SEC Media Days: Wildcats look to lay foundation

Photo by Rob Saye

HOOVER – Most programs in the SEC do not have to get their fans to go head over heels for their football teams, but that’s not the case with Kentucky Wildcats football. We all know that Wildcats basketball runs the day in Lexington.

It’s not like head coach Mark Stoops and his players are trying to convert fans from one sport to the other. He’s just merely trying to bring excitement inside Commonwealth Stadium. Not take fans out of Rupp Arena.

“We know they love their basketball, as well they should,” Stoops said. “The program has been good for a long, long time. So we have deep tradition in basketball. We embrace that. Coach Cal (John Calipari) has been nothing but good to me, very supportive in what we do recruiting, and always visible to our team and to our recruits. So we embrace that. It’s nothing but helpful.”

Most people find out soon enough, that athletic department camaraderie is often put to great use with these large schools. For example, do you think that Larry Fedora at University of North Carolina doesn’t try to use Roy Williams as a positive influence on his program? Same probably goes for Mike Krzyewski at Duke with David Cutcliffe’s program.

Fact of the matter is that these basketball programs have a history of winning at large levels, i.e national championships. So this is why Mark Stoops is trying to get the program back on track with the support of the most successful program on campus.

His players are also in on the act, as all three of the player representatives at SEC Media Days for the Wildcats were offensive/defensive linemen. Defensive end Za’Darius Smith, offensive lineman Jordan Swindle, and defensive end Bud Dupree are all tasked with trying to put this program back on track.

Last season Kentucky went 2-10, with an 0-8 record in the SEC. The last time they went to a bowl game, was the 2010 BBVA Compass Bowl against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Their ACC opponent beat them 27-10. That capped off five straight seasons of the Wildcats reaching a bowl game.

Players like Bud Dupree are trying to get the fans to believe that this is a new day for the ‘Cats football program.

“The fans have done a good job accepting Coach Stoops through the coaching change with all the money they are putting into the new stadium,” Dupree said. “If I was a fan, if I see a coach really caring about a program and changing a program, to go out there and get all the money and change the football stadium and change the practice facilities and put money into the nutrition program, I would really hop on this train and jump on and hold on.”

Not only are players like Dupree and the other upperclassmen trying to change the outside perspective of the program, some are trying their hardest to turn the mindset of the younger guys. That’s what Za’Darius Smith is trying to do.

“Our goal is to be leaders,” Smith said. “The main thing to do is finish up the summer and start fall camp.”

The media is not very bullish on the Kentucky Wildcats in 2014, with Bud Dupree the only member of the team to make a preseason ‘All-SEC’ team. He picked up second team honors. The media has also picked the ‘Cats to finish dead last in the SEC East for the third straight season.

The good news is that things are changing at Kentucky with the program, as referenced in the quote by Bud Dupree. Coming in 2015, the Commonwealth Stadium upgrade is coming with a new press box, recruiting room, and plenty of suites to name just a few of the upgrades.

Flipping a program from a history of losing to winning isn’t easy. However, that’s exactly the task Mark Stoops and company are taking head on.




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