VAUGHT: Hopewell 's absence will be felt

If there's anyone who can explain what not having special teams standout Andrew Hopewell on Kentucky's team this year will mean to the Wildcats, it is sixth-year receiver Tommy Cook.

Cook missed last season with a knee injury and his leadership and competitive attitude were missed by the Cats. Now Hopewell, one of his best friends on the team, will no longer be able to play because he risks permanent injury because of a series of concussions he's suffered the last three years.

"It was a devastating blow to me as a friend and teammate when I found out," Cook said. "We both approach football and life with the same mentality. That's where we drew our strongest bond from. It's unfortunate such tough things happen to such great people."

Cook said while Hopewell might not play but 15 to 20 plays per game on special teams, his attitude and all-out effort are irreplaceable.

"You can't put a price tag on somebody like him because he is priceless for our football team. His approach to the game is something you can't replace. His passion and positive energy that he brings every play will really be missed," Cook said.

Still, Cook thinks the Cats are going to be better this year than most skeptics believe and a big reason is the overall team attitude.

"As a team, we have grown both mentally and physically through the spring and summer. It's been great to see so many of our young kids grown and mature. The strength coaches and position coaches have really pushed us to get better, and we have," Cook said.

Cook says so many young players could not help being timid at times last year because playing in the SEC can be an overwhelming experience. "A year of experience will help them come out of their shell," Cook said. "We just have to be very, very crisp in everything we do to make our offense run smoothly this year. If we do, then I truly believe that we are going to surprise a lot of people."

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