Brooks Still Optimistic Despite Gloomy Recent Past

HOOVER, Ala. -- Despite two straight crummy years in Lexington, Ky., Kentucky coach Rich Brooks is trying to put a positive spin on the future.

He is, after all, an optimist.

When he addressed the press during the final day of the annual Southeastern Conference Football Media Days late last week in the Wynfrey Hotel, Brooks was extremely fired up.

"Last day guys," Brooks said. " It's winding down. Gotta get excited about something."

And this came shortly after reviewing the preseason All-SEC teams which included only one Kentucky player (strong safety Muhammad Abdullah) on the ballots. He was a second-team pick.

"I really think by the end of this year, you are going to know some new names at Kentucky, that will be considered for this type of a preseason poll a year from now," Brooks said. "I think we have got a lot of young players that are exciting with talent and speed, guys like Keenan Burton, Rafael Little, Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme.

"These are names that many of you didn't know and haven't heard. Tony Dixon, Wesley Woodyard, Johnny Williams, Mikhail Mabry, Joe Schuler, and these guys are basically all sophomores and many of them played as true freshman last year."

Perhaps the reason Kentucky has suffered from an identify crisis the past two years is because it has gone 6-17 with Brooks as head coach.

The Wildcats, too, were only 2-14 in SEC games over the past two seasons.

Brooks thinks that will change, and maybe even this season.

"I think we're a team that is a better football team going into this season than the two teams that preceded it," he said. "We're still a thin team depth-wise. We're a team that unfortunately is still down in numbers. Because of the probation, we will have about 76 players on scholarship which includes four players that I am adding that were walk-ons that played significant roles for us this past year.

"A year from now, we will be at about 85. That's I think the end of the numbers problem that Kentucky faced because of the probation. I think we're an improved football team attitude-wise. We're an improved football team speed-wise. We're a young team particularly on the defensive side."

Kentucky does have decent numbers to pull out of its miserable slump. There are 44 lettermen back in camp, including six starters each on offense and defense.

Senior placekicker Taylor Begley, who is 24-for-38 on his field-goal attempts and has made 91 of 97 extra-point attempts in his career, also is back.

Kentucky, too, gets Louisville, Florida, Auburn and Tennessee -- the Wildcats seriously threatened to upset the Vols last year on the road before falling 37-31 -- at home in Commonwealth Stadium.

"It was a great note to end out on even though we lost to Tennessee," said Wildcats receiver Tommy Cook. " We played a close game all game long and really had a chance to win. It was the first game for our current offensive coordinator (Joker Phillips) calling the plays.

"It gave us a great start to this season."

"That is why you come to play in the SEC. To play against the best teams in the country. It is so tough to compete in the conference, but that is why you do it. To play against the best talent and most fans in the country."

Brooks definitely thinks fans could see a different Kentucky team on Saturdays in the fall.

" I think we're going to be a better team than most people perceive us to be," Brooks said. "What we need to do is try to finish the deal. Like the game we had at Tennessee last year, at the end of the season, we really, I think, had a game that we could have won and let it slip away in the last 38 seconds. That kind of follows suit from the Florida game the year before the Arkansas game, the seven-overtime game.

"We need to get several of those games this year."

"And I think the improvement, what I think is happening at Kentucky will be very obvious. If we don't, we will have to be judged on the playing on the field and how competitive we are."

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