I’ve been a UK Football fan for a long time, dating back to the days when Fran Curci was coaching the Cats. The first year I really paid attention to Kentucky Football was 1976. My older brother was a freshman at UK and a member of the UK Marching Band. Naturally, I had to watch games whenever possible, hoping to catch a glimpse of him playing his trombone. The Cats won the SEC that year and, as I was accustomed to success with our basketball program, I assumed our football team would be equally successful. Needless to say, my assumption was horribly incorrect.
Year after year passed, with one disappointment after another. I was a faithful member of the Fellowship of the Miserable. Through Claiborne, Curry, Mumme, Morriss and Brooks, I managed to keep a small glimmer of hope alive inside. So many times we were teased with moments of promise, and fans could almost believe that UK would finally break free of the “Bear Bryant Curse” and once again, rise to the top of the SEC. But after Brooks had built the Cats into a very respectable program that had winning seasons, Joker Phillips managed to fumble away all the progress, dragging UK back to the SEC cellar.
But now, at long last, Kentucky fans are once again filled with promise and hope as we watch the Stoops era unfold. Coach Mark Stoops arrived 3 years ago and hit the ground running with recruiting as well as tackling the seemingly impossible task of changing the nation’s, and the BBN’s perception of Kentucky Football. The slick production videos and catchy phrases were not just window dressing. Suddenly, Kentucky was competing for 4- and 5-star recruits with schools like Alabama and Ohio State. Recruits were paying attention to the question asked by the Kentucky Football staff — Why not Kentucky?
However, even with the new staff and the dramatic increase in talent signing with the Cats, there are still many fans that are not yet “All In” for UK Football. And that’s completely understandable. We’ve sat on top of the mountain of hope countless times, only to be pushed back down to the ground harshly. When we see positive things begin to happen, we collectively hold our breath waiting for imminent disaster. Without question, life as a faithful Kentucky Football fan is not easy nor for the weak of heart. All that being said though, I have taken the leap of faith (again) and I am definitely All In for the Cats this year.
One only has to listen to Coach Mark Stoops speak to begin to believe wholeheartedly in the future of the Cats. His passion and commitment to the program makes me believe he will not stop until he has indeed built this program into a perennial contender in the SEC. He ignores the history and “the curse”, focusing instead on bringing in the best talent. He impresses on his players the importance of believing they can win. These sound like traits that should be taken for granted, yet they haven’t always been present at Kentucky.
Further supporting my choice to be All In is new Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson. I was a bit concerned when Neal Brown left the staff, but Stoops made an excellent choice in securing Dawson to fill Brown’s position. Dawson forever endeared himself to me at the Women’s Clinic on July 25th when he was asked about the Wildcat formation and how much we could expect to see that used this season. He replied simply that he just wasn’t that familiar with it and would be running other plays. (Yes, I know the Wildcat formation was highly successful against USC last season, but it definitely got overused and became virtually ineffective the last few weeks of the season).
You’re still not All In? Well, have you happened to look at our players lately? I mean really look at them? This is not your daddy’s UK football team. These guys are bigger, stronger and faster collectively than any team I’ve ever seen at Kentucky. While we definitely lost some tremendous talent on defense when Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith completed their senior seasons last year, we have a lot of new talent starting this year. All reports from practices have been extremely encouraging and I expect to see a sharp improvement in our team defense this season.
Still not buying it? Then how about having a much more favorable schedule this year complete with 8 home games, one of which is Louisville. Oh, and there’s that small detail about the stadium. You may have heard that CWS has been renovated and is now being billed as “The New Commonwealth Stadium.” Believe me when I tell you that the pictures you may have seen do not do it justice. Having had the pleasure of walking onto the field when attending the Women’s Clinic, I can tell you it feels like a brand new place. The field is gorgeous, the newly painted seats are striking and everything just feels shiny and new. Yes, last year with the construction mess, it was annoying, inconvenient and frustrating. But that is the past, so let us embrace the present. The UK Athletics Department is going all out on September 5th to ring in the new stadium and I can’t imagine missing this day for anything.
This is the season when I believe we will see true progress for the Cats. I firmly believe we will achieve the 6 victories necessary to get a bid to a post-season bowl game. I also believe we will see constant and marked improvement in our team — athletically and mentally. I believe in Coach Stoops and his staff. I believe in these players. I believe in Kentucky. I am All In.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue