BY LARRY VAUGHT
Receiver Keenan Burton admits now he didn’t truly appreciate what was happening when he was part of three straight Kentucky teams that won bowl games from 2006-08 for coach Rich Brooks.
“We knew if we put it all together we could be special. But we never really saw it all put together until it just kind of unfolded,” Burton, who was one of about 100 players back at UK last weekend for a reunion of those bowl teams, said. “But that was coach Brooks’ plan the whole time. You look up and we had five wins, then we were going to a bowl for the first time in a long time. Then you see it. I think I just needed time to pass to realize what we did.”
That’s the type of message Burton and others shared with the current Cats before they went out and rallied for a 29-26 win over Tennessee — something no Brooks’ team could do in seven years at UK.
“I think this win means a lot as far as getting the program back on the right track and in consistent bowl games,” senior linebacker Courtney Love said. “Having all those former players back definitely added more fuel. Those guys want to see us win and be better than what they were — and they were pretty god.
“We want to follow in their footsteps and just be better. That’s something they really preached to us. They want us to be better and break their records and go out and be the best team Kentucky has seen in a while. I think that is just phenomenal. It speaks to how good their character is.”
Love is a special student-athlete. No surprise to me that the passion of the former UK players resonated with him.
But what about his teammates? How did they view what the former Cats had to say?
“Everybody bought in and understood what they were talking about. It’s just amazing to listen to them and what they could teach us,” Love said.
The late touchdown drive led by quarterback Stephen Johnson after he returned to the game following a shoulder injury changed the whole view of UK football. If the Cats had lost to Tennessee, the fan base would have been disillusioned. Now UK was bowl eligible in October.
“It gets us going back in the direction we started out. Last week (against Mississippi State) was definitely a bump in the road and we responded. Coach told us it wasn’t pretty but we kept going and playing. It was an awesome experience beating Tennessee and sets up the rest of the season,” Love said.