Kentucky begins fall camp in new $45 million training center
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky practices will have a different look as the Wildcats open camp Thursday in their new, $45 million training facility featuring an abundance of amenities.
After missing the postseason for five seasons, the Wildcats hope their new digs help translate into success.
Kentucky's last winning season was 7-6 in 2009 and its most recent bowl appearance followed the 2010 season. That six-win plateau needed for bowl eligibility has eluded the Wildcats the past two years, creating a determination to break through in coach Mark Stoops' fourth season.
Stoops and his players believe they have the resources to help make it happen with a high-tech training facility adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium, which debuted more than $125 million in renovations last year. The big touches include a 15,000 square-foot weight room, two new grass practice fields and a locker room with a huge, blue-lit UK logo and even bigger TV of 20 combined 55-inch screens.
The small touches include a barber shop and training table featuring a $250,000 Gatorade-sponsored nutrition bar.
''I'm excited to get in there, and the players are as well,'' said Stoops, who is scheduled to move into his new office this week.
The Wildcats' task is moving past their new home's ''wow'' factor toward the here-and-now reality of ending a five-year slide. They were picked to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division in a preseason media poll.
For Kentucky, that means finishing what it starts, especially after the past two years ended with second-half slides. Last fall's promising 4-2 start dissolved into a 1-5 slump, ending with a 38-24 loss to in-state rival Louisville after leading 21-0.
The Wildcats aim to sustain their play throughout the season.
''When the play is on the line, you have the ability to make plays,'' Stoops said during last month's SEC media days. ''We have to find those inches, those yards and those plays to make the difference.''
Kentucky looks toward its veterans to make that happen with 15 returning starters, including nine on offense.
Sophomore Drew Barker enters camp as the starting quarterback following a strong spring along with personal improvements. He'll be operating a pro-style offensive scheme installed by new assistant head coach/coordinator Eddie Gran, who has been pleased with Barker's growth after taking over for Patrick Towles late last season.
''It was really good that we named the quarterback; he earned it,'' Gran said of Barker. ''He had information all summer long where he was out running our practices. The kids looked to him for that leadership and we were able to continue where we left off in the spring learning this offense.''
Gran, who spent the past three seasons as Cincinnati's OC, is among five new Kentucky assistant coaches. The others are Darin Hinshaw (co-coordinator/quarterbacks); Lamar Thomas (receivers), who comes from Louisville; Matt House (outside linebackers/special teams); and Steve Clinkscale (defensive backs).
The secondary has experience but the Wildcats lost seven of their top eight tacklers from last season, many of which were among the front seven.
''We do lose some experience on the defensive line (and) in the linebacking group,'' Stoops said, ''but I feel very good about the players that have had to step in.''
Kentucky opens Sept. 3 against Southern Mississippi.