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By LARRY VAUGHT

Question: What are your feelings about UK’s recruiting efforts and how will this 2014 class impact next season?

Jacob Tamme: “I think the recruiting efforts have been really mind blowing the way they are putting this class together and I think the impact should be felt in the next two-three years. I think the 2014 class will help next season and I expect some of those guys to be game-altering type players but again, let’s not expect every single freshman to come in and be a world-beater next year.”

Dave Hopewell: “We’ve got to hang on to these next guy’s coming in. That’s what the future is about. We’ve got to convince them that if they come here we’ll be competing for an SEC Championship one day and that we’ll help them develop here too get to the next level.”

Freddie Maggard: “I think its a positive. I believe in coach Brown’s saying, ‘come be a hero.’ Realistically, this team is two more recruiting classes short of a SEC roster. Recruiting is exceeding expectation. Instant playing time across the field, excited coaching staff, pledged facilities improvement.”

Andy Murray: “Our recruiting efforts are great, but I think our player development is even better. As I mentioned, this team of current redshirts and players will look totally different this time next year.  I think this will be a great destination for the Midwest kids that want to play in the SEC.  Again, we just need patience and time.”

Derek Abney: “This has to be the brightest spot of the program this far. And, fortunately, it’s one of the most important; talent. I’ve been so very impressed with what he’s done, and in the time frame to do it. The future looks bright and I have to keep reminding myself to be patient. By the way, Timmons is going to be a star.
White: “I feel UK’s 2014 class will provide UK with much need depth and competition at key positions if not upgrades. I think the 2014 class’ desire to win and be successful will lift not only the caliber of play, but also the mindset about winning, because most of those guys only know success and will likely not accept losing or losing efforts be it game, practice, or publicly.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Jacob Tamme had “very realistic expectations” about Mark Stoops’ first year as Kentucky’s head coach and despite UK’s 2-7 record going into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt, Tamme says he likes what he has seen.
“If anything I’m even more optimistic because of the way our young guys are playing and the fight that the team as a whole is showing — Mississippi State and South Carolina games being prime examples,” said Tamme, a former UK All-American tight end and current tight end with the Denver Broncos. “I am encouraged, not by the won-lost record, but by a lot of the little things I am seeing.”

Former UK players Derek Abney, Freddie Maggard, David Hopewell, Andy Murray and Anthony White joined Tamme in offering their analysis on this Stoops’ first year and the UK program.

Question: What has impressed you the most about Stoops and his staff?
Tamme: “Their ability to sell the vision they have for the program. I think they have sold the current guys on it and I think they’ve done an absolutely incredible job putting together this 2014 class. I’m also impressed with the improvement as this season has progressed. I was really disappointed in the way we played as a whole, but especially on defense versus Western Kentucky. It just felt like there was something missing in our attitude and approach. Every play WKU ran they ‘finished the play forward’ – going toward their end zone … 2-3-4 extra yards at the end of plays. But I have been amazed at the improvement I’ve seen up to this point in the season and was very impressed by our defense at Mississippi State and against Alabama State. The mindset of our defense seems to have improved a lot over the course of the season, which is impressive especially considering we’ve been losing. They are improving, and they keep getting up off the mat and bringing it, and that’s what you want to see on defense.”

Abney: “His ability to keep players accountable and committed all four quarters. There are no excuses with Mark Stoops and you, and the players, know where he stands.

Murray: “My first take on this staff is that they are very organized and are sticking to their plan. They know the task and are taking all the right steps in recruiting and fundamentals.”

Hopewell: “Their continued resolve.  Stoops won’t throw his players under the bus even though there are some names that would pop up regularly I bet.  I like his feistiness on the field and I think his players are gradually starting to pick that up.  Thats still part of the problem too, these players are picking things up “gradually”.

Maggard: “His fire, his demanding that players cannot ‘hide’, accountability and realistic expectations. He’s improved the defense dramatically, and is consistent quarterback play away from being a .500 team. Defensively is most noticeable improvement and that has a great deal to do with senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson. Offensively, unfortunately the quarterback play has not been close to what is needs to be. That would slow down any offense, any coordinator.”

White: “I’m extremely impressed how coach Stoops is able to bring in top notch talent and recruits, and not only have them commit to play at UK but also buy in to the belief that they can win big here in Lexington at UK.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Despite Kentucky’s 1-6 record going into Saturday night’s game against Alabama State, five former Wildcats all can see progress being made under first-year coach Mark Stoops.

“This coaching staff has focused on improvement and maximized effort with current roster,” former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard said. “Can you imagine the result if the true freshmen and junior college transfers weren’t playing? I feel even more confident in Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart’s hire today than last winter. Sure, results haven’t been what fans and myself would like to see, but it’s been brought to light just how deficient the roster.”

Maggard’s former teammate, Andy Murray, feels the same.

“I feel even better about our program. Coach and his staff know what they are doing and have made great in-game adjustments. I think it is very evident that we have a long way to go from a talent standpoint and believe we will look totally different next season and remarkably different in year three,” Murray said. “Our team is well conditioned and fundamentally sound.”

David Hopewell started on UK’s only Southeastern Conference championship team in 1977. He says “we all hate losing” but knows progress is being made.

“I just wished we started better. The excitement of Aug 1. has long since passed but this is a marathon, not a race. It takes longer to make progress in this game just for the sheer numbers involved. I still feel good about this coaching staff.”

Former All-American receiver Derek Abney anticipated a “difficult season” for Stoops.

“I’m slightly disappointed we couldn’t sneak in a quality win thus far. I was hoping for better quarterback play since Maxwell Smith had a good season before getting hurt and Jalen Whitlow was coming around and better wide receiver play,” Abney said. “Besides the lack of turnovers, I’ve been happy with the defense, especially during second halves.

“I was hoping for more contribution from special teams. I have to keep reminding myself to be patient because I know the potential is there to have a really good program, especially since we’ll have two great recruiting classes.”

Former running back Anthony White agrees.

“I feel that the UK program has the will to win as opposed to when the season began, I assumed the team would have a different coach, but still the same nonchalant attitude about winning or losing. Now they seem to really want to win no matter the score,” White said.

uk footballBy LARRY VAUGHT

Terry Barker remembers the first time his son, Conner quarterback Drew Barker, went to UK to see new coach Mark Stoops. They walked into the football facilities and Barker’s father said “every coach was standing at the door waiting to greet us.” He said he would never forget that.

“As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and that really made an impression on me and Drew, too,” Terry Barker said. “I really think there is no reason they can’t win. They’ve got everything behind them. They are putting money into facilties. It’s just a great place. I really believe they can turn it around.”

Of course, Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who was recruiting Barker when he was head coach at Cincinnati, believes he can turn that program around. Steve Spurrier already has South Carolina competing for Southeastern Conference titles.

“You build relationships with coaches and visit schools. It’s all been great,” Terry Barker said.

He rattled off Spurrier and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus at South Carolina along with Jones. He even noted how Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson as having a “great relationship” with his son even though Louisville is not in his final three.

“Coach Watson is a great guy, great coach. He still calls to talk to him about life in general and is somebody Drew respects because he is just a nice human being,” Terry Barker said. “That’s the hard part of forming relationships.

“At the end of the day, you have to make decisions and disappoint some people. Drew doesn’t like to disappoint people. He takes pride in pleasing people and making people happy. It goes against his grain a little bit to disappoint some folks. He likes to please whether it is myself, his mother, his cousin, his coach or whoever. He really likes to meet expectations. It’s going to be hard for him (to tell coaches no) and it is weighing on him, but he’s ready to make a decision.”

Former UK fullback Andy Murray is ready for it to be Kentucky and continue the momentum Stoops has built for what Murray and other former Wildcats hope will eventually lead to a SEC championship.

“The only thing that I would tell you about Barker is … the guys that  arrive home from Atlanta (from the SEC championship game) with the (SEC) crown some day will have a bigger parade than any of our eight NCAA (basketball) crowns combined,” Murray said.

Drew Barker photo courtesy Bleacherreport.com

Drew Barker photo courtesy Bleacherreport.com

By LARRY VAUGHT

Andy Murray was a fierce competitor when he played fullback at the University of Kentucky and remains a hard-core UK fan. That’s why he’s become a huge Mark Stoops’ fan already and believes that Conner quarterback Drew Barker will pick the Wildcats over South Carolina and Tennessee Friday when he announces his college choice.

“He is a lock in my opinion. Kid is a blue blood,” said Murray.

Because Murray’s son plays at Simon Kenton, he’s not been able to get out in northern Kentucky to see Barker play. However, he knows something about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s quarterback knowledge.

“I would think Spurrier knows what he is looking for in a QB and you can take that to the bank,” Murray said.

Barker’s number could break the bank. He was 140-for-225 passing for 2,067 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012 when he also ran for 1,422 yards and 18 scores. As a sophomore, he completed 93 of 181 passes for 1,009 yards and four scores and ran for 1,371 yards and 22 touchdowns. That’s 2,793 yards and 40 touchdowns rushing the last two years and 3,076 yards and 26 touchdowns passing.

“His commitment will send our recruiting into another gear and it amazes me what this staff is capable of doing with these recruits,” Murray said.

Stoops did do the unthinkable after getting the job when he persuaded Franklin County receiver Ryan Timmons and Trinity linebacker Jason Hatcher to reverse their thinking about UK and sign with the Wildcats. Landing the two four-star Kentucky players at the last minute proved that Stoops and his staff would be relevant with the state’s best players — like Barker.

“I think the state of Kentucky will depend on wins and losses,  and they must take control of the Louisville series. The Hatcher kid will go down as one of the turning points in this area. I think Timmons was a matter of timing and  the right coach (offensive coordinator Neal Brown),” Murray said. “The state will be ours if we win.

“Let’s face it, we have not had a desirable product and these guys want to play in the spotlight. There will not be a better spotlight than UK when this thing turns … and it will turn. We have never been in a better spot. Stoops is the man. I have never been more impressed with a guy than this one. My favorite thing about him is his demeanor and upbringing. He is awesome.”

Barker and his father seem to feel the same after being ignored by former UK coach Joker Phillips.

When Barker made a visit to UK, Stoops had a video showing former in-state UK quarterbacks Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen and Andre Woodson on a video — and then Barker’s highlights were included.

“We are Kentucky fans. I love the Big Blue Nation,” Terry Barker said.  “I think coach Stoops and his staff knew Drew had a sour taste in his mouth, so they went the extra mile to show how much they’d love to have him. That has impressed him.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Bringing former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown to Kentucky to run the offense for new coach Mark Stoops certainly seems to have pleased UK fans, but the move has been just as popular with former players. “I can’t think of anything that has gone over bigger,” said former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg, who lettered at UK from 1989-91.

Four other former lettermen — Jason Todd (1992) of Stanford, Derek Abney (2000-2003) of Charleston, S.C., Dave Hopewell (1976-78) of Harrodsburg and Andy Murray ((1986-89) of Florence — all agreed on that as well as the overall excitement about Kentucky football since the hiring of Stoops.

Question: What is your reaction to UK spending the money to bring a creative, innovative offense mind like Neal Brown to the program?

Murray: “I am thrilled to see us participating in the financial arms race, and really believe we can compete with a creative offense. Hal Mumme could score with anyone and would have taken us to another level if he believed in defense. He also had a few quirky thoughts on his special teams approach and simply believed that he did not have the talent to defend some of the guys that were returning kicks in our conference. When you add his offensive scheme to a program that has a head coach with a defensive pedigree, it will be scary. You can look at what his brother did in OK with the same approach, and OK was at a low point in their program’s history from a talent standpoint. I think most everyone will agree, our team has more young talent on it today than the first two Mumme teams. The other key to this is approach is the fact that Brown’s system has done a better job of running the ball as you can see in their rushing yards per game at Texas Tech.”

Abney: “I have not heard the final numbers but it’s very encouraging. To get Neal, you would need to provide a substantial financial incentive. This is the last justifiable beef the BBN can have with Mitch Barnhart; financial support of the football team. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing.”

Maggard: “My feeling  reflects reserved euphoria. I am dang proud of UK, but understand re-building a roster is both challenging and takes time. Neal Brown, in my opinion, is the best offensive coordinator in college football and now he’s home in Lexington. But Neal will be more about business than homecoming pats on the back. I like that. College football is a mere Econ 101 text book case. Re-distributing funds to any entities major money maker is sound business and also is on par with the rest of the SEC. Mr. Barnhart has set the stage.”

Todd: “It is an exciting proposition to think we will have the defensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 defense and the offensive coordinator of the second ranked 2012 passing offense teaming up at UK. I personally feel that this is the first step that UK has to take to see us get back to a competitive situation with our football program. It is great to think that we are in a situation to attract successful coaches to our program. I feel the next step is for the administration and the fans to do their part. By that I mean, the administration preparing and executing a plan to make the facilities and ‘extras’ for UK football to match the rest of the SEC.  For the fans, I think that means they have to be willing to support the program with their attendance and the financial commitment that comes with that. Neal will bring an offensive style that we have seen before. It was exciting and successful and actually led to the last major financial expansion by UK when they expanded Commonwealth Stadium.”

Hopewell: “I’m certainly glad to see it. And again everyone knows how much I like offense. To bring in a coach who is has put together teams that have run offenses in the top 10 in the country at a couple of different schools is a step in the right direction.The added bonus that he is a Kentuckian and a former player, that is pretty sweet too.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

I asked former University of Kentucky football players Derek Abney, Freddie Maggard, Jason Todd, Andy Murray and Dave Hopewell a series of questions about Kentucky football. This is the first of a series of posts over the next few days with their answers.

Question: Do you remember a time when there was more excitement over UK football, especially coming off a 2-10 season?
Hopewell: “For me personally only one time. I was a freshman at UK in 1975 and we went 2-8-1. I sure hated to go home that Christmas. I could feel the embarrassment for me from my entire family. But we as a team knew we were better than that and the next two years we went 9-3 and then 10-1 and won the last SEC Championship UK has ever won in football. That’s still my dream for this team.
“But as a parent of players and as a fan, no I have never seen this much excitement. I do feel most fans are really happy about the way things have gone with this hire. It looks like coach Stoops has been given free rein on what he was wanting to do and I am really glad to see that.”

Todd: “The only thing I have to compare this to is the transition from Coach Curry to Coach Mumme between the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  UK spent a lot of time and money getting out the word about the “air raid” offense that Mumme was bringing.  Now we have the “air raid” part II and to go along with it, we have Coach Stoops and his background on the defensive side.  As much as most fans will be excited about the offensive potential, I am just excited to see what Coach Stoops will be able to do with our defense.  I would like nothing better than to have a defense that can stop people in the SEC.  Regardless of the outcome, I will forever be a UK fan and avid supporter.”

Maggard: “I can’t, and I’ve been a fanatic since birth. Maybe after coach Jerry Claiborne’s first-second season, but today’s instant communication and social media takes this to a level uncharted at UK.”

Murray: “Not since the afternoon of us beating  Louisville  and listening to the Air Raid sirens in Commonwealth Stadium.”

Abney: “Absolutely not. And the excitement seems entirely justifiable.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Kentucky All-American receiver Derek Abney says he can’t remember being so excited about UK football as he was Tuesday when Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was named the team’s new coach.

“It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to see who the offensive coordinator is going to be,” said Abney, who lives in South Carolina now.

“This state loves football. I believe the whole place is ready to explode with excitement. The journey to a championship is the most fun,” said Burgin’s David Hopewell, a starter on UK’s 1976 Peach Bowl team and 1977 team that finished 10-1 and won the Southeastern Conference title.

Former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard of Lawrenceburg is excited, too, but also expressed appreciation to Joker Phillips and his wife for their “love and dedication to Kentucky” and noted that they have been “avid supporters” of the Kentucky National Guard and the state’s military.

“For that and many other reasons, I’d hope as Kentucky fans we don’t forget their 20 plus years dedicated to Wildcat football and continue to show our appreciation and support for their future endeavors,” Maggard said. “Also I’d like to wish his staff the best and pray for them to land on their feet and continue to lead young men on the football field. That’s the tough part about the business of college football. But I am definitely excited about Mark Stoops.”

So is former UK fullback Andy Murray, who lives in northern Kentucky. “I love the fact that we have a hard-nosed defensive minded coach. Football is about attitude … and defensive guys bring attitude,” Murray said.

The four players responded to various questions about the hiring of Stoops and what impact it will have on UK football.

Question: Has the hiring of Mark Stoops changed your enthusiasm about Kentucky football?
Hopewell: “Let me say 1st our hearts bleed Big Blue. My family loves coach Phillips and Leslie and all they meant to this program. We all hate things did not work out for him and we want to thank him for everything he has done for us. Thank you coach Phillips.
“Coach Stoops brings name recognition for sure. We have all heard of him and his family for a long time. I can say those close to me have already circled the spring game and are ready to travel to all the away games, too. Listening to the radio as things unfolded I had chill bumps as I read the release on the UK website and I cannot wait to hear the press conference Sunday. All the talk was positive as it should be at this time.”
Murray: “Without a doubt. He is connected in Ohio. This is the largest miss in Kentucky football history. We have more players per year in Cincy alone than the entire state of Kentucky and we have never had success recruiting there.”
Maggard: “My enthusiasm and passion for UK football stays pretty high, but coach Stoops brings a change that is exciting for UK fans. My family attends games at Commonwealth Stadium thru good and bad, so we’ll be there as we always have been. Just may have some more friends ask if they can tag along. Coach Stoops’ name and track record as a coordinator and recruiter brings on thoughts of competing in the SEC East. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Abney: “I’ve surprised myself in that I’m more enthusiastic than I would have been with an offensive-minded coach. That is because I have yet to hear a negative thing about Mark Stoops, save he has no head coaching experience. Results will tell the whole story but, preliminarily, I really like the Mark Stoops choice.”

Question: Do you think he can immediately win the overall UK fan base back that seemed to bail out this year?
Hopewell: “Oh, no doubt about that. Coach Stoops has a good resume. He deserves a chance to run his own show based on that. I think UK and (athletics director) Mitch Barnhart naming a leader for our program is a big hit. Knowing who is in charge brings all the excitement back. Larry you have done a great job turning Kentucky into a football state and I want to thank you too. We need reporters like you to keep UK fans not only in Kentucky informed but nationwide and those abroad. I know how hard this particular change has been on you but I thank you for staying with the work you had to do. It has been good to hear and read all the news about UK football with the tough year we have had. How crazy will it get when we win the SEC!”
Murray: “I think the fan base is in shock. I really think that they were convinced Mitch could/would not close a deal on a guy like Stoops.”
Maggard: “I don’t think Nick Saban could win over 100 percent of our fan base, but this hire is hopefully a step in the right direction to re-connect the BBN. The last couple weeks have been unique, and not in a good way. I’ve been a UK fan for 40 years, and had never seen such divide and at times apathy. That can be attributed to many factors, I hope now we can all agree to support our student-athletes, coaches, and university. The initial press conference is vital; winning at Sunday’s event will definitely set the tone. From what I hear, it’s going to be incredible. I am confident that today’s excitement will be reflected in ticket sales. I’ve always said UK football fans are the best in the nation. They, we, should be rewarded for years of dedication to the program and deserve the very best.”
Abney: “Absolutely. The only fans that may be disappointed are the die-hard ‘air raid’ fans that want to see lots of touchdowns on offense. Fortunately, a great defense doesn’t necessarily mean an anemic offense.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Freddie Maggard and Andy Murray are two former Wildcats who remain Kentucky fans and regularly attend games. Maggard, who lettered from 1989-1991, lives in Lawrenceburg and Murray, who lettered from 1986-1989, in Independence.

Question: What things would you tell current players that might help them?

Murray: “I think the best advice is to believe in your teammates and coaches and not let the outside noise get to you. I also told them (the captains) in the captains’ breakfast this year that they need to take some ownership in this thing as well. They need to be the example for all of this new young talent coming into our program.”
‘“These new players will learn how to practice and prepare themselves based on the veterans work habits. I asked the captains if they were leading in a positive way, or were they just trying to make it through the process. When you talk about winning and tradition, that is why the great programs have success year in and year out. Someone, at some point, taught everyone involved in the program how to work and how to win. They established a mark/bar  that you never wanted to find yourself below. Finding yourself below that mark meant you did not sustain the winning ways. When we get that from the older members of this team, we will win.”

Maggard: “That they are not alone, names on the back of the jerseys may change, but the stories are generationally common. Take Morgan Newton, I had the same shoulder surgery my junior year and had to deal with the rehab and pain to fight back. I understand what he’s going through. Take advantage of the C.A.T.S Center and the resources available to earn their degree which is a must in today’s environment.  Choose a post-football career that you are passionate about. A career is for a life-time and much different than having a job for 30 years.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Kentucky football players have been invited to not only attend Saturday’s scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium, but also have lunch with the players after the scrimmage. Spouses and children are also invited.  Freddie Maggard and Andy Murray are two former Wildcats who remain Kentucky fans and regularly attend games. Maggard, who lettered from 1989-1991, lives in Lawrenceburg and Murray, who lettered from 1986-1989, in Independence.

They shared their thoughts on this move by UK to reach out to football alumni.

Question: Do you see this as a step to maybe make former players feel more a part of the program than many seem to now?
Murray: “I think the former players feel a connection to Joker and these kids and will always feel connected based on the sacrifices we made during our time in Lexington.”
Maggard: “I would like to hope so. Like I said earlier, Joker Phillips has stressed former player re-connection more than any other coach I can remember. But, Joker is the head coach. His responsibilities don’t allow him to coordinate the events, stuff invitation envelopes, send email invites, or work the grill. He is and should be focused on the big picture.
“It’s paramount that his vision is supported from within the program, alumni organizations, and from the University. These groups require synchronization to enact a successful alumni program. Somebody may ask why this is so important. It must be significant; many SEC programs have a person on staff just for Alumni Relations. Alumni functions are not accidental and require in-depth planning and organization. But more importantly, it takes passion.
“I’m excited to see Jeremy Jarmon in his new role and would like to see former players of all generations welcomed, not just pocketed tenures. We don’t need separate Brooks’ guys, Mumme’s guys, or even Claiborne’s guys. We need UK Men. We don’t have to look far to see a successful example. The family environment atmosphere is one thing that is universally praised in Rupp Arena.  ’d like to see that same ‘welcome home passion to former football players as well. That’s a win-win for all things UK.”

Question: What could this mean to the current players to have a chance to meet former players such as yourself?
Maggard: “I’m not sure I bring much to the table there, but I think it’s very important that current players meet alumnus like Lt. Col. Travis Powers, a former walk-on quarterback from Middlesboro that ended up as a long-snapper and special teams’ captain that battled through knee surgeries to contribute to the program he dearly loves. Travis is now a Marine Corp Aviator. So is Major Jeff Speedy. I bet most players on the team and sadly some fans have never heard of Wilbur Hackett who was a courageous SEC pioneer in the 60’s. To say it was an honor to meet him would be a tremendous understatement.
“Those are just a few examples of how former Wildcats have developed leadership at the University that have real-world ramifications. I know Lt. Col. Powers and Mr. Hackett have both attended our Captain’s Breakfast in the past. Those stories should and must be shared within the program and with our fans. I’ve always said UK football fans are the best in the SEC. I’d like to even see a fan appreciation day. Certainly they’ve earned that reward.”

Next: What former players would like to share with current players.

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