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Derek Abney glad to see “completely different mood” about Kentucky football this year


As he was driving from Charleston, S.C., to work the C.H.A.M.P. Camp here last year, former Kentucky All-American Derek Abney knew it likely was a “make or break” season for UK coach Joker Phillips and his staff.

He was right. Kentucky went 2-10 and Phillips was fired. But the mood is totally different a year later.

“Kentucky is coming off a 2-10 season and there has been more offseason talk about Kentucky football than I have ever known,” said Abney during a break Friday at the camp directed by former UK player Champ Kelly. “It is a completely different mood and is so very exciting.”

Abney  caught 197 passes for 2,339 yards and 18 scores from 2000-2003. He returned 95 kickoffs for 2,315 yards and two scores and 88 punts for 1,042 yards and six scores. He left Kentucky with the second-most receiving yards in team history, and the second-most all-purpose yards in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history. The Baltimore Ravens chose him in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft, but he never got a chance to play a regular-season NFL game.

Abney knows UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown because the two played together at Kentucky. He recently reminded Brown of the time they were going through drills and Brown ran into coach Tony Franklin, who later gave Brown a job working for him at Troy. Now Brown and Franklin, who is at California, are two of the most productive offensive coordinators in the country.

“Neal immediately remembered that story, too,” Abney said. “I am excited for him. He is a good one. Obviously, he has shown at Texas Tech what a great offense he has and he has confidence in his game. I am so happy he is getting this opportunity. I kind of reached out to him to get him to this camp, but he’s not allowed due to NCAA restrictions. And I am so glad that John Schlarman (offensive line coach) and Chad Scott (running backs coach) are back at UK with him.

“Chad’s wife went to Kentucky and Schlarman’s family and his wife’s family are all Kentuckians. They all bleed blue. They have been with Neal. He could have had his pick of offensive line and running back coaches, but he stuck with those guys and I’m glad he did. They bleed blue and have earned it. It’s just the perfect storm with the right guys at the right program. I am not at all surprised with how well they have recruited.”

Former UK coach Hal Mumme sent Franklin to Wisconsin to recruit Abney. The former All-American is glad Stoops is again focusing on elite players as Mumme did, but also likes the emphasis Stoops has put on keeping the best in-state talent at UK and rattled off Trinity defensive end Jason Hatcher, Franklin County receiver Ryan Timmons and Conner quarterback Drew Barker as examples.

“Mumme really didn’t recruit Kentucky guys that much. Now this staff is focusing on Florida, Ohio, Texas, but still focusing on Kentucky guys, too,” Abney said. “They have to do that. But they are doing very similar things to coach Mumme. They are trying to get the best players, best receivers.”

Abney respected former coach Joker Phillips, especially for the way he tried to get alumni back involved in the program. However, he admits Stoops has a “younger staff with a lot more energy” that is paying dividends in recruiting

“Also you have the fact that players can relate to an offensive coordinator that is arguably the best in the business and a head coach that turned around Florida State’s defense in two or three years,” Abney said. “It is crazy that Kentucky is doing so well in recruiting. But if you really think about it, it is not that surprising. The energy, the ties to Kentucky, the results they have had, the Ohio connections. Who doesn’t want a kid in that situation. They have a lot of pluses going.”

That includes the way Stoops and assistant Vince Marrow are connected in Ohio and keep convincing top players in that state to come south to play in the SEC at UK like Mumme and Franklin did Abney.

“With the history Stoops and Marrow have in Ohio and the chance to play in the SEC close to where you live, that is huge,” Abney said. “With all the quality players Ohio has, it’s really surprising UK has not recruited there more like these guys are now.

“Why I chose Kentucky was first and foremost the style of play. Second, it was in the SEC. Third, I had family in the area. But the opportunity to play in the SEC was big for me just like it is these kids from Ohio now. Take advantage of that.”

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  1. TrueBlueJohn

    There’s a completely different mood in the fanbase. It’s called excitement.

  2. King Ghidora

    He’s so right about Ohio especially being a hot spot for talent that UK has overlooked for far too long. Michigan has pretty much filled out their team with Ohio players for decades. A lot of players who don’t want to wear the scarlet and gray (Ohio St.) go to Michigan many to get even for not being recruited by the Buckeyes.

    But UK plays in the mighty SEC. Players certainly have to notice that the SEC is the conference to be in now. And UK is the closest place for them to go to be in the SEC. Heck even the MAC teams have been traditionally talented in many areas with some teams being very good at times. I still remember Big Ben Roethlisberger on one side of the field with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss on the other. There were lots of great talents on those teams and many of them were Ohio products. It’s a big state with a lot of football tradition. Football in Ohio is like basketball in Indiana (not to mention KY). They produce a lot of top talent in the state.

    Florida is of course another huge source of talent for teams all around the country really. They produce a ton of great players every year. And Texas too? It’s like UK has hit the trifecta of recruiting hot spots and it shows. Add all the in state talent and the Cats could become a true football power.

    The style of play UK will have is very popular with recruits too. That’s what drew so much talent to the MAC a while back. They were running pro sets including the west coast offense when other teams were still using a running QB style offense. That kind of offense can certainly work in college football but recruits want to prove they can play pro style ball because that’s where they want to be. And it’s going to be hard to pry loose players who like running QB’s from the traditional places they go like West Virginia.

    UK seems to have hit the perfect storm of football IMO. They have every single element I would have asked for them to pick up. It’s uncanny how they managed to do all the things I thought they should do in just one year. The chance to play a wide open offense with a great defense too and do it in the SEC has got to be appealing to players who traditionally haven’t even been recruited by the SEC teams (Florida is the obvious exception). But adding Texas and Ohio to UK’s recruiting grounds is something that just can’t be over estimated. UK could bring in a boat load of talent from those two states alone.

    It’s amazing how well things are going for UK football. I haven’t been this excited about the program since Sonny Collins was changing the whole outlook in Lexington with the obvious benefits of Commonwealth Stadium being built back at that time. For the first time since the 70’s UK has a chance to step up and be a force in the SEC. Yeah they’ve had some good years especially under Brooks and I really appreciate what he did for the program. He proved that people do care about football in the state. And now UK can prove that the fans care about winning big time in football too. It’s a great time to be a Cat fan whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, or women’s basketball. Yeah the baseball team has lost ground over the past 5 years but they were excellent for a while there. Now the football team has a chance to step up and be a national force. I had given up hope of being able to say that (almost) but it is very much true now.

  3. Ira

    Joker focused a lot of energy on Georgia. No reason not to. Lots of good football talent down there, but we never seemed to get the type of elite type of talent we are getting out of the state of OH now.

    What no one can understand is why Joker never bothered with Ohio. Oh sure he passed out mail, offered scholly’s, but he did not recruit OH. OH, a state that literally as Coach Stoops has said should be considered our back yard. Now I know Joker’s staff didn’t have the connections in OH like Coach Stoops does, but that is why you hire the right personnel.

    All I can see from Joker’s tenure is he mumbled and bumbled his way thru one year to the next and lead us to disaster in our 3rd year. Thank God that fiasco is over.

  4. Shinny

    Ira I agree with you AGAIN!!! One exception “BOOM” Williams #1 all-purpose back in nation according to Rivals, is a Georgia boy. These Georgia fans that are everywhere in this state say well he backed out because of the two runningbacks we are bringing in after he commited!! They say he won’t have seen the field in Athens but Ky can use running backs. Ha what they don’t know is “BOOM” along with Jo Jo will be slot recievers. UGA has no idea what is about to happen!!! More Georgia boys coming our way and top talent too! It’s called “coaching depth” top players will be coming from all over in the next three years and Ohio-Joker is a duh!!!!

  5. Andy

    Any word on how the OLine is progressing? That seems to be biggest concern protecting the QB.

  6. Ira

    That’s right Shinny, but when Coach Stoops staff reached into Georgia what type of player did he take out of there, 4 star talent. Coach Stoops is going out and getting guys we can win with in the SEC, not the Moral Victories Joker chased after.

  7. Andy

    Philips was in way over his head. A good person but not a great head coach yet. His staff he assembled showed in that aspect. There were no good recruiters and the effort to aggressively recruit is on full display now.

    UK needed a defense minded coach with proven results and being able to relate to young players as well. For some reason the offense joker used under Sanders was more complicated than it should have been, which i never understood. Was the same on D, trying to use a 3-4 when we did not have the personnel for it made so sense.

  8. steve from Dayton -- UKFBFAN

    Sorry, you are entitled to your own opinions. From my perspective, I can’t see what good it does us to bellyache about Joker. He’s gone. Joker tried and failed; you don’t have to convince us of that…let it go!

    Instead, I like to compare what we are doing with the likes of Alabama and Tennessee. I don’t see anybody with a 5-star player, yet. Maybe we’ll snag one…Maybe somebody we already have committed will get an upgrade.

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