Updated: Sep 1, 2022
(Picture via USAToday)
It was a hot and crowded one at Kroger Field this afternoon, but every second was worth it. Getting introduced to the players, asking the summer-long questions to the coaching staff and finally starting to feel the hype of the football season inching closer and closer.
A lot was said, so here's the entire transcript of what Mark Stoops answered during his press conference today.
Mark Stoops' introduction: "It's gone by very fast at times and very slow at times, but I feel very privileged to be here for nine years, going on ten, and really excited about this football team. I really feel like our program is in a position that we're very confident in what we're going to do. I really have a lot of confidence in the staff and greatly appreciate the hard work and dedication that they give along with our team. Very strong leadership on this team, and that has a lot to do with the foundation of the players in previous years. Really feel proud of the work that we've done. We certainly know we're far from being where we want to be. We want to continue to climb, continue to push, and constantly grow the program and take steps in a higher direction. That's our plan, one day at a time. I know that gets -- you guys get tired of hearing that and we talk about it often, but you know I'm going to say it. It's about what we do today. I felt like today was by far the best day one practice we've had in the 10 years I've been here, but it should be. Our foundation is set in stone, and we have a returning quarterback, and we're able to work with our guys more than we ever have this summer, so we should be further along in day one. But we were. That's good. As I mentioned, I really feel good about this team's leadership but also their work ethic and dedication to what they're doing, and we're off to a really good start. We have an awful lot of work to do. We have a tendency to, at this point forward, kind of get into our cave over there, that beautiful cave, the Joe Craft Center, but we get in our cave and do an awful lot of work. We have an awful lot to do the next month as we prepare for the opener."
Q. Any update on Chris (Rodriguez)'s status?
MARK STOOPS: No, I really don't have any comment on Chris's status at this point.
Q. You're going on 10 years; is there anything over the last 10 years that you remember fondly?
MARK STOOPS: I mean, there's many. There's many good moments, many good moments. Obviously as I was talking with the team yesterday and with the staff, in football and probably in most businesses, we learn by mistakes. Those scars really stick out to us. So, we try not to ever let those same mistakes happen again. I remember a lot of those (chuckling). I seem to remember those more than the wins.
Q. You've had quite a bit of turnover. I guess it's a normal amount, in the 10 years you've been here, and yet you keep building successfully. Why is that?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you know, our culture is not going to change. I could go back to year one and all that, but it's true. You've heard it many times, but it's true. I'm not a big cliche guy. But there's climate, and then there's culture. You can change a climate rather quickly, and a culture takes a long time to engrave, and if we do that and we do it correctly, then you can sustain the highs and the lows and the turnover, whether it's players or coaches or anybody. So, I don't look at it like that. I always look at it like it's an advantage, and I have great respect and appreciation for all the former players and coaches. But it just put us in a position to do what we're doing now.
Q. (Question on the schedule).
MARK STOOPS: I don't really hear anything about it.
Q. Miami (Ohio) is supposed to be one of the best teams coming back they've had in years. Northern Illinois as well. They're the two strongest teams in the MAC.
MARK STOOPS: They're two very good teams, two of many good teams on our schedule, and I don't think I ever have to apologize for the schedule that we play in the SEC. Why don't you take a good look at some other leagues.
Q. Carrington (Valentine) seems like a really core part of the defense. How did you feel his off-season went?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we need him to continue to elevate. We were just in there watching film after early morning practice this morning, and just some of the things you see him working on day one, he took a lot of good coaching. He's got a lot more confidence. He's playing with a lot more patience, just in day one. But he certainly would be a guy that should take that next step. We have a lot of confidence in him. I love his attitude. He works hard. He cares. He's working extremely hard. One day at a time he'll continue to get better.
Q. You've put a lot of emphasis on length at that position, and then on the opposite side speed. Do you see that show up on the field?
MARK STOOPS: We do. We feel like there's definitely some fair questions on both sides of the ball with the skill, and in the secondary with the experience and with the wide receiver position. We definitely needed to get some length. Really the guys we brought in all have good length with Keidron (Smith) and Jordan (Robinson) and then Alex Afari is a guy that we're really high on, too, with great size, and he's very versatile. Just seeing some things early in him that I really like. So we really feel like we're getting the length that we're looking for there. Of course at the wide receiver position everybody is worried about that, but I really feel good. I really do. I feel with Dane (Key) and DeMarcus (Harris) and Tayvion (Robinson), they gave us the right amount of experience and playmaking ability. Obviously, Dane being very young but being here in the spring, picks things up very quickly, Tayvion having very good experience, and I feel like DeMarcus is going to take another step. But then you look at the other guys and you've got Christian Lewis I feel really good; you've got Dekel (Crowdus) coming back at full strength; Barion (Brown) showed up today already; and of course Chauncey (Magwood) is really, really strong. Then you've got the young guys that can just absolutely fly with Jordan (Anthony) and Brandon (White). So, I really feel like there's a really good mix there of some really good quality.
Q. When you're so versatile, what do you do with the young guys?
MARK STOOPS: It's always been my philosophy like going back 25 years, when I get a big, versatile guy, I always want to start him at corner. I want to teach him those man principles and put him in the hardest position. Corner is one of the very hardest positions as far as application. Just playing that position is difficult, and who has the talent to do it.
So early on, one practice, but I feel he does, and that gives us the big corner that we're always looking for, but also getting him on the field is something you've got to think about, and we always talk about maybe in nickel position, we would like to as we get more versatile, play some man, do some things, you've got to have a good cover guy at that position, as well, so it's not necessarily a hybrid nickel/Sam linebacker, you've got to have a guy that can cover. So we're exploring there to continue to help develop our defense.
Q. With Zion (Childress), was part of the attraction to him his coverage ability?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Zion, just experience, a lot of experience, and good football player. He's got a lot of snaps under his belt.
Q. Whether or not you guys spend any time in the season without Chris (Rodriguez), how do you feel about the rest of that position?
MARK STOOPS: We feel just fine about it. We feel like there's some really solid players there that have a chance to break out and do some really good things. All those guys, La'Vell (Wright), JuTahn (McClain), Kavosiey (Smoke), Ramon (Jefferson), the new transfer; Michael Drennen. All those guys we have confidence in.
Q. How big a deal was it for Jordan Anthony that he didn't go to Colombia this week?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it just says where his head is at, and I want the best for the young man. He's special. Elite speed. In this world now with name, image and likeness and a lot of things, he's leaving a lot on the table by staying here and being with the team, and we appreciate it and want him to do what he wants to do and want him to get the work.
Q. Where do you feel you are with the offensive tackle position?
MARK STOOPS: I feel very good. DeAndre has been very steady there. We have a great one in Kiyaunta (Goodwin) backing him up. Jeremy (Flax) has done a really good job on the other side along with David. David Wohlabaugh has been a pleasant surprise and doing a really solid job. We are thin at the offensive line. Josh Jones is out, as well. He's been off and on with injury his whole time here really, and it's too bad for him, but he'll have a procedure done where he will be out for the year. He hasn't played much for us, but it's depth that we need at that position.
Q. Does the standard that's been set here with five offensive linemen drafted in the last few drafts, does that give you guys something to shoot at?
MARK STOOPS: I mean, again, that's the standard that we've created, the culture that we have. They understand that and know that. This group really works extremely hard. They put their head down and go to work. It's anchored by a pretty solid fellow there with Eli (Cox) in the middle, and Kenneth (Horsey) has an awful lot of experience. Bringing Tashawn in, Manning, is a big help, and Jager (Burton) is really progressing extremely well. Very happy about him. We have the right amount of guys to play, to get that rotation that we like inside and outside, but we don't have a lot of depth, with some injuries and different things. We've got to continue to recruit and bring guys in in that area.
Q. Can you talk about the quarterbacks behind Will (Levis)?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Deuce (Hogan) and Kaiya (Sheron), they'll be battling for the backup position. I think both of them have taken a really big jump this summer and have worked really hard. They both have shown signs, and we'll let them continue to play. We have a lot of time until our first game, and everybody will make a big deal about that because we'll just practice one day at a time and see where we're at and make a decision on that later.
Q. Is Izayah Cummings healthy again, and what did you see from him last year and do you think he can elevate his play?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think he's going to make a big difference, and just seeing him out there today already caught my eye because he missed all spring. It was nice having him back out there. That's for sure. When you put the top three wide outs in there that I just talked about in Tayvion and DeMarcus and Dane, and then you put him in the mix, that's a pretty good group. He's full strength and going at it, and hopefully he'll stay healthy.
Q. One position on your whole team people don't have any question about is linebacker. How excited are you about that position, and how do you get enough snaps to put four or five of those guys on the field at once?
MARK STOOPS: Well, outside won't be hard because again, we have some really good young players there, but with Jordan (Wright) and J.J. (Weaver) back at full strength, I know having J.J. back, he played obviously all last year, but it was a short time after having an ACL, and those of us that have gone through that, that's tough. But him being a year further removed from that and healthy will make a big difference in his play. The same with Jordan, back a little heavier, got full strength, going at it, and then we feel like we have some young players there in Noah Matthews, Keaten Wade and Tyreese Fearbry. They're all good players, good young guys that have different talents, and we've got to bring them along.
Inside linebacker we're really deep with Jacquez (Jones) and DeAndre (Square) anchoring that, but getting (D’Eryck Jackson) back at 100 percent and then Trevin (Wallace) is a guy we've got to get on the field. He's too good of a football player and the same with Martez (Thrower), and really Luke (Fulton) is playing well, so I feel like we could go three deep there, which is good because that's a very physical position and you're going to get banged up.
Q. Have all the freshmen made it to campus?
MARK STOOPS: Not all.
Q. You talked about the newcomers and guys needing to step up in different positions. What's it like to have Will with his leadership and experience from last year?
MARK STOOPS: Well, it's fantastic. He's a great leader, starting with his own work ethic. One of our first principles in leadership is lead yourself, and he certainly does that well. Then he has the impact to affect those close to him and get to a point he's at now with the confidence with a year under his belt, he affects the entire program and the culture of our program, and everything about him is authentic, and that's really good to see.
I think any of us that have seen people that you could kind of see right through, it doesn't take long, and you can't see through him because he's real.
Q. How is he handling all the hype that's been going on around him?
MARK STOOPS: I have no issues with that because he is very motivated. He's very driven, just with his own ability.
Q. You said today was the best day one practice you've seen in 10 years. What do you see that makes you say that?
MARK STOOPS: Just much cleaner, both sides of the ball, executing, knowing what to do. There were some slight rule changes that allowed us to spend more time with them, so we should be a little further along, so take that with a grain of salt. But there is growth in the program and there's strong leadership, and they've worked hard this summer, and think just overall execution. Obviously, we have a quarterback coming back and other quarterbacks have taken quality reps in practice this summer, and just with exchanges, formations, snap count, pre-snap penalties, all that, it was just much cleaner than normal.
Q. You've says the physicality from day one; what exactly do you mean by that? How is this team stacking up as far as physicality?
MARK STOOPS: I don't know, you could define it how you want. There's a lot of different ways. But when we put on the film, we have a pretty good idea of what's physical and what's not. Maybe you could go back and watch the TV copy.
Q. Why is that important playing in the SEC?
MARK STOOPS: Oh, endurance. I think you have to be physical to have consistency in my opinion. That goes across the board. Even as we were touching on it earlier, the length of skill guys and size of skill guys, there's a place for all different sizes, believe me. Let's look at Wan'Dale (Robinson) last year, arguably one of the best players we've had in a long time, and certainly played extremely big. But overall it's just important to me. It's foundation that I think we have to have. You want consistency in this league, then I believe that it matters.
Q. (Question on the tight ends).
MARK STOOPS: Well, you know Vince (Marrow) is always calling for that. That's the only suggestion he ever makes. (Laughter.) No, Rich (Scangarello) likes being multiple, so it's a tight end friendly offense, that's for sure, so they should get some action.
Q. People around the Southeastern Conference are calling Lexington a destination place like Tuscaloosa and Athens.
MARK STOOPS: I mean, what -- it's my destination for now until they boot me out of here. But I've been here, like I said, nine years going on ten, so you don't have to sell me.
Q. Are you worried that your players are hearing too many nice things and too big of expectations?
MARK STOOPS: You always toe a fine line there, but our players know that I'm very real with them. It is what it is. They're going to hear -- I'm not one of those guys that I look at my calendar and say, okay, this is an ass-kicking day. You know what I mean? That's just not -- I wear it on my sleeve. If we were bad I'm going to get after them. If they were good I'm going to tell them. Right now you can't pat them on the back too much because there's too much work to be done. There's just a ton of work to be done. We have a lot of work to do as a staff and the players and there's just too much to do. There's so many situations, you can't possibly get them all, but we try. We try to get our football awareness and football IQ very high so we play all situations right. I mentioned that to the team yesterday. We could play 95 percent of the game right and play physical and do all those things, but if you play a situation wrong, you lose. There's a lot of work to do, and that's our focus.
No, I don't worry about that too much. We're going to get after them.
Q. You talked about the tight end room and you also talked about Izayah. I was wondering if you could speak on Keaton Upshaw coming back from that injury and the role he'll play this year.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it's nice to see Keaton out there. Obviously he's had a couple bad breaks, and hopefully he'll stay healthy. He definitely has that size that we were mentioning earlier, talking about. He's a big target, very athletic and can do a lot of things for a tight end. He's a complete tight end. So really happy he's out there, and I hope he stays healthy.
Q. Do you have a message for the people of Eastern Kentucky right now?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it's extremely hard. A message, no. I talked to (Breathitt County) Coach (Kyle) Moore and extended our condolences and offered up our services. We're collecting as many things as we can that we're permitted to donate through football because their locker room was destroyed and all the things there. But I did mention to Coach Moore, it's devastating. There's mass destruction. It's horrible no matter where you look at it. Certainly I saw certain clips of that, of their locker room and them digging themselves out of that, cleaning themselves up. I just wanted him to know that we're here to help him and support him and donate things as we can. Again, the team is going to do a couple different things to help, and we'll continue to do our part. I guess my only message would be to Eastern Kentucky, continue to stay strong like they are. Those are tough, strong, resilient people. We're going to do a lot of things to try to help them in the meantime, but we're also going to go out there and play extremely hard and hopefully represent them the right way, that they really have something in the fall to smile about.
You can watch the whole event through this livestream attached below.