Kentucky Wildcats Football players report today and practice for the 2014 season starts tomorrow. To help get us prepared for the season, the UKAA’s Guy Ramsey files this report on the week to follow and what to look for.
Improved leadership, accountability have Stoops fired up for fall camp
By Guy Ramsey, UK Athletics
Mark Stoops knew this offseason was an important one.
Through his debut season at Kentucky, he coached a group that was almost always competitive, but clearly had a long road ahead to become the team he was brought to Lexington to build.
“That first year, there’s so much to change in the culture, creating that culture that you want,” Stoops said at Friday’s annual Kickoff Luncheon. “You learn from that first year and you go back in the offseason and say, ‘Where do we need to improve?’ There’s a lot of areas we needed to improve. We know that.”
Stoops had little trouble identifying a priority.
“We started with leadership and we started with accountability,” Stoops said. “That’s where we’ve made drastic improvements. This team has a better attitude. They have a tougher mentality. It starts there and then it goes into physical.”
Perhaps no two players better exemplify that leadership development than Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. Standout performers on the field a year ago, the two defensive ends have become much more as they prepare for their senior year.
“Bud and Za’Darius are not only great players but they’re great leaders,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “They’re veteran players now. Both of them, first year in the system, were learning what to do and developing themselves, and now they’ve taken that role on where they can develop others.”
Dupree and Smith have always been blessed with exceptional physical gifts, but their growth both on and off the field is exactly what Stoops means by the words that have become one of his signature phrases.
“You hear me talk about it all the time: Recruit, recruit, recruit – and develop,” Stoops said. “We can’t just bring talented players into our program and stop there. We have to develop them in all areas of their life.”
Over the eight months since UK’s last game, Stoops has only been on the field with his team for 15 spring practices. Nonetheless, the way the Wildcats have “taken care of business off the field” – including in posting one of their best academic semesters in recent years – tells him all he needs to know.