Friday was not your typical Kentucky football Media Day, not when head coach Mark Stoops announced sophomore defensive lineman Josh Paschal has been diagnosed with a malignant melanoma and offensive line coach John Schlarman is also dealing with a health issue.
The news cast a pall over the usually sunny proceedings, a pall that hung in the air until finally, almost grudgingly, the questions turned to the normal media day topics of strengths, weaknesses, projections, expectations and, oh yeah, the quarterbacks.
Kentucky doesn’t have one. Not a starting quarterback, anyway. Not yet. Stephen Johnson has graduated, leaving a leadership hole at what most consider the sport’s most important spot.
In alphabetical order, Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson are the top two candidates to fill Johnson’s sizable shoes. Both are sophomores. Neither has taken a snap in a Division I college football game. While the quarterback mystery has dominated UK’s offseason, we had not heard from either contender this summer. Until Friday.
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So during player interviews at Kroger Field, someone asked Hoak what’s the biggest advantage he takes into the competition?
“Advantage? I don’t know,” said the Dublin, Ohio, native. “I guess that I’ve been here for this is my third season. I can’t believe it, but being here for all that time with Coach (Eddie) Gran and Coach (Darrin) Hinshaw, knowing those guys, knowing the offense.”
If untested in actual game action, Hoak is a veteran in the locker room. He has spent two years in the system with Gran, his coordinator, and Hinshaw, his quarterbacks coach. He redshirted as a rookie in 2016, starred in the 2017 Blue-White Spring Game, then backed up Johnson and Drew Barker last season. Hoak didn’t play, but he was always there, in meetings, watching film, taking practice reps.
Another Hoak question: Do you feel like this is your time?
“Definitely,” he said. “You start at the bottom, you work your way up. I definitely feel like I’ve got to come into camp, show out and get ready for time.”
OK, Terry Wilson, what’s your biggest advantage coming into the competition?
“I wouldn’t say advantage,” Wilson said. “Just doing what the coaches ask from me.”
Wilson arrived before spring ball via junior college after starting out as an Oregon Duck. Highly recruited, he was considered a coup when his Cats commitment finally came. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has the ability to play the position. What he lacks, right now, is the experience and knowledge of the system.
Thus the Oklahoma native said he has spent his summer in the film room studying, on the practice field throwing to receivers and in the weight room working out on a regular basis with star running back Benny Snell.
“He pushes me,” said Wilson, “and I like to think I push him, too.”
Fall focus? Hoak said he wants to work on getting faster, getting his footwork down right and keeping his eyes downfield. Wilson said he wants to focus on making the right reads and being a leader.
“I really can’t overthink all of this,” Wilson said. “I’ve just got to go out there and have fun and play ball. When you’re in the game, you’re just playing ball.”
Who will get the ball first? As they’ve done during the various media stops leading up to the start of practice, Stoops and Gran both gave no indication Friday as to when they might pick a starter, or if they will before the opener on Sept. 1 against Central Michigan.
“You never know how it’s going to play out,” Stoops said.
Meanwhile, Wilson and Hoak each said they’ve tried not to pay much attention to the offseason debate.
“I don’t look at what all the media’s saying,” Hoak said. “That’s not my type of thing.”
Someone asked Wilson what he has to do to win the job.
“Do what I do,” he said.
That about sums it up. Now the talking stops and the doing starts.
Kentucky football 2018 schedule