The 2000 squad had talent, what it didn't have was leadership. Later on it would prove to have little heart. Hal Mumme made some peculiar choices while at UK. The biggest was giving the starting qb position to Jared Lorenzon even though Dusty Bonner had earned it. He lost the team, and part of his staff, 2 months prior to kick off. The team made a pretty good go of it the first half of the UL game, only to come out flat after an hour lightning delay. After a gut-wrenching loss, the season was done. The staff could not get the team back, in Bonner's absence no upper classman came forward to right the ship. All that talent, and nothing to show how good they could have been.
Fast forward to 2003. There probably isn't as much starting NFL caliber talent. On the offensive side of the ball, there is all kinds of leadership. The pudgy QB who was given the job in 2000 would earn his team-mates respect in 2001. As a 4 year starter at qb, this is Lorenzen's offense.Jared has some help as well. The undisputed leader of a veteran offensive line is Antonio Hall. Like Lorenzen, Hall is a 4 year starter. Hall has Jared's blind side and rarely has let the big qb down. Hall was one of the top offensive line recruits coming out of high school. He is now rated as one of the top linemen in the SEC. When Hall talks, the younger players better be listening. There is no doubt in my mind that Hall will end up as a coach once his playing days are over.
The most unlikely leader is Derrick Abney. When Coach Morriss addressed the team prior to his departure for Baylor, it was the little guy who looked Morriss in the eye and spoke of how the team was disappointed in him. This undoubtedly gained him as much respect as his talent ever has. Abney is a nice young man off the field. He is a fierce competitor while on it. He anchors a very good special teams unit as well.
All three have been through three coaching staffs while in Lexington. None of the three have played in a bowl game. They are hungry and know this is their last chance. The offense promises to be good. These three young men won't allow it to falter.
The defense lacks a clear leader. Caudill, Moore, and Burns are three tough upper class defensive linemen. They will most likely be the players called on to lead the defense. Last year's leader, Ronnie Riley, will be sorely missed. The defense needs someone to step up and be the vocal leader. I am not saying it won't happen, it just hasn't been visible yet.
The 2000 coaching staff was short on knowledge, and even shorter on cohesion. To say the 2003 version is different would be an understatement. This staff knows football. It knows that 2003 is probably its best shot for a couple of years. They won't let anything happen that might disrupt that.There are many young men on this team that have been through so much.
Expect the 2003 squad to play above its head. It has talent, it has leadership, and it has lots of heart. They have had many bad breaks, but they always get up for more. You have to tip your hat to these young men. They are far more mature than your typical 22-23 year-olds.