Stoops: Cats full of energy ahead of TaxSlayer Bowl
It was a typical Kentucky practice in an atypical place.
In preparation for the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia Tech on Saturday, the Cats had their second practice at North Florida University where they spread out across three fields for almost two hours.
The surrounding campus, which was almost empty on Tuesday, has some interesting attractions, including the Sawmill Slough Preserve, a wetland habitat that features a lot of geese and waterfowl nearby.
“It was good and hot out here,” Coach Mark Stoops said after practice. “The guys got a good sweat. Full of energy as you can tell here at the end of practice, so it’s been good. Our focus has been good and we need to continue to do that. We’ll have another good day’s work tomorrow.”
There also was more than a little bit of fun throughout the afternoon, which included a couple of impromptu foot races — including between coaches — after practice.
The team lined up about 40 yards to form a gauntlet of sorts and special teams coach Matt House sprinted against Dan Berezowitz, UK’s director of recruiting operations.
“Coach Brez is always talking smack, so I was behind Coach House,” tight end C.J. Conrad said of the race, eventually won by House.
There was another side race as reporters were talking with players after practice between wide out Dorian Baker and cornerback Chris Westry. Westry appeared to win.
“We’ve done a bunch of competition kind of stuff,” Conrad continued. “I guess it’s a little more laid back. It’s also a business like mentality as well. … We have things we get to do that are fun but when we get out here for two hours, it’s time to have fun and lock in.”
▪ The fun on Tuesday was a continuation of the Cats’ trip the night before to Dave and Buster’s where they ate buffet dinners and played arcade games for hours.
There were plenty of debates between players on who was the best at what game and who will be the best at the Top Golf entertainment excursion planned for the team on Thursday after practice.
While there was some healthy competition, there also was a bit of teamwork at the restaurant on Monday night. Linebacker Kash Daniel, fullback Will Tom Collins and Conrad pooled their points at the end of the night and got a remote-controlled truck that they’ve been driving around the hotel.
▪ Several of Kentucky’s players who have been injured for some or part of the season are in Florida with the team for the bowl fun, including linebackers De’Niro Laster (knee) and Kobie Walker (shoulder), wide receivers Alex Montgomery (knee) and Kayaune Ross. Most were doing various forms of rehab during the nearly two-hour practice.
Quarterback Drew Barker, who suffered a season-ending back injury three games into the season, spent the first part of the practice power walking around the track surrounding the practice field. The speedy walking is part of his rehab after surgery. Each time Barker would circle around, some of his teammates, offered some good-natured ribbing about his stride. Eventually, UK’s leadership guru Jason Cummins joined Barker on his journey around the field.
▪ Every player made the trip and arrived to Jacksonville safely, Stoops confirmed on Tuesday and he expects the team to be at full strength for Saturday’s bowl game even though a couple of players were in red, no-contact jerseys. “They had some, a procedure done, but they’ll be good,” Stoops said.
▪ Today’s link: My look at Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson and his ability to throw the deep ball and why UK is having so much success with those big plays.