I started by asking Hill about the class of freshmen last year. I was wondering about the work ethics of the younger players. Hill said, "I really like the young kids. It would have been nice if a guy like Aaron Miller could have redshirted last year. Even the greyshirt guys from last year, guys like Johnny Williams, are really good workers. Our biggest focus this winter, especially, has been accountability and work ethic. And these young guys have helped us out tremendously in that aspect."
But I wanted more. I wanted Coach Hill to give specific names. Tell me the guys who have worked the hardest this winter, guys who have made the most progress. "Well, the jury is still out a little bit," hedged Hill. "We have a couple more days before spring break. Then we have about ten days after spring break to finish up our testing and finish off the winter workouts." Hill finally relented into mentioning a couple of individuals who have had a good off-season. "People want to hear about how Jacob Tamme is doing," said the strength coach. "Jacob is trying to make the transition to possibly playing tight end. Last year, we played Tennessee, in which Jacob played very well. In that game, he weighed about 219…220. He was 239 today, and with the added weight comes added strength. B.J. Parsons finished out [last] year around 238 or 240, and he is 250 now. Marcus McClinton is doing some good things. A lot of guys are doing some great things. Individuals are great, but the biggest focus coming from the top, Coach Brooks wants the guys to be accountable, and have the work ethic as high as we have had it in the last five or six years."
The Cats had to deal with an inordinate number of injuries during the season last year, and a number of those injuries will carry through to spring practice. Without giving specific names, Hill gives good news, though, on the injury front. "There are a few guys that are still in what we call the guarded group," said Coach Hill. "Guys that we can't have "full-go" in certain drills and certain things. But I will say that all the injured guys are progressing very well and they are working very hard. Once we get to late March, we'll have a chance to see who's doing what, once we get to spring practice."
So let's focus on the new group coming in to the program. Does Hill get to work with the new guys much? Not at all, says Coach Hill. "There's not a lot we can do with them, until they get here," stated Hill. "Once they sign their letter-of-intent in February, yes, we send out workouts and the coaches maintain communication with them throughout the spring. The biggest change, which is yet to be seen what the effects of it will be, is the NCAA rule change that allows these kids to come in the summer, and we pay for their summer school." At least at a school like Kentucky, where freshmen play early and often, the kid can get a bit of a head start on what might be a little intimidating. But do the kids always follow what the coach sends them? It depends, says Hill. "It greatly depends on their high school background. You can tell the ones that are really into it, because they are the ones that e-mail me [regularly]. There are other guys who are trying to finish out their glory days of high school basketball and baseball. It varies greatly from kid to kid and class to class." Which puts a higher emphasis on finding the right kind of player during recruiting, at least for Kentucky.
You have to have that veteran on your team that will step up and lead the younger players, like Moses leading his people through the desert. And Coach Hill thinks he has found his. "From my standpoint," said Hill, "watching these kids work the last eight weeks, the blessing in disguise might be Tommy Cook. He's a senior twice now. He's somebody that's got a great work ethic and is a no-nonsense type of guy. He is contagious amongst the team. Having Tommy around as a veteran leader is greatly helping."
I mentioned to Coach Hill that I thought it must be a tough job to get Kentucky ready for that SEC schedule. But that's not what Hill thinks is this team's biggest challenge. "You look at a team like the University of Utah," replied Hill. "The Utah folks and those kids believe they can beat anybody in the world because of their work ethic, and that's what we're trying to convince these kids of here. People can tell you that you might not be the best athletes, but the Kentucky kids are still going to start working hard and keep pushing. The work ethic has not been a problem. It's getting the accountability and discipline amongst these kids that is going to make it easier. The biggest problem we've got is young kids playing too soon. But that's something we just have to get through coming off the probation."