By LARRY VAUGHT
Going into offseason workouts, Kentucky had eight scholarship senior football players. Even when Mark Stoops put three walk-on senior players on scholarship, UK still has the fewest seniors of any Division I team this season.
“That does present a bit of a challenge. You’re starting to see our team grow up a bit. Those guys, we wouldn’t have been able to win some close games and some tough games without their leadership,” Stoops said.
“I think it’s also saying something about our other guys. We have a real good junior class and sophomore class with a bunch of guys who are playing in those groups who are starting to grow up a little bit. I certainly appreciate the seniors we have. Even though they’re small in numbers.”
Kentucky’s juniors and sophomores have matured physically and mentally to help UK go 4-1 in the last five games, an encouraging sign for future years.
“I think it’s nice to see it kick in. I think that’s why we’ve had more success. Experience does matter. Talent matters. And experience matters. And so, we’re growing up,” Stoops said.
“I thought we had some really good plays, and the nice thing is, defensively there’s still a lot to build on.”
Stoops understands the “bottom line” is based on how many games a team wins no matter what experience level it has.
“It’s most important and very gratifying when you see the players buying in and seeing it and understanding it and getting it. That’s what you coach for, to see their smiles and their growth and the way they’re changing,” Stoops said.
“We know this game will not be easy. Missouri’s a lot better team than their (2-5) record indicates, and they’re gonna be extremely passionate and hungry to get a victory. We know this will be a real challenge and we have to go on the road and we have to wake up and play an 11 o’clock (CST) game, so we better be getting it first thing in the morning.”