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By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — One thing Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has made sure his players understand is that there is no leeway when it comes to doing things the way he wants.
Eleven players have left UK for various reasons since took over as head coach in December from Joker Phillips. Five of those changes were for violation of team rules, including brothers Pancho and Khalid Thomas last week.
“Coach Stoops is not playing. He’s coming in to change things, and it’s either get on board or get off the train. Everybody’s on board and we’re moving in the same direction,” said Kentucky defensive tackle Donte Rumph Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days.
Stoops told media members that he believes his players know what to expect and that there is no leeway for team rules.
“I think most of them understand that,” he said. “Now they have to have the discipline to stay within that structure we expect within our program. We’ve had to let some kids go that have not lived by the standards that we set. I think a lot of coaches talk about being accountable to each other and doing things the right way. You can’t win consistently, let alone in the SEC, without having that strong foundation of doing things right.”
Senior running back Raymond Sanders said adjusting to a new coaching staff is worth the price of the transition.
“It is difficult as a senior to go through a change, but you have to change what you are doing to get different results. That is what is happening and I am glad to be a part of it,” Sanders said. “I am glad to start over. It is new, but nothing we can’t handle as seniors. We have been in the SEC. Our job is to help everyone catch on and see how the tradition is and how things need to be run here. We just want to get on the field. The process is going to happen and we just have to make the best of it. Coach Stoops is very clear about what he expects.”
Safety Ashely Lowery faces a DUI charge in conjuction with a spring accident in Georgia.
“There’s no status yet on the legal situation, I need to gather some more information and let that process work its way out a little bit,” Stoops said.
That is different in one significant way from the Thomas brothers, who were dismissed after being cited on drug charges.
“There have been some other incidents (with them),” Stoops said. “With us, we have a guideline and some policies and there are some strikes involved.”
Rumph said the seniors especially have tried to counsel younger players on how to act on and the field.
“We addressed how to carry themselves and what would help the program,” Rumph said. “We’ve got a great bunch of guys. We’re on the right path. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Stoops used Rumph, Sanders and linebacker Avery Williamson, the other player he brough to media days, as examples of players who have bought into his system and discipline.
“They’re mature, they’ve been through it. If you’d ask all three guys who are here, they’re tired of losing. They want to be put in a position to be successful and that’s what I love about this team,” Stoops said. “I know we’ve had to make some changes and dismiss some players and we’ll continue to work on our character as a football program, but I’m very excited about them. They want to be led in the right way. They’re working extremely hard and they have a positive attitude. That, I’m very encouraged by.”
He believes the changes have been “embraced” by the players.
“I feel that they’ve embraced this changed and they’ve embraced the process. They want to led in the right way, they want to be put in a position to be successful and they want to have successful people around them,” Stoops said.
Rumph said he doesn’t want to even remember last year’s 2-10 finish.
“Too tired of losing,” Rumph said. “We’re working hard. We’re putting in work this season. We expect to win big games and we expect to do big things this year.”