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By ASHLEY SCOBY
With Kentucky’s 29-24 loss against Georgia Saturday, the Cats were mathematically eliminated from reaching a bowl game for the second straight year. Four games remain, but with a 1-7 record, postseason hopes have been dashed for this team.
With the team having no dreams of trophies or rings or banners to work towards for the rest of the season, there were several questions brought up in Joker Phillips’ post-game presser about what the team has left to fight for.
“We’ve got some seniors in here, and we’re motivated to play for those guys,” Phillips said. “They’ve done a good job leading this team and I can tell you this: Those young guys are going to fight their tails off for those seniors who have been with us for a long time.”
Some of those seniors? Morgan Newton and Aaron Boyd, who might have seen the most ups and downs of any recent UK football players. La’Rod King, a Kentucky boy who has seen quality production at the wide receiver position. Larry Warford, who many would agree is one of the more talented guys on the team this year, with several pre-season honors coming his way. Matt Smith, who may not get as much recognition as anyone else because of his spot on the offensive line (center), but who is one of the biggest leaders on the football field.
And then there are the guys who have suffered with such a huge portion of the team when it came to the injury buy. There is CoShik Williams, who came in as a starting running back, but suffered a torn labrum in his hip that ended his career. And Martavious Neloms, who is still battling a hamstring injury, tweeted out on Saturday after the game, “I want so badly to be able to help my brothers in their time of need. They need me just as I need them.”
Whether the season ends in a bowl game or not, these guys continue to fight for each other. Their relationships with each other do not change. This is no longer just about the frustration of a season for them; it’s about the heartbreak of their brothers.
“We’re definitely not quitting,” quarterback Jalen Whitlow said after the Georgia game. “We’ll come back out next week with the same intensity, same everything. We’ve got a lot to play for… seniors, coaches, fans, family, ourselves, God. We’ve got a lot to play for…We’re never quitting.”
Even throughout the struggles of this season and the emotions of being 1-7, players continue to point towards their coaching staff as a reason for their continued motivation. When a team struggles so much to win, and with such obvious frustration pouring in from the fanbase, rifts sometimes form between the coaches and players – the “you’re not playing me enough” or the “you’re not listening to me enough” mentalities can sometimes cloud the relationship that players and coaches spend years building.
Not here at Kentucky. And if that is the case, then they’re doing a remarkable job of hiding it.
Coach Joker Phillips has not lost this team, and that should be obvious after the performance the Cats gave on Saturday. Whether or not Joker has lost the fan base is a different story, with more and more UK fans calling for his head as the weeks go by. But his players continue to fight for him and the rest of the coaching staff, both with their actions on the football field and with their words in the media room.
Bowl game or not, that mentality has not changed.