Today felt like the first day of school in the Bluegrass. Media members from across the Commonwealth came together and congregated as the 2022 football season gets underway.
Mark Stoops was the first to take the podium this afternoon and spoke on many subjects, and without any exaggeration, did not speak on the status of star running back Chris Rodriguez. “No, I really don't have any comment on Chris's status at this point.” It is worth mentioning that Chris Rodriguez was seen during the team picture, but was not available for any press opportunities. Stoops was later on asked about his confidence in the running backs if there is an extended time without Rodriguez: “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.”
Stoops brought up a few key points, as we turn the calendar into the month of August and the beginning of fall camp. Without getting into detail, the 10th year head coach told us he has plans to help Eastern Kentucky, but stated he was not going into much detail about the plans.
A key note that will get the fan base excited is that Stoops mentioned that Day 1 of fall camp was the best Day 1 in his 10 year tenure at Kentucky. Stoops later went on and explained that the rule change by the NCAA allowed the team to create a little bit of added time to the spring practices and to take that quote with a grain of salt.
Stoops went on to talk about the culture that has been created while being the head coach at Kentucky. “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.”
The secondary will be without a core member this season in Vito Tisdale, but Stoops was adamant in the progress made by 6-0 200 pounder Carrington Valentine. “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.”
Stoops went on to acknowledge the offensive line, specifically the offensive tackle position, where he said he has felt very confident in DeAndre Buford, as well as Kiyaunta Goodwin, backing him up at left tackle. At right tackle, Stoops hinted at, to no surprise, Jeremy Flax starting the first game. At backup, Stoops mentioned having David Wohlabaugh, and talked about how impressed the staff has been with his development.
After Mark Stoops, the media got the chance to listen to new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello.
The ex-49ers coach was very enthused with how the tight end and wide receiver groups looked, and is looking forward to the depth of the star-studded offense. “I am very very excited about that tight end room. It’s hard to imagine a better one.”
With a wide receiver group as deep as Barion Brown, Dekel Crowdus, DeMarcus Harris, Dane Key, Tayvion Robinson, Chauncey Magwood, Jordan Anthony and Chris Lewis, as well as a tight end room including Izayah Cummings, Brenden Bates, Jordan Dingle and Keaton Upshaw, how could one not be excited?
Next up to the podium was defensive coordinator Brad White, where he spoke very fondly of the importance of having Chris Oats continuing his legacy as a Wildcat. “To watch Chris’ progress, to see the steps he made in Florida. He’s such an inspiration to us.”
White talked about the recovery and regaining confidence in JJ Weaver, after sustaining an injury that he played through during the 2021 season. I caught up with JJ and talked to him about his injury and he seemed to feel like he was now 100% healthy.
Last to the podium was star QB Will Levis. The quarterback spoke about conversations he has had with different folks and his play style and jokingly told media that he has been told to slide more, while Tim Tebow told him the opposite. Levis gathered some new pieces for his offense in the 2022 season, who we got to speak with as media took over Kroger Field.
Tayvion Robinson, the wide receiver transfer from Virginia Tech, was a coveted get for the Wildcats. Although replacing Wan’Dale Robinson is an ultimately hard task, Robinson told me that he plans on taking over at punt returns, a task he’s done since freshman year of high school.
Robinson noted that he enjoys returning punts and said it was easy for him. He also said that he wants that part of his game to be as dangerous as Wan’Dale Robinson made it.
Robinson also noted that Wan’Dale was his host as he visited on campus. The Virginia Tech transfer said that the Robinsons had a bond and that Wan’Dale kept everything honest with him, things he liked about the program and even things he didn’t like, without specifying.
We also got the opportunity to speak with freshman phenom wide receiver, Dane Key. When asked about the pressure to perform as a potential true freshman, Key had a true leadership-like response. Key noted that, while many around the facility have excitement for him, he still has to go out and earn it. Key also mentioned that during spring ball, his biggest learning curve was the speed of the game and how much of a difference the speed is from high school to the SEC.
As we come closer to the season, it is worth noting that the team all around seemed very confident and in general were having fun with each other. 2022 is off to a great start and we are 31 days from kickoff. Follow us on Twitter if you haven’t already. Buckle up, it’s almost football time in the Bluegrass.