Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky-Tennessee football includes a (social media) battle of the brothers

When Kentucky plays traditional college football rival Tennessee on Saturday night at Kroger Field, it really will be brother versus brother.

In this case, the Bollinger brothers.

But instead of the battle being on the field, it’ll be on the internet.

You see, Clay Bollinger is the director of recruiting content for the Tennessee football program, the man responsible for handling social media and graphics for Jeremy Pruitt’s recruiting efforts. And Clay’s brother Cole is a student assistant in the UK Athletics media relations department, the man who Saturday along with Jake Most will be live-tweeting from the UK football Twitter account.

“I can’t imagine there’s another situation like this,” said Cole on Thursday.

Probably not.

“It’s really pretty cool when you think about it,” said Clay.

Actually it is, and it all started back at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, where Clay began a popular St. X sports blog. Upon graduation in 2013, Clay joined the UK football program as a manager — “Tom Kalinowski is the greatest of all time, in my opinion,” he said Thursday of the Cats’ longtime equipment manager — until recruiting director Dan Berezowitz saw a graphic made by Clay and asked him to join his staff.

Clay started the “Stoops Troops” account and worked on the UK football Twitter account. Upon graduating from UK in 2017, Clay was hired to join the creative solutions staff at Clemson, where he worked with football — “Dabo (Swinney) is really as genuine as he seems” — and learned from a cutting-edge social media and graphics staff.

That led to an interview with new Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, who convinced Clay, who grew up a Kentucky fan, to move to Knoxville and help build a program.

“I’m definitely still getting used to wearing orange,” said Clay. “It’s great from a professional and job standpoint. I absolutely love it.”

Meanwhile, little brother Cole graduated from St. Xavier in 2016 and following his big brother Clay’s example decided to be a manager, as well. Only this time it was at Missouri, where Cole was a journalism major and spent a year with Kim Anderson then half of a year with Cuonzo Martin before deciding to transfer to Kentucky and work in public relations.

After beginning as an intern, he’s now the main media contact for UK rifle and helps out with UK golf. He’s also the student assistant for social media for UK basketball and football. “When I first moved here it was like, ‘Oh, it’s Clay’s little brother,’” said Cole. “Especially around (football). They know me from that.”

Last year, when Kentucky played Tennessee in Knoxville, Clay got to see his old friends on the UK staff

“I spent the two hours before the game hugging and high-fiving everybody,” he said. “Kash Daniel was one of the first ones to meet me at midfield. And Brez. And Coach (Mark) Stoops came up and gave me a hug.”

Meanwhile, the Bollinger family from Kentucky made the trip over the border with split loyalties.

“Last year, my grandparents went, my parents went, bunch of our cousins went down to the game for UK-Tennessee,” said Cole. “My mom (Jana) wore blue and orange. Even my grandparents, who are diehard UK fans, they’ll cheer for Tennessee when they’re not playing UK.”

During the game, Clay was on the Tennessee sideline gathering content for recruiting. And Cole was on the Kentucky sideline, gathering information to send to the UK media relations staff. “It was just a cool time,” said Cole.

So now it’s time for the rematch.

“I’m playing for a bowl check,” said Clay, who adds he can’t wait to see his old friends at Kroger Field.

But did the Bollinger brothers cut off contact with each other during game week? Don’t want to give out any secrets the other side might use, you know. No fraternizing?

“Oh, no, I’ve texted him all week,” said Cole of his only sibling. “We’re pretty close. We talk all the time. It’s friendly banter back and forth. He won’t let me forget about (Tennessee’s 24-7 win) last year, though.”

So you need a Kentucky win to get him back?

“For sure,” said Cole.


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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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