I had the privilege of covering my first and Mark Stoops’ second annual UK Football Women’s Clinic yesterday. As always, the BBN was out in force with over 300 ladies in attendance. I am never surprised by UK’s fans attendance to events, but it’s always fun to see just how passionate our fan base is. Not only are we passionate, but I believe the BBN is also full of really nice people and everyone is always great to talk to at events like this one.
The morning started off with Stoops giving opening comments and getting everyone ready for the season (as if we weren’t already). “The first year, as you all know was tough. It really tough to build a team in this league but we’re very excited for what’s to come,” Stoops said. Stoops introduced his entire staff and next was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Neal Brown’s turn with the mic. Brown explained our offense (Air raid, spread), showed some plays, bragged on his QB’s improvement since last season and taught the women some hand signals they use on the sidelines as well. After Brown spoke, he gave each of the offensive coaches (Chad Scott, John Schlarman, Vince Marrow, and Tommy Mainord) time to explain what position they coach and who those players are/what they do. Next was our newest coach, Craig Naivar, explaining special teams to the ladies of the BBN. He also got an entire room of women to chant, “On three, on me, GET SOME!” which was a clinic highlight if I do say so myself. Next at the podium was DJ Eliot, giving the defensive version of Neal Brown’s speech, followed by his staff (Derick Ansley & Jimmy Brumbaugh). After the ladies were served breakfast and had the plays and positions explained to them as well as introductions on the coaches and players, the High Performance Coordinator, Erik Korem, the team dietitian, Monica Fowler, and the director of the UK Athletics Impact Leadership Program, Jason Cummins all spoke on the new strength and conditioning program, training table and perfecting the leadership skills of the athletes.
All of the coaches talked about their families (there are 37 children between the coaches and #38 on the way!) and were not shy about bragging on each other either. They stressed that the staff and their families were all one big family. Following the staff, the coaches wives all took the stage to introduce themselves and answer a few questions. They all agreed with their husbands that the football program is one big family. Chantal Stoops said the family environment is crucial to recruiting because the recruits and their families see the bond is genuine. She jokingly said they act like family and said they had over 100 people to their house for a recruit dinner and ended up with three broken toilets. The wives said they like to get to know the recruits and their families during visits and dinners at restaurants and their homes.
The next segment was probably the fan favorite, the player introductions and uniform demonstration (which is a fancy word for football fashion show). The whole team wasn’t able to make it, but participants included Melvin Lewis, Nate Willis, JD Harmon, Rashaad Cunningham, Jason Hatcher, Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson, Jojo Kemp, Za’Darius Smith, Bud Dupree, Ashley Lowery, Javess Blue, Boom Williams, Reggie Meant, Nico Frios, Rodney Cox, Jacob Hyde, Bunchy Stallings, Josh Krok, Miles Butler, Patrick Towles, Austin McGinnis, Cameron Fogle, and Reese Phillips. The players showed off their uniforms and assisted the coaches in showing the women some of their drills. The women also had the opportunity to tour Commonwealth Stadium in the midst of renovations. During tours all the athletes and coaches were available for photos and autographs. Following this Stoops concluded with a speech and a #WhyNot hype video.
The Big Blue Nation has always had a reputation for having an incredible home presence, but they’re also known for traveling well to away games. I met a group of ladies who actually tailgated the women’s clinic. They brought their RV’s from their homes all around the Commonwealth on Friday and set up in the lot across from Commonwealth Stadium. They left the husbands Saturday morning to enjoy some UK football. These women belong to a group called the “Road Cats”, never heard of them? Me either, but they’re pretty cool. They’ve been an official group since the 1999 season, but were UK faithfuls long before that. The Road Cats are present at every home UK game and represented at all away games as well, but try to get as many from the group as possible to one road game together. Last season they took TWENTY RV’s down to Nashville for the opener against WKU- they’re planning to convoy down to Baton Rouge this season. So I had to ask about how many belonged to this group, they didn’t have an exact number but the women guessed somewhere around 68 RV’s, which is about 120 couples plus kids and grandchildren from around the state. They said their tailgates easily reach 300 people for conference home games (wow). These ladies pictured started coming to the annual women’s clinic back in the Rich Brooks days and they had been to about 7. A fun fact about the Road Cats: each season they have a silent auction at a game and give an award to two of the student football trainers.
I got to talk to women of all ages from all around the Commonwealth and got to meet some of my Twitter followers as well. Not only did we learn about offenses, defenses and 3-point stances- we also learned Za’Darius Smith is not only a great DE, but also a selfie-king.
Overall I was very impressed by the women’s clinic; I’m a huge advocate for women sports fans/women in sports in general and I think this was a great way not only for the ladies to interact with the team and staff, but to learn a little about this game we all love. It also got me (and Big Z) very excited for kickoff.