LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Members of Kentucky's freshman class reported to campus Sunday eager to begin their college careers and seemingly unphased by the pending NCAA sanctions facing the program.
The newcomers --- 20 scholarship players and seven walk-ons --- checked into their dorm rooms, were fitted for equipment and underwent physicals upon their arrival. Additional orientation activities are planned for Monday before the freshmen take part in their first UK practices on Tuesday at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
"I'm so happy to be here," said Mike Williams, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound defensive back from Tallahassee, Fla., who saw recruiters shy away when it appeared he'd become an academic casualty, but signed with UK as a late qualifier.
"For a while there, I didn't know if I'd be playing anywhere, so I'm really happy to be a Kentucky Wildcat. This is a great day."
Similar smiles could be found on the faces of Ellery Moore and Ronald "Rock" Johnson, potential impact players at defensive tackle and fullback, respectively, who earned eligibility late and were scooped up by the Cats.
"I've been through a lot of tough situations," said Moore, a former Massillon, Ohio, standout who originally signed with Penn State in 2000. "I'm glad now that everything is fine, thank God. My family and everybody has always stayed with me. ...
"I know the (UK) coaches want to work hard, the players on the team want to win, and if we put all of that together and work hard, that 2-9 will just be a memory."
Others, such as linebacker-end prospects Dustin Williams of Channahan, Ill., and Trey Mielsch of El Maton, Texas, were chomping at the bit to take the practice field and challenge for immediate playing time. Academic woes have stripped the Cats of two inside linebackers who were expected to be major factors on the defense -- returning starter Ryan Murphy (a senior) and incoming freshman Chad Anderson, a SuperPrep All-American.
"They're telling me to be ready," Williams said with a smile. "I'm ready to compete.
"Coach (John) Goodner's system is fairly easy to pick up. I don't think it will be that much different (from high school). I'm sure the speed will be a little bit different... well, probably a lot different in the SEC with Florida and Tennessee." (laughs)
"They told me I'm going to start out at linebacker and see what I can do," Mielsch said. "That's where I'd like to be. I'm willing to play wherever will help the team the most, but my mentality has always been as a linebacker. I'm looking forward to seeing how I match up when practice starts."
Not even looming sanctions for recruiting violations could dampen the enthusiasm of the group, many of whom honored commitments they had made to UK before the scandal that led to Hal Mumme's resignation broke.
"All you can do is go out and take care of business," said Johnson, a bruising 6-foot, 258-pound back out of Cleveland. "Whatever happened before, that's in the past. I'm just looking to do my part, win the starting job at fullback, and help this team win."
"I'm here to work hard, play and have fun," said Keith Shelton, a 6-3, 200-pound defensive back out of Memphis, Tenn. "To me, that stuff isn't going to affect what I do. As long as we can be on TV and play in bowl games, that's what I want."
Offensive lineman Covington Woodley, a 6-6, 323-pound product of Lake City, Fla., said he's eager to take the field under the guidance of the Cats' new head coach.
"Guy Morriss is the main reason I came here," he said. "He's such a down-to-earth person, he comes across real good, and he's got that knowledge and experience from the NFL. I want to be playing on the next level some day, and I know he can get me ready for that."
Walk-ons who were formally announced by the school Sunday included: John Clay (6-1, 220, LB); Deion Holts (6-2, 230, DE); Jacob Koch (6-2, 225, LB); Brian Morgan (6-4, 285, OL); Greg Perdue (6-8, 320, OL *Jr); Andy Stivers (6-2, 250, OL) and DeMarcus Wood (6-1, 178, WR).