Published August 4, 2011 - 8:45pm
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The University of Kentucky’s 2010 football season felt like a disappointment. A season which included a 25th consecutive loss to Florida, a 26th consecutive loss to Tennessee and a 27-10 shellacking at the hands’ of Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, felt like a disappointment. The program’s first losing season since the senior class stepped foot on campus four years ago felt like a disappointment.
But Thursday, the Wildcats turned the page with the start of their preseason camp. Veterans arrived prepared to work hard toward a successful 2011, and a plethora of new faces arrived on campus for the first time, seeking to lay the foundation that second-year UK head football coach Joker Phillips hopes will take his team to the top of the SEC.
“I’m really excited. It’s my last year to really make a change on the program, to try to get us to a little bit of a better season than we have been,” said senior defensive back Anthony Mosley. “I’m really excited just to get started and get better for the season.”
Long forgotten are the days when a 4-8 record was enough to tide Big Blue Nation over until basketball season began. The Wildcats have reached six consecutive bowl games under Phillips and former UK head football coach Rich Brooks. But with great success comes great expectations, expectations that the Cats seemingly fell short of a year ago.
Add in the departure of the team’s starting quarterback, running back, fullback and top two receivers, as well as a brand new defensive scheme brought in by new UK co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter, and you have a Wildcats squad that is hungry to establish a new identity.
“We had the (defensive) films that they were supposed to be watching, and now it’s time to go in and see if everybody was doing what they were supposed to be doing, which I’m pretty sure they have been,” said senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed, a vocal leader on UK’s defense. “It’s just time to put everything to the test.
“Really we try to scare the young guys. You know, ‘You may not make it out man, you might not make it out, so you better come prepared.’ We try to shake them up a little bit. But in all honesty, you just tell them it’s time to work hard and learn this defense.”
The core of veterans on the offensive side of the ball also assumed their leadership roles on day one of camp, including junior La’Rod King, who has more career catches than any other wide receiver on UK’s roster with 46 in two years.
“Camp determines whether you are ready for the season or not. You can talk all the stuff you want to now, but once you put pads on and get hit for the first time it’s like ‘Oh, okay, I know where I’m playing now. I’m playing in the SEC.’ “I take what I learned from Randall (Cobb, now of the Green Bay Packers) and Chris (Matthews) and those veteran guys last year and just apply it to the freshmen now, and just take the same steps that Randall took me in. It’s really just follow and repeat. A lot of guys are on board as a team, and a lot of the young guys, they are hungry, so we are going to see who is ready to play and who is not.”
But when asked what the biggest challenge was going into camp, the players were unanimous.
“It’s the heat, definitely the heat,” King said. “My cleats molded to the turf last year, I couldn’t move.”
“The only thing that you can never beat anywhere in the country is the heat,” Mosley said. “It’s just really hot. Sometimes you get a little more frustrated because of the heat, you get a little bit more fatigued than you normally would. That may be the only downfall.”
Well, almost unanimous.
“Me being from Georgia, the heat up here feels like fall, so this is not that bad for me,” said sophomore wide receiver Brian Adams. “It’s about 100 down there in Georgia right now so it’s not bad at all and I just have a good time with it.”