By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though the Southeastern Conference has football games scheduled for Dec. 12 and Dec. 19, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says as far as he knows his team would not be allowed to practice next week after it finishes its season tonight against South Carolina.
“I think my players would shoot me if I asked them to come in on Monday. Jon (Hale of the Courier-Journal), you have a heart in there, don’t you,” Stoops laughed and said after Hale’s question about practice.
“These guys have been here since June, locked up in their room and going to school. I mean, it’s been rough on them. I have to work no matter what, but my players, they need a break.”
That could factor into what decision UK makes about accepting a bowl bid if one is offered — and there’s no doubt UK would be offered if it beats South Carolina and probably will be even if it loses to finish 3-7.
Stoops admits the extra practice time would benefit his team if it played in a bowl but says there’s more involved in the decision.
“My players’ mental health and well being and physical well being is also very much at the forefront of my thinking,” the coach said.
What about his mental well being? He’s been through as much, or more, than his players?
“I will be alright. I have been through more difficult times than this,” Stoops said Thursday. “It is what it is. There is no issue there. It is tough but I would venture to guess it (COVID-19) has been difficult on every person in the world. I don’t need any extra pats on the back or sympathy here.”
The Cats were pounded the last two weeks by unbeaten Alabama and Florida, the SEC East leader. However, Stoops liked the energy and focus this week in practice even with players also having to take final exams.
Seniors will be playing their final game at Kroger Field unless some opt to come back next year, something Stoops says he has not discussed yet.
“I talk to them every day. They know how I feel about them. Special group and have done an awful lot for our program. Extremely close to all of them and just grateful for them,” Stoops said.