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By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes vaughtsviews.com readers make better, more thoughtful comments than I ever could. That was the case with Georgia Blue Thursday after news broke that brothers Pancho and Khalid Thomas had been dismissed from the UK football team after being charged by Lexington police July 6 with possession of a controlled substance.
Here’s what Georgia Blue posted in case you missed it:
“We need to Pray for Pancho and Khalid Thomas, because its sad to see a young men make Bad Choices not thinking about the CONSEQUENCES that come with it if you get CAUGHT. I just pray that if given a second chancesby a team that they don’t make the same mistake and that they take full advantage of a second chance.
“We still got to remember that these are kids and that we hope they do the right thing. Football hasn’t even started yet and there is so much going on in the NFL and COLLEGES about PLAYERS getting into Trouble.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Obviously, a roster purge was not unexpected when Mark Stoops took over at Kentucky. It happens almost every time there is a head coaching change and over half of the 11 players who have left UK since Stoops’ arrival had some kind of off-field issue. But that’s not going to make Stoops’ job easier.
Kentucky was 2-10 last season. Now 10 players eligible to return from that team are gone along with 13 scholarship seniors that made major contributions to last year’s team. That’s 23 players missing from last year’s team.
Now add freshman running Khalid Thomas to the casualty list after he was booted off the team along with his brother, sophomore linebacker Pancho Thomas.
Also it seems that another signee, Florida defensive lineman Alvonte Bell, likely will not be on campus as one source indicates he’ll go to either a junior college or prep school. That makes 12 players that could have been on the roster this year who will not be.
Two other signees, junior college cornerback Nate Willis and Ohio offensive lineman Kyle Meadows, have indicated they are finishing course work and will be at UK by early August. Kentucky has also been without junior college receiver Javess Blue, a key part needed for UK’s offense next season. Sources indicate he should arrive on campus soon and that UK coaches knew he likely would arrive late.
But the bottom line is that Stoops’ first team is going to be remarkably short on depth at almost every position and lacking SEC-caliber talent at some spots. The buzz about Kentucky football won’t be derailed by the Thomas’ departure — after all, UK did get a commitment from talented Texas receiver T.V. Williams Tuesday. Instead, that could happen when the Cats start having to play Louisville and eight SEC opponents.
Some fans are hoping Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot can work magic and win enough games to get to a bowl. If they do, name streets after them and double all their salaries. What’s more realistic is that UK could struggle to win four games this year — and the guess here is that the coaches know that and are subtly trying to make sure 2014 recruits know that, too.
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.
UK spokesperson Tony Neely confirmed the news to The Courier-Journal Thursday.
Pancho Thomas, a linebacker, played mostly as a backup last season as a freshman.
Khalid Thomas, a running back, signed with UK in February and would have been an incoming freshman.
The brothers are from Godby High School in Tallahassee, Fla.
There has been no official release from UK.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky is up to 21 signees now and waiting only on Florida running back JoJo Kemp to get his paper work in to have every player who verbally committed to the Cats going into today now signed.
Athlete Khalid Thomas and receiver Alex Montgomery, both of Florida, are the latest signees and UK now has nine players signed from the state of Florida, an all-time high.
Khalid Thomas, Athlete • 5-10, 170 • Fr-HS, Tallahassee, Fla. (Godby)
Skilled athlete who was named the 2012 Tallahassee Quarterback Club’s Most Valuable Player of the Year after helping Godby High School win the 2012 Class AAAAA state championship … Had 13 carries for 70 yards in the state championship game … Scored the game-winning touchdown on a 28-yard run, breaking multiple tackles in the process, in Godby’s 21-20 title triumph … Team posted a 14-1 record under Coach Ronnie Cottrell … Outstanding senior campaign, rushing 184 times for 1,471 yards and 15 touchdowns … Also had 23 receptions for 218 yards and a touchdown last fall … Led Godby in rushing and receiving his junior season … Had 958 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns his junior season, while also posting 421 receiving yards … Also played some defense in high school, making some interceptions … Named Class 1A-5A all-state second team his senior season and was a Tallahassee Democrat All-Big Bend Co-Player of the Year … Brother of current UK linebacker Kadeem “Pancho” Thomas … The nation’s No. 27 all-purpose back by 247Sports.com … 4quartersonline.com said Thomas is “an elusive multi-purpose back that can give opposition teams nightmares.” … ESPN.com praises Thomas for versatility, being a playmaker and his ball skills … Name is pronounced “kah-LEED.”
Alex Montgomery, Wide Receiver • 6-2, 210 • Fr-HS, Weston, Fla. (Cypress Bay)
First-team all-state wide receiver from Cypress Bay High School, where he helped his team to the 8A state championship game his senior season, regional semifinals his junior year and state semifinals his sophomore season … Ended his high school career in fine fashion with a tremendous performance in the 8A state championship game … Had nine catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns in the final, including a nifty one-handed touchdown catch … His 199 receiving yards was a state finals record … Also played defensive back and had what appeared to be the game-winning interception in the state championship game before a late penalty nullified the play … In the two playoff games before the state final, Montgomery returned an interception for a touchdown in each, first for 34 yards and then 56 yards … Had 42 catches for 892 yards and seven touchdowns his senior year en route to first-team all-state honors by the Miami Herald … Ended his junior campaign with 27 catches for 556 yards and 10 touchdowns … Coached by Mark Guandolo … ESPN.com lists key traits as good hands and speed … Ranked as the nation’s No. 51 wide receiver by Rivals.com.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes a coaching change can make a player re-think a verbal commitment given to a previous coaching staff. But when Mark Stoops took over at Kentucky for Joker Phillips in December, Tallahassee running back Khalid Thomas had no second-thoughts about staying firm to his commitment to the Wildcats.
“He is ecstatic with the new staff,” Godby High School coach Ronnie Cottrell said. “He just has a tremendous belief in Mark Stoops. Mark recruited this school for Florida State and is highly respected here.
“Khalid is very excited about playing for him at Kentucky. There was some concern because Khalid had a great relationship with (former UK assistant) Mike Summer and Joker Phillips. But when Stoops was named head coach, that is somebody he was really happy with.”
The 5-9, 170-pound Thomas — the brother of UK freshman linebacker Pancho Thomas — rushed for 1,471 yards and 16 scores in 2011 and over 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, including on the in the state title game win, as a senior.
“He had a good season for us. We won the Class 5-A state championship game and he was captain of our team,” Cottrell said. “We had a great team, but Khalid was a significant part of that. We are proud of what his brother did at UK last season, too. They will be good together.”
Cottrell said Stoops made sure that Thomas knew plenty about UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown as soon as he joined the UK staff.
“They have done a really good job of getting guys who were committed and educating them on the staff and its philosophy,” Cottrell said. “I think Khalid will be a big part of whatever they do. He is an excellent receiver and runner. He is well versed in the spread offense and coach Brown is one of the top spread and vertical passing game coaches in the nation. I think Khalid will be a perfect fit for that system.”
Cottrell sees the impact Stoops and his staff are making in Florida and don’t think that will stop with this year’s signing class.
“I fully expect them to have a big impact on Florida recruiting. It’s not just Mark Stoops, but the coaches he has brought in,” Cottrell said. “My experience with Mark is that he is a great evaluator of talent. He will come to Florida and bring kids in that help Kentucky’s program. I think he will start signing some kids here that maybe they have not been able to get to Kentucky. He will create some new inroads in Florida for Kentucky.”
That could include return trips to Godby High School immediately because Cottrell says he has at least five players UK has already expressed interest in — cornerback Tony Fields, quarterback J.T. Bradwell, cornerback Deion Singleton, defensive end Jacob Pugh and running back-linebacker Kris Harris.
Singleton has a bevvy of scholarship offers including Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, LSU, South Carolina and Kentucky. Pugh is the same way with offers that include Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Fields also has several offers and has been contacted by numerous SEC schools.
“I think Kentucky will have a strong presence here next year and there’s absolutely no question that I have guys now who are already interested in Kentucky,” Cottrell said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Because he wanted to be able to focus on helping his team win a Florida state high school championship, Khalid Thomas decided there was no reason to keep looking for a college because of the way he felt about the University of Kentucky. The Tallahassee running back had a host of scholarship offers, including Ohio State, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.).
“But I loved the coaching staff at Kentucky. It’s a group of good guys. I felt at home up there,” said Thomas.
One reason is that his older brother, Kadeem, will be a freshman linebacker at UK this season.
“I’m used to playing with him. I’m actually kind of happy that we’re going to be able to play again in college. He kept it real at ease with me, but he told me Kentucky was a place he was really enjoying even if he was a little homesick,” Thomas said. “Nobody at Kentucky tried to force me to make a decision and my family was the same way. My mother is kind of happy we are going to be together. She’s even talked about purchasing a Kentucky license plate. Everybody here was pretty happy with my decision.
Thomas says he grew up “loving and watching” football, in part because his dad “was a pretty good player” and in part because of the rivalry with his brother.
“We helped each other a lot. We would play until we could not play any more. We went back and forth a lot because we are both very competitive,” Thomas, who was recruited by UK offensive line coach Mike Summer, said. “He is one to set a goal and accomplish that goal. He makes sure everything is right and he always knows what to do. He just makes play and is a great player. Myself, I am a playmaker. I feel like I am always in a position to make a play. I have the mindset to take it easy, be patient and just play ball.”
Thomas was Godby High School’s leading rusher and receiver last year. This will be his fourth season to start at running back — a rarity at the Florida High School that is used to producing college players.
“We’ve have a lot of great running backs here, but he is just a complete player,” Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell, a former assistant coach at Alabama, said. “He plays both sides of the ball, too. I have not seen anything he cannot do as a football player. The University of Kentucky is getting a tremendous player.
“He is extremely productive. He makes plays when there is not a play. He has exceptional ball skills. He’s able to catch the ball and will fit very well into what system UK is using right now.”
Cottrell says he could be a “premier” defensive back.
“I just started playing defense for us last year, and had a good time,” Thomas said. “It was my idea to try and help the team. I did it in middle school and was a good safety. The coaches gave me a chance and I was just able to make plays. The coaches said they wondered why they didn’t let me play defense a long time ago.”
Cottrell said he was surprised when Thomas made a mid-July decision about his college choice so he could concentrate on his senior season.
“I was a bit surprised it was Kentucky, but I knew it could happen. Mike Summers and Joker Phillips did a tremendous job recruiting Kadeem, who was one of the leading tacklers in Florida and an all-state selection,” Cottrell said. “As Kadeem was making visits and things were going on, Khalid was paying close attention. He told me if felt like if he committed now, he could do a better job for Godby High School this season. He’s the consummate team player like that.
“When Khalid made his unofficial visit to Kentucky, it just changed everything. He was so impressed with Joker Phillips, and I am very impressed with the job Joker is doing. My players feel like it is really going to be a strong situation at Kentucky in the next few years. I expect Kadeem to be a big part of the team for Kentucky and I expect Khalid to have a major impact. They are a big part of what Godby football is all about and they will both be that way at Kentucky.”
Cottrell says there is little doubt that Kadeem Thomas, a linebacker, can help the Wildcats.
“He is an inside linebacker who is very physical. He was one of the best run stoppers coming out of Florida,” Cottrell said. “He’s just a very intelligent player who picks things up very quickly. I think he will do things (defensive coordinator) Rick Minter wants from his inside linebackers. He just has a knack for being around the ball, which is why he makes so many tackles. I think he could be very big on special teams and make an impact on their team this year.”
Cottrell knows Khalid Thomas could be the same way next year and also knows other recruiters won’t back off because of his verbal commitment to UK.
“On the day he committed, we still got all kinds of calls trying to get him. The recruiting won’t stop,” Cottrell said. “But I do know the type of person he is, and the kind of family he has, and I think he is committed to Kentucky and will be a big part of coach Phillips’ recruiting class. Kentucky is doing a good job recruiting in Florida and they are still on a couple of other guys here and we have several juniors that are really good, too.”