UK Notebook: Former Cats want to be more involved

July 25, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

They can both remember when the Kentucky football team went to bowl games. Both would also like to do whatever they can to help the Wildcats get back to that level of success.

Yet former Kentucky and current NFL players Eric Kelly and Dennis Johnson aren't convinced former players are being utilized as well as they could be to help current players.

"I think it's real important to get former players playing in the NFL involved in the program," said Kelly, a cornerback with the Houston Texans. "When I go home (to Panama City, Fla.), I know that guys from Florida, Florida State and Miami are getting involved in the community and with their teams.

"It's up to them (Kentucky officials) if they want the program to get better. I think they should. That's just my opinion, but former players should be more involved. We could help if given a chance."


Kelly was here last week to work the first Dennis Johnson Youth Football Camp, which was held at Kentucky.

Johnson hopes it will be the first step to involving former Cats like Marlon McCree, Chris Demaree, Otis Grigsby, James Whalen, Artose Pinner, Tim Couch, Dewayne Robertson and others to promote the program.

"These guys built the program up to where we went to bowl games and now the program has fallen back," said Johnson, who will begin his fourth season at Arizona next month.

"Guys would come back and help if they were asked. We get pushed away. All those guys at Miami and Florida State go back and work out with the current players. They motivate and push them. That's something the university here is missing.

"They should make sure they bring guys down so they can be visible with the current players. Maybe ties have been broken, but we need something to get them back around. They spent four or five years growing up here. They invested in this program. They would give back if given the chance."

Johnson said watching Kelly talk to the 100-plus youngsters at his camp was another example of how former players could help.

"Eric brought up to all the youngsters about how he played here and how he's doing now," Johnson said. "He makes them understand that even though he played at Kentucky, that he's still playing in the NFL.

"He could inspire the current players the same way. I think a lot of us would like to try and help. Maybe it will all get worked out because at a lot of other schools, former players are a lot more prominent around the program than they are here."

Still, both current NFL players remain Kentucky fans and say other former Cats are, too.

"They have a lot of good coaches here now and I know they can win," Kelly said. "They just have to give them more years.

"They have to get players to believe in the system, and I think they will. This program has shown it can win. It will win again. I'll never stop believing that."

Johnson won't, either.

"Kentucky's football reputation is not that great around the NFL," Johnson said. "We are known more for basketball. But the players do know about Couch, Jared (Lorenzen) and Dewayne. Some remember me from high school.

"But I think all the Kentucky guys in the NFL want our program to keep getting better.

"We thought we had it going a few years ago. Now we've got to get it back, and a lot of us would like to find a way to help do that."

Quarterback search: UK recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips says the Cats would like to have two quarterbacks in their 2005 signing class.

The Cats will have just two scholarship quarterbacks - redshirt freshman Andre Woodson and true freshman Joe Joe Brown - back next season.

"That's what we've got to sell, that we're only going to have two quarerbacks back," Phillips said.

"At other schools, a guy might be signed as the fourth or fifth quarterback and have to compete with guys that have three or four years of experience. Here Andre will be the only guy with two years or more.

"But we can't sign two dropback passers or two athletic quarterbacks. When you sign two quarterbacks, you want to try and sign one dropback passer and one athlete who makes plays with his arm and feet. That's the balance you want in your recruiting."

Quick learners: Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has liked what he's seen from Tubby Smith's incoming freshmen.

The four - Ramel Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford - combined to form one of the nation's top-ranked recruiting classes.

All four have been on campus most of the summer.

"Our four basketball freshmen are unbelievable," Barnhart said. "They have done a remarkable job this summer. None have missed a class or study session. They are a great group of guys. They are first-rate in everything they do."

Barnhart has not watched the summer pickup games. However, he did get one brief look when he walked through Memorial Coliseum.

"I saw Rondo take a pass in the lane and throw down a two-handed dunk over Chuck (Hayes). That was impressive," Barnhart said.

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