UK Football

Kentucky coaches starting to see signs of vocal leadership

Football Team on Media Day

The UK football team gathered for a group photo and interacted with the press during football media day 2016 at Commonwealth Stadium.
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The UK football team gathered for a group photo and interacted with the press during football media day 2016 at Commonwealth Stadium.

There was no long, drawn out opening statement to start Kentucky’s annual Media Day.

Instead, Coach Mark Stoops put his cup of coffee down on the table and told the crowded media room to fire away.

“I’m done with the talking season,” the fourth-year head coach grinned. “We’re ready for practice one. I can’t wait to get out there.”

His opening speech to his full team on Thursday night in the new, $45 million practice facility apparently was a bit more stirring.

“If you weren’t excited and you didn’t have goose bumps then you don’t need to be in this sport,” new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “You just didn’t need to be in there, because I was at the edge of my seat. I was ready to go.”

The talking season has ended and fall camp has started, but there was one extra chat on Thursday night that had Stoops feeling better about the direction of the program and the leadership moving forward.

A few of the players asked the coaches to leave when the meeting wrapped up so that they could talk among themselves.

“They just wanted to talk to each other before camp started, before issues arose,” Stoops said of the meeting, which he said he didn’t want to make too big of a deal about. “I love that. That’s the kind of leadership we need.

“Sometimes when you walk into a locker room, we’re not playing as well as we should at halftime, you need guys to be able to jump up and push the right buttons.”

Football head coach Mark Stoops answered questions during a press conference at UK's 2016 football media day at Commonwealth Stadium.

Linebacker Courtney Love, who has assumed at least a partial leadership role on the defense, said that private chat was a good way to get camp going.

“It’s very important that we come together and really set the tone for what we wanted to achieve this season,” he said.

“Sometimes there’s a little bit of a divide between offense and defense, but last night we talked about supporting each other.”

Quarterback Drew Barker said it wasn’t some magical, special, season healing event, but he said the players’ only talk was a positive.

“It was stuff we’ve been saying all summer, all offseason, it was just a good time the night before camp started to make sure everyone was locked in and get on the same page,” Barker said.

“It wasn’t really anything different, it was just everyone was in there as a team and we decided it was a good time to get fired up for camp.”

Kentucky starting quarterback Drew Barker said on Media Day he's not worried about the pressure to produce.

The good vibes from that carried over into the weight room on Friday morning where the full team worked out together, which was something that they couldn’t do in the smaller space at the old facility.

“It was good for all of us to be together,” tight end C.J. Conrad said. “The energy right now is really high.”

Just ask Gran.

“It’s real, it’s time,” the offensive coordinator continued. “You just don’t need to talk about it anymore. At the end of the day we gotta go take care of business, and I’m old school that way.”

Bonner on campus

Junior college linebacker Jordan Bonner officially made it to campus and is “ready to go,” Stoops said. “He’s only been here a few days. We’ll get out there today and see what kind of shape he’s in.”

Bonner was scheduled to arrive on campus in June to start summer workouts, but he had to finish up some class work to gain eligibility. He was set back after being stabbed in the offseason during a domestic dispute.

Dorian Baker, Kentucky's leading receiver last year, was asked on Media Day what he will be working on this fall.

“We wish we had him here all summer to put some weight on him,” Stoops added of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound player who is penciled in at third-string outside linebacker. “It is good. He’s here day one. He hasn’t missed much. We’ll see what he can do.”

Junior college players don’t generally have as steep of a learning curve as players out of high school, which likely will make the transition less difficult for him, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. Bonner played a similar position at his junior college.

“He’ll be a little bit further along technique wise,” Eliot said. “We just have to catch him up on some of the assignments.”

▪  As for the rest of the players, Stoops said UK is at full strength with the exception of wide out Alexander Montgomery, who is still coming back from knee surgery. Stoops said the junior is “close, but will not start camp with us in the 105.”

‘Embrace that history’

As camp kicks off this weekend, Kentucky also will be bringing back some old familiar faces, with more than 125 former players and their families returning to campus.

“They’re going to come in and see the new facilities, have lunch with our players tomorrow,” Stoops said of the visitors, who will tour the new practice facility.

“I’m very proud of the building,” the coach continued. “One of the aspects of the building we don’t touch on a lot is the history we’ve really tried to embrace and bring back.

“We appreciate all the past players, all their efforts, the past teams, the winning teams, the coaches that have done so well. We’ve really tried to embrace that history. We have those players coming back tonight. We want to welcome them. It will be a fun weekend.”

Former Lafayette star Landon Young said on Media Day he thinks playing for UK does mean more to players from Kentucky.

Kentucky has Fan Day scheduled on Saturday with an autograph session at the indoor facility at 9 a.m. and an open practice on the new fields shortly after.

Other news, notes

Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot was asked if it was a benefit, a distraction or something else preparing to face former Cats offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson in the season opener.

Dawson, who was fired after one season at UK, is the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles will play UK at Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 3.

It hasn’t been a distraction, but as much as it is an advantage it could be a disadvantage because I’m comfortable in what he does but he’s comfortable in what I do, too,” Eliot said of Dawson.

Kentucky nose tackle Matt Elam talks on Media Day about now being the starter at his position.

▪  Sophomore running back Sihiem King wasn’t at Media Day (or in team photo) after his grandmother passed away, a team spokesman confirmed to the Herald-Leader.

Backup quarterback Stephen Johnson, a junior college transfer, said on Media Day his goal is to be Kentucky's starting quarterback. He's currently behind Drew Barker.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

2016 schedule

(Home games in caps)

Sept. 3 — SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI

Sept. 10 — At Florida

Sept. 17 — NEW MEXICO STATE

Sept. 24 — SOUTH CAROLINA

Oct. 1 — At Alabama

Oct. 8 VANDERBILT

Oct. 22 — MISSISSIPPI STATE

Oct. 29 — At Missouri

Nov. 5 — GEORGIA

Nov. 12 — At Tennessee

Nov. 19 AUSTIN PEAY

Nov. 26 — At Louisville

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