Not many college coaches walk away from their first practice of fall camp with a wide smile on their face.
Mark Stoops was the exception.
The new Kentucky coach said the work the players put in this summer with the strength and conditioning staff was evident after Monday’s first practice.
“The guys did a lot of work in the summer,” Stoops said. “They’re more explosive, they’re in better shape; it’s nice to have more depth. We’re a better football team than when we left spring, so I’m encouraged. We did some really good things; we look a lot better.”
In his second session with the media on Monday, after a morning round for the team’s annual Media Day at Commonwealth Stadium, the UK coach said a positive attitude has helped aid the transition.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “If we can be consistent with that attitude, then we have a chance to get better and improve this football team.”
Some small snippets came out of the evening session with Stoops, including a hernia surgery this off-season for sophomore running back Dy-shawn Mobley. He is expected to be back on the practice field by Aug. 15.
“He should be fine,” Stoops said of Mobley, before offering the same prognosis for freshman defensive lineman Regie Meant, who is sitting out of practice until Friday with a gash on his hand. The cut got infected and is being treated.
– Unlike past camps where coaches and players stay in the UK residence halls, Stoops said his players and staff are sleeping in their own beds in August. It will save the team from having to move multiple times on top of practicing.
“With the way school starts here so early, you’d only be in there – I want to say they were only going to let us stay in there for seven days – and it’s not even worth the hassle,” he said, adding that he hopes it gives players better rest to sleep in their own beds.
– The Kentucky coach was asked if there were any “academic casualties” now that summer grades have been posted, and the coach was not too specific. “We do have a few that we’re working through right now,” he said. “We'll see how that goes.”
IN, OUT: ROSTER UPDATES
Two signees, defensive lineman Alvonte Bell and offensive lineman Justin Day will not be eligible to play for UK this season, Stoops confirmed at Media Day.
It had already been reported that Day did not qualify to enroll at UK this season. The three-star prospect plans to attend Georgia Military College. Stoops said UK planned to help Bell, a four-star prospect, find another school.
Stoops said UK is still waiting to learn the status of junior-college players Nate Willis and Melvin Lewis.
Willis, a 6-foot cornerback who was considered one of the 50 best junior-college players in the country last season, “has finished up all his classes,” Stoops said, adding that he hoped to have a final answer on Willis’ eligibility “soon.”
Lewis – a 6-4 defensive tackle – is finishing one class and Stoops said “the plan” is that he will be eligible for this season.
The good news for the Cats is that junior-college wide receiver Javess Blue and four-star defensive back Marcus McWilson have qualified to play for UK and attended the Media Day festivities. There had been questions throughout the summer about both players’ status. Rivals.com ranked McWilson as the No. 196 overall prospect in the class of 2013 and the No. 18 safety.
Both newcomers will probably be counted on to play immediately.
Pittsburgh transfers Chris and Demitrious Davis were both listed on the 2013 roster, but Stoops was not optimistic that the NCAA would grant them a waiver to play in 2013. The twins left Pitt after redshirting last season. Both were considered “athletes” in high school, and UK lists Chris as a defensive back and Demitrious as a running back/wide receiver.
If the Davis twins are not allowed to play this season, they will be eligible in 2014.
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow was asked on Monday about changing his jersey number this off-season from No. 13 to No. 2.
“I had this number since I was 7 years old in football pretty much every year,” Whitlow said, patting the deuce on his chest. “So I had to go back to it. I couldn’t breathe without this.”
When asked if he felt like the No. 13 held him back last season, Whitlow laughed. “I mean, once you get on the field, no, but it don’t look as good. This (No. 2) is my baby right here.”
Whitlow will be sharing the No. 2 with defensive end Bud Dupree, but don’t expect Whitlow to be taking over Dupree’s locker any time soon, fellow quarterback Maxwell Smith joked.
“I don’t think he wants to fight Bud,” Smith said of the 6-foot-4, 252-pound defensive end. “I wouldn’t want to fight Bud either.”