Another Kentucky Football Media Day is in the books!
On Friday, head coach Mark Stoops met with local media to preview the upcoming season for his program, which will be his 11th year with the Wildcats.
Here is a recap of what Stoops had to say via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: How is everybody doing? Good summer? Good to see everybody.
Thanks for being here. Appreciate all you guys, what you do, the stories that you write, the time you invest. I see a lot of you not only here but on the news, in the paper, on Twitter. Covering a lot of events, not just football, but all of our student-athletes. You work exceptionally hard. I’ve gotten to know quite a few of you through the years. It’s been a long time. Quite a few of you through the years. It’s been a long time. So, thanks for what you do and the coverage, I think always being fair. Appreciate that.
But excited about this team. Going into year 11, it’s hard to believe. Joked about it before: sometimes it feels like an eternity, and sometimes it feels like the blink of an eye. It’s been a journey to say the least.
I think the times are very different right now than when I stepped into this job. As I mentioned many, many different times, you better be ready and willing to adapt and to change or else you will be irrelevant very quickly. So, we’re trying to keep up with those times.
It’s evident by our roster. You’ve heard me say a million times, even went over this with our team a bit yesterday, but the first 10 years you constantly heard me talk about build, build, build, build a winning culture, select the right teammates, constantly developing them. Things are different. We have to do that very quickly now.
You look at the roster, the roster turnover, and there’s not a hundred guys in that room that have been there for years and have heard me talk and heard us build that culture. It’s different. We have to do it very quickly. We have to adapt. We have to build this team. I feel like we have a very good football team, but we have to come together and be united and be a team very quickly.
I think even between last year and right now, I learned different things. The approach has got to be different. Last year was the first time the transfer portal, NIL - that’s been involved for a few years now - but I think last year was the first year that it just kind of hit me, hit us, like right in the face, what you’re dealing with, the change. I’m not saying good, bad or indifferent, it’s just different.
We’re adapting. We’re approaching it in some ways differently. Don’t ask me how. I mean, that’s internal. But there’s just things that I need to have a different approach and take a different approach.
But I like the way this team has worked. They’ve been very good this off-season, very solid winter. Our fourth quarter drills, things we do in the winter, guys worked extremely hard this summer. It’s been relatively quiet. The guys have worked. Camp is off to a good start. Things are in place.
I think the questions that you’re going to ask me, I think maybe some of the weaknesses that we had a year ago are being addressed. They were addressed in the off-season by personnel. They’re being addressed by scheme, making sure we’re doing our part as coaches to put players in a position to be successful. Hopefully through the course of this next four weeks we’re going to improve in a lot of areas.
It’s fun. It’s a great group. We’re attacking every day. The approach may be different than 10, 11 years ago, but the enthusiasm is still the same.
I feel really good about this coaching staff. I greatly appreciate the work that they put in because it is different. The time with recruiting is way different. The sacrifices that coaches have to make, it’s year-round. So it really doesn’t stop. Our group has been tenacious in their approach, in sacrificing their time. It is what it is as far as that goes.
But it’s challenging, to say the least, with your assistant coaches, with your time demands. But we’re not here to complain about any of that. We’re here to build up this year’s football team. Again, it’s a really good group. I feel like we have a really solid team.
So I’ll open it up.
Q. (Question regarding practice injuries...)
MARK STOOPS: We’re in pretty good shape. You’ll see a guy or two out there today that just got a little nagging injury yesterday that you’re going to miss out there in practice today. Won’t take you long to figure it out. But he shouldn’t be out but two, three days hopefully. A little soft tissue injury.
One thing about our strength and conditioning team, they’re amazing. I wouldn’t change them for anybody. But we push it pretty hard through the summer. I can’t blame this one on them.
We had a couple soft tissue injuries late in the summer. But our guys work exceptionally hard at speed development, pushing it to that limit, not overtraining them, but pushing their mobility and their speed development.
Q. The indoor practice facility has to enhance your program.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, thanks, I meant to mention that in my opening statement.
Yeah, it is one of a kind. It’s beautiful. There is a ton of space. We had to go in there already this year, yesterday morning. Right now, we’re still finishing some summer school, so our schedules are a little goofy. We have to go real early in the morning on certain days.
Had to go in there already, and it was wonderful. There’s just a ton of space. The fact that our quarterbacks and receivers can catch balls on the sidelines and not worry about the track. The D-line and O-line can get all the way off the field. There’s a lot of square footage in there. It’s a first-class facility.
So, thank you to all the people involved. It’s an honor to have Karen and Rich Brooks’ name on that field. It puts a smile on my face when I saw that yesterday going out there. So, it’s a wonderful facility and thank you.
Q. Is this the first time you’ve been in?
MARK STOOPS: As the team, yeah.
Q. Can you talk about the fan excitement, the number of tickets that have already been sold.
MARK STOOPS: Well, can’t thank the fans enough. Again, it’s redundant, I say it a million times, but it’s so true: we can’t do this without the fan experience. That’s a big part of playing in the SEC. Coming into an environment and coming into Kroger Field, feeling that electricity, feeling that energy, it’s something else. So, thank you.
We need everybody there. We need them loud. It helps. It helps recruit. It helps our players. It makes a difference in games, as you’ve seen, through the years. Very excited about the season ticket sales and the excitement on this football team.
The schedule is awesome. I’m worried about Ball State. You know I’m not getting out of my skis. But I’m really not even worried about them right now, I’m worried about us. We have a lot of work to do.
But it is going to be, as always, a fun, entertaining schedule.
Q. You mentioned roster turnover. I know it’s only two practices, but what have you noticed about the offensive tackles?
MARK STOOPS: Much needed. There’s no denying that.
No, these guys have done a good job. We needed depth, we needed length, we needed some bodies. I think it was five offensive linemen in general. The tackles were much needed. Playing good.
Q. Are there any specific players you’re thinking the scheme may help a little more, their style?
MARK STOOPS: No, I don’t want to get into that. We’ll see.
I think if there’s any one position where we’re down a little bit in numbers right now, it’s wideout. I think you all know the skill that we have there, some of the talent we haven’t had in a while. We have some really good players there.
But with that opens up the opportunity for others to leave. It kind of hurts your depth a little bit, so we got to watch that position a little.
Q. You mentioned the coaching staff. Obviously Liam. We talked a lot about him. How crucial is it to have him back? What have you seen out of his system?
MARK STOOPS: There’s no question the comfort level with bringing Liam back is there. I mean, it’s evident. It’s obvious in our building, with our players. He knows so many of them. But he has that energy. Again, I don’t want to put any and all problems on a previous coach. That’s on me. Things that have happened a year ago, the areas where we fell short, a lot of them are within the program, I’ll shoulder that.
But with Liam, he brings an energy, he brings a confidence. The difference is this time compared to the first go around is he is a proven. He’s proven himself, that he can be successful in the SEC. When I hired him the first time, he hadn’t had that proof yet. I believed him or I wouldn’t have hired him. I think this time you could feel that confidence. I like the creativity.
We have to play to our strengths and be adaptable. He does that very well.
Q. Question on Nik Hall…
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Nick had an injury. I think he is going to have to take a medical redshirt. There’s another tackle there that had some promise. But had an injury and is going to have a hard time coming back from that.
Q. You mentioned the soft tissue injuries here at the start of the season. What role does the data coming out of the exercise science programs play in the program as we approach the season?
MARK STOOPS: It plays a big role. It still does. If you recall when I came here day one, I was probably as whatever you want to say, up to my neck or as knee deep in sports science as anybody in the country at that time - anybody, any pro team, anybody - because of who I brought with me and where we started with that.
What we found over the years is what is very useful, what’s not. There’s still that human element. It’s still like who can handle certain training, who can be pushed to that limit. I’m not talking about the type of training that we all worry about as far as, like, heat exhaustion. You know what I mean? Don’t misquote me on that. I’m talking about speed training, mobility training, things of that nature, really testing, pushing their speed. It’s not running so many times that they’re gasping for air, our guys are in shape, we don’t have to worry about that.
I love our strength-and-conditioning team.
So, the sports science is very important. I still look at it, in particular, as I look at certain guys where I’m thin, you know what I mean? We monitor that. I monitor it daily on their loads, on their speeds, to see how much they’re training and make sure we don’t over-train them. That’s also team wide.
There’s always a gut instinct you have to go with, too. So, if you ask Coach Edmond and Mark Hill, they’re going to listen to their gut, you know what I mean? They’re going to do what they do. To some extent of course they take it. So, it gets rather complex there. Hard question to answer.
We look at it all, I look at it all, certainly through training camp, as I look at speeds and things as we want to ramp up. My approach is always gearing up, pushing them extremely hard, then getting ready for the season.
That’s a very, very simple version of it in general here. I don’t know if I answered your question or not (smiling).
Q. Nik (Hall), is he out for the season?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, I may be premature. In the process, yeah. Could be either/or.
Q. How far in camp can you get a grasp on how improved you are up front on the offensive line?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it will take a little time. I know we’re improved. To our standard, I don’t know.
Q. As far as Devin Leary is concerned, from the leadership standpoint, how has he transitioned, kind of taken that role?
MARK STOOPS: Devin is a very natural leader. He doesn’t overdo it. He still wants to work and take care of his own backyard, ultimately finding his voice and finding that leadership role to whatever level it goes to. It will happen authentically in time.
Q. Your first game, talking about heat and so forth, noon games, September 2nd, do you want heat like we’ve had here recently or not? What kind of measures do you take when you’re trying to practice in the mid 90s?
MARK STOOPS: The last part of your question is the most significant as far as precautions and watching that. I mean, you absolutely have to. You have to take that very serious when you have some of the heat that we’ve had. Even going in the indoor yesterday was different than being outside because of the humidity with all those bodies. That’s different than some of the outside heat.
I think the biggest thing with precautions is listening to my trainers, making sure we have built-in breaks, making sure they’re hydrated. The players have to do a good job on their own. We talk about that often. Young men will be young men. Some of them take it very serious, eat the right foods and hydrate, do all the things necessary to take care of their body. Some maybe don’t do it as good as they should.
We constantly educate them on that, want them at their peak. There’s going to be times when it gets tough during training camp. Training camp is not what it used to be. There’s no two-a-days. We used to have them all day. That’s not the case. So we got to make sure they’re in shape. We do it safely is the most important thing.
But as far as what I wish for, you know my answer already, don’t you? It is what it is. Whatever, man. Bring it on (smiling).
Q. You talked about making that jump from a first year to a second year, what do you expect of Deone? How can he add to what he showed?
MARK STOOPS: The first thing I notice with him is he’s got some natural leadership qualities. Everybody looks at his physical stature, the way he plays. But maturity and growth in that way is extremely important. Even as a freshman, he had a way, if you watch him, to lead without being overly vocal. I appreciate that about him because he’s really a team guy.
In this second season, I’m seeing that a little more vocal. I’m seeing him lead and be comfortable doing it. On the field it will translate. He’s had a full off-season. He’s had the strength and conditioning. He looks quick. He looks in shape. We’ll keep on working.
I expect big things out of him.
Q. How much do you think the new clock rule will change coaching strategy?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t think much. I don’t think much at all. Maybe act like I don’t (smiling).
I try to manage that very well. Back when we were ground-and-pound, had to. That was very much on my mind throughout games, time management, watching the clock, what our strengths were, what we could do to win football games.
So, I think overall it won’t change the game much in that the strategy of it is to be determined. You know what I mean? As far as when, diving into the weeds on that, that will still be a game-to-game management deal, time management deal.
Q. If you’re behind, maybe you become aggressive earlier...
MARK STOOPS: It could be. It just depends on how fast you go. We’ve worked on ourself being more efficient. We’re pro style, but to be more efficient of not taking so much time.
That issue, what you’re talking about, that did bother me last year as well, of not being able to have some tempo in not just a two-minute drill. When you’re behind, you need to pick it up... That’s being addressed just internally without the issue.
Q. As far as hazing, how do the coaches monitor that? How do you monitor those type of things?
MARK STOOPS: Well, hazing is not permissible, period. You used the word ‘hazing’. That’s 100% not permitted within our program. There’s probably different definitions on that, right, but I’ve always been that way.
I just believe players are different. I’ve always prided myself on relationships with players. People come from all different areas, all different backgrounds. How comfortable they are within the situation...
I just believe in taking care of young people. I’m not alluding to any other situation because I have a lot of respect for the person who is going through that, you know what I mean?
With us, to my knowledge, it’s never been an issue. I know going forward it never will be because it won’t be tolerated.