Friday morning’s scene in the Kroger Field Media Room was different than years past. Every seat was taken and the standing room was nearly at capacity as well. That’s what happens when you win 10 games, including a New Year’s Day bowl. The media flocks to hear what the coaches and players have to say on Media Day.
For Coach Mark Stoops, it was simple: “It’s an exciting time, I think each year my appreciation for the team, the whole process and getting ready for the season. It grows and it’s a real challenge. But that’s what makes it exciting. We’re really looking forward to it. Ready to get going. “
Stoops noted he felt the same way going into this season as he did last year in spite of losing some enormous talent (Josh Allen, Benny Snell, Jr., Mike Edwards, C.J. Conrad, among others). As the coach said, “We have to have the mentality of the next man up.” Stoops also shared how hard the team had been working and that it started as soon as they returned from their bowl game in January. Now the players know exactly how much work is necessary to be successful and last season proved they can be successful.
For more of Coach Stoops’ press conference, you can watch this video (apologies for the abrupt ending due to my technical difficulties!):
Next up was Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran. He fielded the expected questions about Terry Wilson’s improvement, how they can replace Benny Snell, how the wide receivers are looking among other general questions. Perhaps the best part of Gran’s time on the podium was when he explained his offensive philosophy:
“This offensive philosophy is about your personnel. I learned more in 35 years of coaching after my first year here. You can remember in ’16, come from Cincinnati, we’re fourth in the country, throwing it all over the place. That was who we had personnel-wise. We came here, (former quarterback) Drew Barker that first game, we’re throwing it. We had the guys around him. We felt like he had the arm to get it done. He got hurt. We had to do something. Personnel-wise where were we? Our offensive line was really good. Had some really good backs, tight ends. We had a new quarterback. We got into this Wildcat formation, and we tried every week to build around that package. People hadn’t seen it. We ended up with two 1,000-yard rushers. There was a point in there about two or three games, they said, ‘Where did this fool come from? Then we ripped off six games, then you become a hero. You’re smart again. I learned more that year about humility. It’s about team. It’s about wins. Is it not still about winning the game? The only thing I could have done last year is screw it up. That’s it. We have a brand-new quarterback. We could run the ball. We had a great defense. We played great special teams. If I go back there and I want to rip it around because I want statistics? I wouldn’t be here right now because that wouldn’t have been very smart. So, we’re going to find out the personality of this team, see what Terry (Wilson) can do, build around our quarterbacks, go from there. It doesn’t matter, the bottom line is win the game.”
Not surprisingly, Defensive Coordinator, Brad White was asked about replacing Josh Allen (“You can’t”), the season-ending injury to Davonte Robinson and what that will mean for UK’s secondary, and what will the linebacker situation look like. The theme that was consistent today was “next man up” which applies especially to the defense this season.
“There are some guys as you start the pre-season, you have to have a depth chart. It’s in pencil. That could change daily. It could change weekly. It can change as the scrimmages come. When the lights go on, it’s one thing to do it in practice, it’s another thing to do it in a scrimmage because it’s a heightened sense of urgency. At the end of the day, when it goes to game time, it’s an entirely different level. You may see throughout the season some things get shuffled around. We’ll find the best 11. It may not be the same 11 in every personnel group. We’re going to find in the right situation. We’ve talked to our guys all the time, find a spot, find a role on this team. Carve it out, find your niche, then become a master at that role. If you become a master at that role, you gain confidence in your teammates and coaching staff, you’ll see your role expand.”
As for the players, they are excited about the upcoming season. Last year, I noted the air of confidence that the players carried with them. This year, that confidence is still there, but it’s been joined by a sense of greater focus than I’ve seen in years past. I talked to several players (a mix of offensive and defensive) and asked them the same 2 questions. 1. What is the biggest lesson you learned from last season? 2. Does it bother you that the SEC and national media still doesn’t give Kentucky Football any respect?
The answers I got from every player were essentially the same. The lesson they learned from last season was how much hard work was required in order to be successful. You don’t take plays off, and you don’t take the off-season “off.” Working hard in the months after the bowl game best prepares them for being the best they can be in September.
And are they bothered by the lack of respect given to their team? Most of them actually laughed when asked this question and all said it was just more motivation to remain focused and work harder. Perhaps Lynn Bowden summed it up best when he said, “It’s ok if they don’t talk about us now. We want them to talk about us at the end of the season. And they will.
And that’s a wrap from the 2019 Kentucky Football Media Day. Now we just have to wait 4 weekends for the season to begin!
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