No matter which direction you look or what media outlet, Internet site, Twitter account or Facebook page you follow, Joker Phillips and his 2012 Wildcat football team is supposedly going to have the fight of their life this fall just to keep their heads above water and regain some type of momentum the program supposedly had two years ago when Phillips took the reins from Rich Brooks.
Interestingly, it’s pretty much the same scenario Rich Brooks was in when he entered his third year, and we all know how that played out.
The only possible difference, and I emphasize “possible,” is as I look around I don’t see evidence of any young and budding playmakers like Andre Woodson, Rafael Lyttle, Keenan Burton or Stevie Johnson on offense, or Wesley Woodyard, Myron Pryor, Corey Peters or Jeremy Jarmon on defense.
Doesn’t mean there isn’t any on the roster. It may be a simple matter of they haven’t had enough time with practice reps or game experience for their bodies to grow into SEC proportions, or for their talents to emerge on game day. When fall camp breaks in late August a week before the Louisville game, the UK depth chart will more than likely have three true sophomores, two redshirt freshmen, and two true freshmen on the two deep chart at the all-important playmaking positions of QB, RB, both WR positions and the slot back position.
If young, raw athleticism and tender talent trumps slow and seasoned players, then Raymond Sanders and LeRod King may be the only players offensively from the junior and senior classes that get any quality game time on Saturdays. That’s probably good news for the long haul, but not necessarily for Joker Phillips’ job security.
However, according to SEC football scribe Ryan McGee and ESPNU recruiting guru Tom Lemming, the nest is not empty of talent over at the Nutter Center, it’s just terribly green in game experience.
On the bright side, if Phillips rights the ship this fall he has a realistic shot to build some new momentum just like Rich Brooks did after he weathered his storm.
Maxwell Smith returns for his sophomore year after raising a few eyebrows as a true freshman down the home stretch last year before he got hurt in the Georgia game. The state has also produced UK with another prime time QB from that football factory up in northern Kentucky at Highlands by the name of Patrick Towles, who is one of those rare but consensus four star recruits. Also, Demure Robinson and Darryl Collins, a true sophomore and red shirt freshman, return to give some athleticism and quickness to the WR corps. Throw in the mix last year’s freshman phenom at running back Josh Clemons, who if healthy when fall camp rolls around, should return to first string status and upgrade the running game tremendously.
However Joker Phillips scenario plays out to me is of a moot point because in the famous words of Bill Parcells: “We are what we are” when it comes to UK football. It has been, is presently and will always be what I call a developmental type college football program. UK simply can only recruit (because of budget , image and recruiting base issues) the proverbial three star recruit and spend two years on him in the weight room and the practice fields developing his physical skill level in order to get three productive years out of him on game day. Even at that they can’t miss on very many kids in the evaluation process, especially at the all-important offensive play making positions, which incidentally is what got Phillips and the program in this two-year rut they’re trying to fight through.
If you will look back through the history of UK football post Bear Bryant, you will see that the few fleeting years of success has come when the Commonwealth has produced them with their own playmakers, except for the cheating years of the Fran Curci era.
Jerry Claiborne’s two bowl teams were led by Owensboro’s Mark Higgs and Bryan Station’s Mark Logan. Hal Mumme’s sweet but short stint of stardom was entirely due to Tim Couch, and Guy Morris’s lone 7-5 year under probation was due to the hefty lefty from northern Kentucky, Jared Lorensen. Rich Books’ glory days was due to North Hardin QB Andre Woodson, along with solid support from Lou. Manuel’s Keenan Burton and a defensive contribution as well from Lou. Central’s Cory Peters and Lou. Eastern’s Myron Pryor.
We’ll see in a few months how this coming season’s Wildcat fortunes play out as well as Joker Phillips coaching tenure, but my money says the next era of Wildcat gridiron success will be directly due to a home grown playmaker. For Joker’s sake, I hope it’s Patrick Towles.