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Derek Abney

By LARRY VAUGHT

Question:  What should be the message to Kentucky football fans about this program?
Jacob Tamme: “I think the message is that the program is improving right now and these players need you to be excited, optimistic and realistic. As a player going through a tough season, these guys want the fans to stick with them. This year’s team certainly hasn’t dropped their level of effort during a tough season, and if anything they have showed a lot of resilience battling back on the road in some tough games. Fans should appreciate that and support a team willing to fight like that. Going forward, I think the message is — get to Commonwealth Stadium and be loud and create an atmosphere that helps our Cats win games!
“I can tell you from experience that when our fan base buys in 100 percent, it is felt by everyone inside the program — from the talk around campus, to the Cat Walk, to the noise level when the Cats are on defense, you can ‘feel’ the support when our fan base really buys in to UK football and puts their heart in it. So I encourage the fans to stick with this staff and group of players, and stay the course with great support as they work to improve the program to a championship-level contender.”

Anthony White: “My message to the fan base would be to support the guys and get behind them through the rough and success. because although the past few years have not been successful, change is going to come and it can be facilitated by warm positive support from the beginning, not when the winning commences. the same way UK basketball teams come in with support and high expectations, lets lend that same support to UK football to finish off 2013 and into 2014 if that is the type of success we desire. Because we are now bringing in the guys to raise the bar and BBN is just fan to pull a team through when doubt starts surface. Change is no doubt is upon us lets be the force not the obstacle to success.

Freddie Maggard: “Be patient. Give this staff a chance. Support this team, everything on social media, in person, and stadium attendance will be used for or against UK in recruiting. Focus on the future.

Derek Abney: “Patience and support. Being a competitor, I have little patience sometimes but, as fans, we really need to be patient. We also need to support the staff and players. They have all the tools and we need to realize this season is very difficult (arguably the toughest in college football) and it’s the first year in rebuilding.”
Murray: “Hang on…..WE WILL WIN!”

Dave Hopewell: “Hang tight and be supportive. Let’s all come on out and show our support for these guys and support them now and in the future when we really are competing for SEC games week in and week out. It will send a big message to our recruits but it will also send a big message to our UK administration that a great football team is what we want and expect.”

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

Question: What would be your major concern about the Kentucky football program right now?

Jacob Tamme: “Really my biggest concern is I get tired of people becoming negative on a coach or staff so quickly. I don’t think it is happening right now, but I can see the expectation level rising dramatically next year because of this recruiting class. Let’s keep in mind the reality is that all of these good recruits are still going to be freshman next year playing in the SEC East. I want to win as quick as anybody but I think if the team loses some tight games next season we can’t have the fan base going up in arms because the expectation level has changed so dramatically from year one to year two. I think improvement over the next year should definitely be expected, but to ask this staff and team to win eight, nine, 10 games and compete for a championship — that is probably going to take a couple of years at a minimum. I hope they prove me wrong!”

Freddie Maggard: “Obvious, the quarterback play. Jalen Whitlow is on the verge of breaking out if he can stay healthy. Without him, the offense has not been able to threaten defenses. I’d never criticize a player and won’t so let’s say passing game. I’m talking offensive unit as a whole. Defenses are pressing UK’s offense, this is unheard of in the Air Raid offense but at most times, they’re tempting UK to throw the ball downfield.  With limited play at quarterback, coach (Neal) Brown is extremely limited on what he can call, and when he can call it.

Anthony White: “My major concern about the program at this very moment is that they have to be prepared to capitalize on the success that the football program is expecting. I hope the fan base the administration and the athletic department is prepared to handle and market the success, if the football program happens to achieve what they expect. and not give them token publicity and coverage do to success being a surprise. I know they talk about having a plan, I hope sufficient and effective when/if we reach big time success.”

Derek Abney: “My major concern would be convincing the players it really is one play, one quarter, and one game at a time; relaying to them that other teams will have their runs but we have stay in the game mentally and with confidence. It can be difficult changing that mentality if a team hasn’t had a lot of winning seasons recently. Fortunately, all indications are Stoops has the character/integrity to convince them of this.”

Andy Murray: “Is that our fan base needs to stick with these guys and believe in what they are doing.”

Dave Hopewell: “Holding our recruiting classes together. Getting the players in here to change the culture and the future of the program and then keeping it at that level for years to come and not just be a flash in the pan for two-three years.”

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.

Click on the 2002 UK Football poster above to view the video of Derek Abney.

Click on the 2002 UK Football poster above to view the video of Derek Abney.

Click on the photo of Derek Abney to view the video.

Click on the photo of Derek Abney to view the video.

Click on the photo of Derek Abney to view the video.

Click on the photo of Derek Abney to view the video.

By LARRY VAUGHT

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.”

image002By LARRY VAUGHT

His purpose is simple — put on an informative, entertaining football camp for youth ages 10-17 that costs the participants nothing.

“When I was growing up in Florida, I could not afford to go to camps. We couldn’t do it. I wanted to attend, but couldn’t because of money,” said Champ Kelly, a former University of Kentucky player and current assistant director of pro personnel for the Denver Broncos. “I said if I was ever in position to have a camp like that for kids, I would want to give them the most coverage and most instruction possible for no cost.”

He’ll do that again June 21-22 at Henry Clay High School from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day.

“It’s going to again be a time for the kids to meet the star, but it is about more than that,” Kelly said. “It’s not about the guys coming back to help me. It’s about the campers. We come in and don’t make a big stink out of who is there to help and you are going to get awesome coaching.

“The kids are going to learn football. We are going to prepare them for success on and off the field. For younger campers, we will stress the basics while getting into more extensive training with older campers. We will have a variety of guest speakers delivering messages on life skills and the importance of making good decisions.

“I like a mixture of ages. Older kids are able to be leaders by example. I want younger kids there at ages 10 or 11 from now until they graduate and they know what that CHAMP Camp on the front of the T-shirt represents.”

Kelly had the camp at Bryan Station last year, but wanted to reach out to “a few different kids” by moving the camp to Henry Clay.

“Our plan originaly was to try every couple of years to move to a different area to reach more kids. We hope the kids in the Bryan Station area want to come to camp regardless of where we are.”

But he would like to have more than just Lexington campers. North Hardin High School has told Kelly it hopes to bring up to 44 players and at least 30. Kelly is hoping other high schools will do the same.

He’ll have a variety of former UK players like Derek Abney, Dougie Allen, Leonard Burress, Chris Demaree and more at camp again. Last year he had both Randall Cobb and John Conner, current NFL players, speak to the campers.

“It’s almost like a who’s who of Kentucky football,” Kelly said. “But these guys love to get together and help. They like to come back to Kentucky where we all met and give back for a great cause. It’s not like pulling teeth to get them back. They want to help. I just think it is awesome that a guy like Derek Abney, who lives in South Carolina and is very selective about camps he’s involved with, will come spend time and talk to kids and help the receivers out.”

He’s reached out to former UK quarterbacks Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen about helping this year as well as former UK linebacker Jeff Snedegar. Cobb plans to be back if his schedule permits. Current NFL offensive lineman Garry Williams also plans to return. “He is awesome. He stays the entire day to help,” Kelly said.

He said current Bronco tight end Jacob Tamme also hopes to be at this year’s camp if his schedule allows.

“I try to not put names out there because I want kids to come for the idea of what the camp is about opposed to just the people that will be there,” Kelly said. “But I always want as many of the Kentucky guys there as possible not because of their names, but because they are great with the kids and teach them lessons about life and football.”

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