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By Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo
If there ever was a time for perseverance before the season starts it is now. As I walked on to the Nutter Practice field it was clear that day 14 of practice had taken its toll. The defensive players walking off the field were clearly feeling those bumps and bruises from an aggressive practice series as for the offense today in their minds was a day of reckoning perhaps a glimpse of what’s to come.
Coach Joker Phillips remarked ,“Practice today was a really good practice and the offense probably left here feeling like they dominated, but the thing I will tell you is the defense has a lot of bumps and bruises and guys out.”
Among the defensive players that were taking time out to recover were Martavius Neloms and Ashely Lowery.
Vince Lombardi used to say, ““The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” Joker Phillips and the rest of the coaching staff seem to live by this set of standards going into the tail end of fall camp. With Louisville on the horizon in 16 days the cats are going to need to continue to push forward and prepare a strong mental and physical toughness leading up to the season opener.
“The defense has done a great job, especially this morning. We had a short-yardage scrimmage and it was eight snaps and the score was tied 4-4 and I called them up afterwards and said, ‘Who do you think won?’ And the offense raised their hand. Not true, if you are 50 percent on third-and-one, third-and-twos then you have problems. We have to be around 80-85 percent on third-and-one and third-and-twos. These guys have to understand the nature of the drill and how we are putting the drill together and the statistics that we need in those situations to be able to win football games.”
Despite the offense coming to play today the reality of it is that Joker is right 50% is not going to mean much come the time to face SEC defenses. To take another one out of Lombardi’s play book, ““Winning is not a sometime thing…it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while…you don’t do the right thing once in a while…you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.” It’s one thing to improve and step up as the Cats have showed on the both sides of the ball. However, this type of play is something that can’t just show up when players decided they are coming to play. It has to be embedded in them each game and each play. You don’t just have to endure four quarters of football but you have to play them as well. Despite the growth the youthful mentality still has a long road to build upon as the season approaches.
Of course the last thing any in the Big Blue Nation want to hear before a season is the injuries and players lost. However, this is the nature of the beast when it comes to football it’s inevitable that you’re going to lose some key players.
Thursday, Phillips announced that sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner, who was showcased in 11 games last season and gained notoriety for his special team’s performances, has an ankle injury that required surgery. “He is out six-to-eight weeks. It could be six weeks; we will just have to see how fast he heals. If he heals and we feel like he is ready to go then we will play him, if not then we still have a redshirt.”
Phillips did assure the media that the coaches feel good about the teams depth at safety and that Faulkner’s’ surgery went well and he will be missed. With Dakotah Tyler coming back along with some of the young freshman starting to make some noise in practice Phillips still has some decent depth at the safety. So like many instances this season we will see what players will step up and surprise the rest of the Cats this season.
Despite the bumps and bruise and little more tired some demeanor amidst the Wildcats. There always seems to be a lighter note than can make the day all that much more tolerable. Junior Offensive guard Steven Duff stole the show but not for his football talents. Steven became a trending topic Thursday after his epic dive made ESPN’s Sports Center top 10- “Plays of the Day.” Duff took the dive during the Cats pool day this past Tuesday and it was literally heard around the nation this week.
Phillips on Duff, “Nobody is more excited for Duff than me and this whole football team,” We have watched him do these types of flips every year he has been here. It was amazing when he first came on campus. He is a great athlete; don’t let his lineman’s physique fool you. The players were in the dining hall when it came on today and it erupted because of the type of teammate he is and the loyalty he has for this football team. The guy is all blue. We are excited for him to get all the attention he is getting.”
No matter what a given day has brought and as an athlete you lay exhausted there is always someone, or something that will drive you to press on. I have used quite a bit of Lombardi today so I might as well wrap up with him as well. “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.”
Despite the fatigue, wear and tear and a long road to improvement the one thing you can’t argue about this team in particular is there heart and passion to work collectively as a team to push boundaries and overcome obstacles. Each of the players and coaches truly bleed blue.