By LARRY VAUGHT
Since his arrival at Kentucky, it seems like everything has gone right for head football coach Mark Stoops.
He put together a much better than expected 2013 recruiting class in two months, has a historic class in the making for 2014 and drew over 50,000 fans to the Blue-White Game to end spring practice. The buzz around UK football has never been higher.
However, Stoops hit a small bump Thursday when he had to dismiss two players — brothers Pancho and Khalid Thomas of Florida — for what UK only confirmed was an unspecified violation of team rules. Lexington police said the two brothers were charged with possession of a controlled substance at 12:45 a.m. July 6.
Stoops had lost other players. Cornerbacks Jonathan Reed and Marcus Caffey were dismissed in January. Redshirt freshman running back Justin Taylor left in early May without ever playing for the Wildcats. Offensive lineman T.J. Jones was dismissed from the team in June.
Sophomore linebacker Demarius Rancifer decided to transfer after he was told he was not the kind of athlete to fit UK’s new defense. Sophomore receivers Bookie Cobbins and DeMarcus Sweat also transferred. So did freshmen cornerback Shawn Blaylock and safety Sterling Wright.
Out of those players, only Sweat had made significant contributions and his transfer probably had more to do with academic concerns than athletic questions. Caffey and Cobbins had off field problems.
But the Thomas brothers were expected to help this season.
At spring practice, Pancho Thomas positioned himself as Avery Williamson’s backup at a spot where UK has limited depth.
He said then the new coaching staff had instilled a new attitude in the team that went 2-10 last year.
“It is so different. It is like everybody wants to win. We are doing everything we can do to win,” Thomas said. “Everyone is competing every day. It’s a competition every practice. We are enjoying practice. We are out here giving it our all. You can see everyone buying into it. We are eating right, practicing right, training right. You can see the attitude has changed with everybody. Everybody has a winning attitude now.
“I am not really sure what made that change. I guess our coaches coming in and letting us know what they are expecting from us is what really made us change. We knew either you get on the boat, or you get left. That’s how it is. It’s lot better to be on the boat than by yourself.”
Now Thomas is off the boat along with his brother. Pancho Thomas had 12 tackles in limited action last year in 10 games. Khalid Thomas signed with the Wildcats in February after originally committing to coach Joker Phillips. He was ranked as the No. 35 athlete in the country in the class of 2013.
The same day news broke that the brothers had been kicked off the team, the Lexington Herald-Leader also reported that junior safety Ashely Lowery was cited for DUI in connection with the car crash in May that left him hospitalized for several days. Kentucky officials said Stoops would let the legal process take its course before addressing Lowery’s situation. Lowery, who started eight games in 2012, was also cleared to resume limited workouts this week.
That’s not the kind of buzz that has surrounded UK football since Stoops’ arrival.