Do Kentucky fans know that spring practice is taking place? Are they aware that the football team is hard at work, eager to get over last season and take the program to the next level? Or are they too consumed with the basketball team and its quest for perfection to pay any attention?
The truth is there are some passionate football fans in Big Blue Nation, more than you might think, but even they are more concerned with whether Kentucky can beat West Virginia in the Sweet 16 rather than who is going to replace Alvin Dupree on that defense.
But can you blame them? Even Mark Stoops, the head football coach, used the basketball team as a motivational tool for his own squad after practice Wednesday.
“I told our guys I had an opportunity to watch practice a couple days, and you just have to admire what they’re doing,” Stoops said. “I don’t know if Cal (John Calipari) gets enough credit because that’s an impressive team, but just watching his practice and seeing the organization, the structure -- it’s a well-oiled machine.”
That’s what Stoops wants for his team. He wants that same intensity, that same work ethic when his players are at practice because he knows that’s what it’s going to take.
Will it be easy? No. But it wasn’t always easy for Calipari either. He endured struggles early on as a college coach at Massachusetts and more notably as a coach in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. He got through it, though, and now he’s doing everything he can to help Stoops get through a similar situation with this Kentucky football team.
“During some tough times my first two seasons, he was always there just to support me and talk with me,” Stoops said. “He knows what I’m building here and what I’m trying to do, and he knows that it’s going to be difficult at times. He’s been very supportive, and I appreciate that.”
That’s why, outside of maybe Ashley Judd, Stoops has become the basketball team’s biggest fan. He attended the SEC tournament in Nashville where he watched the Wildcats take home the title, and you can bet he’ll be watching from somewhere Thursday night.
The players have embraced it, too. They know what’s at stake. And whether it’s regularly attending home games at Rupp Arena or meeting Calipari on their recruiting visit, a lot of the football players have a connection to the basketball team. They want to see an undefeated season just as much if not more than the next person.
“I hope they do go undefeated,” offensive lineman Zach West said. “I think they will. I think everybody around here thinks they will.”
But West and the other football players didn’t come to Kentucky to see the basketball team make history. They came to make their own history.
“You look at the excellence that the [basketball players] have had on and off the court, it just sets a precedent for all of us that we need to follow,” West said. “With how well they have done and how well they are respected, why are we not at that level yet? We can get there doing exactly what they’re doing.”
That process has already started this spring. It started with nobody paying attention, with everybody too busy watching the basketball team chase history. And that’s OK as long as those same Kentucky fans are still talking about football next November.
For that to happen, the Wildcats need to win.
“I do feel an obligation to people to continue to improve our team and to deliver for this fan base because they’re starving for a great football team,” Stoops said.