LEXINGTON — Ross Hempel is a former state high school track champion and standout soccer player and cross country runner at Danville High School and is now a senior pre-med major at Kentucky.
With the football team struggling with a 2-4 record and a low student turnout being talked about for Saturday’s homecoming game against Jacksonville State, Hempel offered his perspective on students’ feelings about football and men’s basketball based on what he sees and hears around campus daily:
Question: What is the general feeling about football on the UK campus right now, and what kind of student turnout would you expect for the Jacksonville State game Saturday?
Hempel: “Unfortunately, faith in this year’s UK football team has fallen off drastically as of late. There's always a sense of optimism on campus going into each year, but with two so-so wins and four horrific losses, students are having trouble keeping faith in future success. Due to this, the fact that our offense is one of the worst in all of major college football and Keeneland being open Saturday, I wouldn't expect too high of a student turnout for the J-State game.
“I personally still watch the games, but more in support of friends on the team such as kicker Craig McIntosh and former Boyle County tight end Jordan Aumiller than actually expecting to win week in and week out.”
Question: How does that feeling compare with the anticipation for the Kentucky basketball season?
Hempel: “The feeling towards the football program and the basketball program is almost night and day. The football team has had too many problems this year to keep a good feeling amongst the students. On the other hand, many students are ecstatic for the start of basketball season.
“The team coach (John Calipari) has put together this year may be even better then the team he had his first year, plus we are coming off a Final Four season, meaning students are looking forward to the first game of the year on 11-11.”
Question: Do you UK students truly care about football and want to see it succeed?
Hempel: “I believe the student body as a whole does care about the football program and does want to see it succeed. This year has been the worst since I have been at UK, but if UK were to turn it around in these next six games the students would definitely jump back on board.
“Also, there is always hope for next season, especially with the recruits coach Phillips is bringing in, so I think the students at UK will again show signs of optimism for a successful season come next August.”
Question: Do you think students are embarrassed or frustrated by the football team's play this year?
Hempel: “Since UK is never really regarded as a football school, I think the students here show much more emotion towards the basketball team then the football team. Due to this, and because UK football is generally mediocre in the SEC each year, there is unfortunately a sense of acceptance to being a doormat of the SEC. Hopefully coach (Joker)¿Phillips can change this perception in the next few years, but for now students have had a hard time not giving up on this season.”
Question: What is the general perception of Phillips and John on campus?
Hempel: “Coach Phillips is generally viewed how the media makes him out to be: a great personality, good recruiter and hopefully a coach able to turn our football team around in the future. Not too much is known about him other then that. Calipari, on the other hand, is the king of the Bluegrass. Every student knows who he is, and many know too much about the guy.
“Basketball is unmatched around UK's campus, so the head man has to be an all-around great coach, recruiter and public relations person. Personally, I don't know if there's a better coach in America to lead UK each year. As many people say, he just gets it. I think Big Blue Madness was just a taste of how crazy the students here will get for this UK season if its goes as expected.”