"It's not competition, it's more like cohesion," Scott Mitchell said, when asked to explain the group's unity. "We're pushing each other to be better. Realistically, you know you can't play the whole game by yourself. You have to rely on other players. That attitude comes with time. I think it's natural with three seniors and (sophomore) Keenan Burton, who plays like a senior."
The quality depth of the unit evolved from the events of last season. Going into 2004, Burton and Tommy Cook were slated to be the starters. Cook, however, missed the season because of a knee injury. Burton sustained a broken wrist in practice during the week of the season opener and played briefly in the first two games before sitting out the remainder of the campaign.
With Cook and Burton unavailable, Mitchell and Glenn Holt picked up the slack as the starting receivers. Mitchell, a junior-college transfer in his first year at UK, caught 30 passes for 383 yards and one touchdown. He topped his season with nine receptions for 111 yards at Tennessee. Holt was second in the Southeastern Conference in receptions per game with 49 catches for 415 yards and three TDs.
The consistent Cook caught at least 20 passes from 2001-03 and has career totals of 63 grabs for 796 yards and six TDs. Burton, an artist of the acrobatic catch, was an SEC All-Freshman selection in 2003 when he caught 20 passes for 221 yards and two TDs.
So, it's reasonable to think that Kentucky has four returning starters at wide receiver. But hearing them talk, they dont seem to worry about who plays the most plays or who makes the most catches, as long as the job gets done.
"We encourage each other," Holt said. "We hang out together (off the field) and do things other than football. That helps keep us close."
"That (attitude) started a long time ago," said receivers coach Joker Phillips, a member of the UK staff from 1988-96 before returning in 2003. "I think it started with Craig Yeast (the SEC's all-time leading receiver who played at UK from 1995-98) and continued from there. When I returned to UK, I inherited a group with Derek Abney and Chris Bernard who had that team-first attitude. It's been a domino effect over the years, one group passing it along to the next.
"The veterans are grabbing the younger guys and pulling them in. The older guys are not afraid to bring them in the group."
Of course, some younger blood will be needed when the current trio of seniors graduates. Sophomore speedster John Logan made significant improvement in the spring and another soph, Dicky Lyons, has shown flashes of big-play ability as a receiver and kick returner. Freshman DeMoreo Ford has made a good early impression and sophomore walk-on Sean Murphy has shown promise as well.
And, come the 2006 season, it will be up to these young Cats to continue that close-knit tradition.