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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
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
Could Kentucky really beat Tennessee twice in a row in football? Could it really happen in years when Kentucky football has not been that god?
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter says for that to happen, UK will have to slow down what he thinks might be the best offensive team that Kentucky has played this season. The Volunteers rank 13th nationally in passing offense,averaging 317.6 yards a game and are 23rd in total offense nationally with 477.6 yards per contest.
However, he says Kentucky’s players continue to prepare well and not be distracted by the firing of coach Joker Phillips two weeks ago.
“Kids are always bounce back, no matter what happens in life,” Minter said. “They are much more resilient than adults because they don’t think about it too much, they just do it. We will wish them well and pull for them always. Kentucky will always have a special place in your heart because whenever you work somewhere for a while you give it everything you have. Therefore when you leave, you leave some of yourself behind.”
Whoever the next Kentucky coach is, Minter said the future is bright with talented underclassmen on defense.
“All the kids on the back end that have played and contributed this year, some in a mighty role, others in a minor role, are all going to be good players,” Minter said. “You just mark it down — the Blaylocks (Daron and Zack) are going to be good players, the young corners all three of them (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon) are going to be good players, (Khalid) Henderson is going to be a good player, (Pancho) Thomas is going to be a good player. There are three defensive linemen that you have never seen because they are being redshirted but they are going to be good solid guys, whether it be (Patrick) Graffree, (Thomas) Chapman, (Langston) Newton.
“There are others, I don’t want to be remiss (in not mentioning them), but it is a bright future. How bright, who knows? But it is a much brighter future than it was a few years ago looking down the road of guys finally getting into this program.”
By EVAN CRANE, UK Media Relations
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips continued to praise the efforts of three true freshman cornerbacks in J.D. Harmon, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn. All three saw action last week against Florida and played aggressive, according to Phillips. The head coach said due to the injury of safety Ashely Lowery and the play of the young corners, senior defensive back Martavius Neloms, who had been playing corner, took snaps this week at safety to provide more depth there.
“You saw a lot of young guys in the back end challenging receivers and that is the thing that stood out to me last week,” Phillips said after Thursday’s practice. “Guys like Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon were challenging guys and that is what you want to do. Being a defensive back, you are going to get beat, that is just a matter of when and where. The thing you have to do is win your share. And the thing I saw was that those guys more won than their share of opportunities.”
Phillips has been impressed with the play of UK’s youth this season overall, especially defensively, mentioning true freshman linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin.
“At the second level, those two young freshman linebackers (Henderson and Thomas) made some plays for us and will continue to get better,” Phillips said. “Farrington Huguenin is a freshman also that continues to get better. The thing we have to do is keep improving as much as we possibly can. That is the ideal of us getting a chance to play again this weekend to see how much we have improved each week and see how much we can improve this week especially with a young team.”
Phillips said he understands that as Kentucky improves so do the teams that make up the final eight games on the schedule. But Phillips said that thought has to be removed and the team needs to worry just about getting Kentucky better.
“This is a grown man’s league and we can improve but everybody else is improving, too, with some older guys,” Phillips said. “The thing we have to do is continue to see how much we can improve and get this football team better. They are trying to do the same thing and we have to try to match them.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas wanted to believe they were good enough to play as true freshmen this season. Now they know they are indeed good enough to help Kentucky as the Wildcats get set to host Western Kentucky Saturday night.
“I didn’t really believe it, but now I do. Now I get to play next to my good friend. Me and Khalid have got really close in fall camp and now we are together on the field. It is going to be lovely on the field the next two years,” said Thomas, who tweaked a hamstring in last week’s win over Kent State but returned to the game.
“I enjoyed getting to play a lot. I feel it did help a lot to see the younger players get in and enjoy ourselves and get to make plays. It sparked the team a little bit,” Henderson said. “We are a lot more comfortable now that we have got to play. We got our chance and me and Pancho are ready to play. That last game shows the coaches have more trust in me with the schemes.
“I feel playing time is more available to me now. Getting to play helps a lot. The only way to do it is get in there and do it, so I hope this showed the coaches a lot. I am ready for the next game already and was as soon as Kent State ended. I learned and now I am ready for the next opportunity. I will go twice as hard as I have been every day now because I know I can play.”
Henderson already has three tackles in limited playing time and Thomas has two.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Thomas impressed him with the way he changed his attitude on game day.
“Physical guy. He’s a box player. He’s not a guy that’s going to be out in space. The guy really loves to play the game,” Phillips said. “Again, he was one of those guys I saw that the closer we got to the game, he changed. His demeanor changed. His attitude changed.”
Thomas isn’t satisfied with how he played.
“I felt like I did pretty good. I could have did a lot better, but it was my first time and I had first-game jitters, but it felt good and I had fun,” the Florida native said. “I feel like I could do a heck of a lot more. I feel like I could do a lot of good things this year.”
Henderson said linebackers coach Chuck Smith “just basically gave us the absolute truth that we needed to step up” going into the Kent State game based on the way the defense had played against Louisville.
“Myself I played well but I have al ot of improvements to do. I am just ready to get out there, have fun and take the opportunities to play when they come,” Henderson said. “It is all about attitude. You have to give it the best you have got. You can’t let nobody scare you or let your opponent get in your heart or they will take it out of you.
“I feel the first game was a big embarrassment to us. It shocked a lot of our eyes and kind of put us on the back burner, but we came back and had a good week of practice working our butts off and it showed. That’s what we have to do every week.”
Thomas says both he and Henderson have a “nose for the ball and how to get there” and don’t let mistakes impact them.
“We just have to forget it about, learn from our mistakes the next day in film and we just know if we mess up we have to go 100 percent. You can’t dwell on mistakes in games,” Thomas said. “We just made a couple of mistakes (against Kent State) that we have to make up and clean up where we messed up.”
Thomas says nothing inspires him more than to see UK’s offense click the way it did the second half against Kent State. However, he’s just as optimistic about what he’s seen from a defense that has already played six true freshmen.
“I am very excited about the future. Actually a lot of us thought we would not come in and do this many things during the summer when we were doing summer workouts. But now that we have got to know the other guys and know where everybody wants to be, we are convinced that we can do something special here,” Thomas said.
Henderson said UK’s win over Kent State and then No. 8 Arkansas losing to Louisiana-Monroe on the same night shows how quickly perceptions can change about a team or season.
“It is funny how things change, but that is the excitement of college football,” Henderson said. “Losing to Louisville was just a shock to us, but we learned and handled it well.”
By Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo
Bear Bryant used to say, “When you make a mistake, admit it; learn from it and don’t’ repeat it.”
It was no question that the Cats opener versus the Cards had its share of mistakes from the unexpected side of the ball in the defensive unit that shouldn’t have been made. However, what’s done is done and now it’s time to lick the wounds and move on to the next one. If only it were easier said than done for this Cats’ team.
Despite the gloomy start to the season I still continue to see something in this team that has the capabilities to achieve the unexpected not just on a mental level but a physical one as well. The only way that can be done is by this team growing a little backbone on the field during the game. I can say it time and time again but the only way for a team to have success is to translate that raw ability and talent on a Saturday when it counts.
When it comes to football in the SEC it has always been my philosophy that you put the best talent out there that is going to bring in the tangibles you need to win ball games plain and simple. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect but it does have to be effective. So you can imagine how shocked I was to not see this core group of young talent that has been endlessly talked about and I have observed get some more time during the Louisville game. They could have made the difference where it counted.
Too often when we think of youth we tend to focus on the inabilities rather than capabilities. The reality is though this is what we have at Kentucky a team full of youth so why not use what we have and make it work to our advantage. Take a walk on the wild side for a bit and lets not be afraid to stray away from the conservative every now and again if it means winning games.
I think it’s important to credit the vets who have anchored this team and shared leadership that is vital for laying the foundation. However, at the same time we have to look ahead. These young guys like Pancho Thomas, Demarcus Sweat, Daryl Collins, Khalid Henderson just to name a few bring this dynamic energy that can awaken this dormant Cats program. These young athletes when you see them day in and day out at practice they have this belief that just transcends into something tangible that we have been longing for in this program.
While Joker brought a smile to my face saying to heck with it and its time to put the talent of this youth in to get some experience for the Cats. I will only believe that one when I see it! I am hoping that he will take a risk and not make the mistake of going the safe route with who he plays in this game against Kent State in the home opener this Saturday. Here’s what Joker had to say on the Cats final Practice before Kent St.
Joker on Thursdays Practice: “It was another heated day which is good. We had a lot of teams, a lot of special teams also. Trying to get these young guys honed in on their assignments and, again, let them play. That’s what we’ll do.”
Joker on RB Coshik Williams injury status: “He will not play this weekend and it doesn’t look good, but again it gives us an opportunity to play the young guy.”
Joker on Coshik’s strength as a player: “The guy is a tough guy. Ain’t no doubt about that. The thing we have to have him for: the long haul. I’m not taking these guys for granted by any means, but we need CoShik full speed. He’s not a real big guy, and he needs to be full speed. The guy busts his gut on every play, whether it’s practice or pregame. We’ve just got to make sure we take care of it and make sure we get him to the field healthy.”
Joker on Kent States’ misdirected play against Towson last week. “The first thing I was thinking was why the officials weren’t blowing the whistle. It’s dead. They should’ve been blowing the whistle. They probably were, but everybody was so excited about trying to make blocks and everybody was so excited about trying to make a tackle.”
“The funny thing was watching the coaches’ reactions. You really couldn’t see Kent’s coaches, but you could see Towson State’s coaches like, ‘Don’t tackle him! Don’t tackle him! Don’t tackle him!’ I was around to see the old Viking, Marshall go the wrong way. That was a live play. At least this one wasn’t a live play. But the guy is a really good football player. Number 10 is a really good football player. Just, again, 18- and 22-year-olds sometimes react in strange ways. The thing he did is he reacted quick and he stuck with it.”
Joker on obstacles Cats will face versus Kent State: “They’re physical. They won four out of their last five last year, beat a team handily. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They’ve won five out of the last six games that they’ve played. They’ve seen their league go into top conferences and come out with wins, so they’re excited. There’s two guys on their staff that I’ve been on that other sideline, too, and had a chance to come back here and all the emotions at play. We’ll be feeling some of that, too. That’ll go through their football team also.”
Joker on Pancho Thomas: ““Pacho’s at middle backer behind Avery . A different guy on game day. I like that. Those guys are different on game day, in sweats running up and down the sideline screaming and yelling, cheering on the defense. You’ve got to play those kind of guys. Those guys like to play. Pancho, you could tell leading up to the game that it was different to him. A lot of things became different the way he approached it the closer we got to game day, so he deserves to play also.”
Joker on the assets of the young talent: “Those young guys will play in different packages. They played a bit last week on the 3rd downs. They are going to get better as the season goes. Next year, we will be sitting here saying they are inexperienced so we have to get them experience now.”
Joker on what he expects from the Defensive side for the Cats: “I want to see us get lined up, and I want to see us attack the guys in front of us. Get lined up, play physical, get off blocks and make plays. I’ve said our defensive front is good; I still say that. Our defensive front is good enough to win with. They are. We’ve got to give those guys a chance.”
I hope to see some of the unknown faces to this team bring some livelihood back on both sides of the ball and bring back some confidence in the talent that lies in the den of the Wildcats. We have to remember choice, not chance, determines destiny. Too often do teams go through a season not knowing exactly what they want, but feeling sure they don’t have it. There has to come a time when a team must firmly choose the course which they will follow. Destiny after all is not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. We have to start creating feasible winning choices to put our team in the direction to move forward and create positive changes! If that means letting the young ones play then let them.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He was considered a “tackling machine” at Godby High School in Tallahassee, Fla., when he ranked sixth in the state with 143 tackles as a junior and followed that with 142 stops as a senior to earn him a spot among the nation’s top 40 high school linebackers in several recruiting rankings, including ESPN.
However, Kadeem “Pancho” Thomas says there is no big secret to why he made so many plays and hopes to do the same at Kentucky. “That is the way I am. You can’t let it come to you. You have to go get it. I am not fast at all. I just have a nose for the ball. I love contact. I love to be there every time. I like to hit,” said the UK freshman linebacker.
Here’s what else he had to say at the team’s recent media day (freshmen are off limits to the media now until after UK plays at Louisville Sept. 2).
Question: How is your health? Are you back to 100 percent after some issues during the summer?
Thomas: “I am good. I strained my hamstring earlier this summer, but it was nothing major. I was back in about two weeks and I am good now. I am back running. It was nothing that really set me back.”
Question: What has the summer in Lexington been like for you?
Thomas: “It was very different than back home in Florida. The weather is different. I just came in and the weight program was different than what I was used to. I was used to working, but this is different, harder. (Strength) Coach (Rock) Oliver is not always fun. He is no joke when it is time to work.”
Question: Have academics always been a big part of your life/family?
Thomas: “My mom wouldn’t let us do anything until our homework was done. You couldn’t go outside without doing your homework first. She would not even let us play some games without doing our homework. There were times I didn’t get to play in Pop Warner (football) growing up. I realized if I wanted to play ball, I had to get my work done. She made sure of that. I appreciate that a lot more now. I know what I have to do now to be successful.”
Question: How good is your brother, a highly-touted running back who has made his verbal commitment to UK?
Thomas: “He is pretty good. I don’t want to speak too highly of him, but he’s pretty good.”
Question: Did you have a lot of one-on-one battles with him growing up?
Thomas: “Yes we did. We go back and forth all the time in practice. I would get him, he would get me. Sometimes I would be slacking and he would try to run me over like, ‘I am here. Wake up.’”
Question: Did it surprise you when he committed to Kentucky?
Thomas: “It really didn’t. He was always talking about it when we would just be sitting around the house and chillin’ and stuff. He called me up and one night and said he was ready to make his decision and I asked him where he was going. He said, ‘Kentucky.’ I didn’t believe him until I saw it all over Twitter.
“I didn’t pressure him. I just left that up to him. I wouldn’t want anyone to pressure me to go anywhere or somewhere I didn’t want to go. He was always talking to me about how I would feel and told him wherever he was happy, I would be happy for him. Even if I had to play against him at Florida or something, I would be happy. I told him, ‘Just know that I will try to take your head off.’”
Question: What is one thing UK fans probably don’t know about you that might surprise them?
Thomas: “Everything speaks for itself. What you see is what you get with me.”
Question: What do you think of freshman linebacker Khalid Henderson?
Thomas: “I think that we are going to do something, me and him. I am pretty excited to play next to him. Kentucky has had great linebackers here. If you want to be the best, you have to play for the best and (linebackers) coach (Chuck) Smith has had great success with his linebackers here. I know how good they have been.”
Question: Is your goal to play this year?
Thomas: “That is my goal. I am going to try my best in camp and whatever the coaches decide, that is what they decide and will be fine with me. But I would like to play.”