well,” the head coach said on Thursday. “That bodes well for us in the future. We only lose eight guys. We feel very good about where we’re at the next couple of years.”

Only eight players remain on the Cats’ roster that were brought in by the former staff of Joker Phillips, including Alvonte Bell, who attended junior college before being re-recruited and signed by Stoops.

There’s also kicker Austin MacGinnis, nickelback Blake McClain, offensive linemen Ramsey Meyers and Zach Myers, center Jon Toth, defensive tackle Jacob Hyde and cornerback J.D. Harmon, who walked on.

An Ohio takeover?

The Kentucky media guide has an interesting breakdown of players on the roster and their home states. It’s clear just how much of an influence Ohio (and Vince Marrow) have had on UK’s personnel in the past few seasons.

On the full roster (which includes walk-ons via the media guide breakdown), there are more players from the state of Ohio (35) than there are from the state of Kentucky (32).

All of the other represented states and Washington, D.C., combined equal 47 players — Alabama (4), Arizona (1), California (1), Colorado (1), Florida (16), Georgia (11), Indiana (1), Maryland (2), Mississippi (1), New Jersey (1), North Carolina (2), South Carolina (2), Tennessee (2) and Washington, D.C. (2).

Those crazy Cats

One of my favorite pastimes in the offseason is flipping through the UK media guide looking for tidbits about players that could one day turn into stories.

This season is full of funny, bizarre, interesting bits of information. Here are some of my favorites …

▪  Help wanted: Some UK players will make it into the NFL, others have backup plans in case they don’t. Wide receiver Jeff Badet ponders a job in the fashion industry and perhaps one day he could team up with freshman linebacker Jaylin Bannerman, who plans his own fashion line and can sew. Maybe together, they can work with defensive lineman Ja’Quize Cross, who plans to own his own shoe store one day and likes to customize shoes.

Sophomore cornerback Chris Westry has plans to work for Google one day.

Transfer linebacker Spencer Foy, from Louisville St. Xavier, dreams of being an astronaut. Apparently so does Drake Jackson, from Woodford County, who lists that as something he would be doing if he wasn’t playing football.

If tight end C.J Conrad can’t be a tight end in the NFL, he’s happy to play the sports agent of one: Rob Gronkowski.

If your marriage is in trouble one day, cornerback Derrick Baity might be the one to save it as a couples counselor.

Walk-on linebacker Logan Blue wants to be in Congress and perhaps one day could be running mates with true freshman Zy’Aire Hughes, who aspires to be president.

▪  Oh, really: New offensive tackle Landon Young is learning to play the banjo. Perhaps he can play for linebacker Jamar Watson, who says he can tap dance. Is that why his nickname is “Boogie”?

Need your car fixed? Check with defensive lineman Regie Meant. Need your stadium designed one day? That’s the plan of walk-on quarterback Davis Mattingly. Need to relax? Defensive lineman Alvonte Bell wants to own his own massage and therapy clinic and also could help you calm down by playing his saxophone.

There are other fascinating skills that include Jacob Hyde‘s ability to wiggle his ears and turn cartwheels, but running back A.J. Rose can top that by doing back flips.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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