TAYLOR: Aitcheson meets goal of improving UK

LEXINGTON — Michael Aitcheson isn't used to Christmas break in Kentucky. Aitcheson, a senior offensive lineman from Miami Fla., won't mind spending the holidays on campus this year as the Wildcats prepare for the postseason for the first time since 1999.

"It's a great feeling," said Aitcheson, one of 12 seniors on the team who will be honored prior to the Cats' home finale against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. "The last couple of years, we've been talking about what we're going to do when we go home for our Christmas vacation. It will be a good feeling to get an opportunity to play (in the postseason)."

Aitcheson is one of only six holdovers from Kentucky's recruiting class in 2002, the last one produced by former Kentucky coach Guy Morriss. Instead of bolting the program, following the coaching change and for other reasons, Aitcheson decided to stay around.

In the process, Aitcheson has endured more downs than ups. "I can't even put words on it," he said. "It was just miserable and frustrating. We just wanted to get the season over with. Now, there's light at the end of the tunnel. It's a lot more upbeat." The light switch came on after the Cats' suffered a 49-0 loss to LSU on Oct. 14 in Baton Rouge. Since then, Kentucky has won three in a row, with all three coming against foes in the Southeastern Conference, pushing the Cats to No. 2 in the SEC East standings.

"The changed attitude that coach Brooks has been talking about for a while has finally manifested itself," he said. "We're finding a way to finish games and the guys are a lot more confident. They're just not hanging their heads when the fourth quarter comes around and when something bad happens. It's not like, ‘Oh gosh, here we go again.' Now, it's like, ‘let's find a way to get this finished.'"

A pep talk by Brooks during the bye week, also was an inspiration. "One thing that sticks out (on the turnaround) is that coach Brooks told us the importance of this five-game season (after the bye)," Aitcheson said. Aitcheson said the Cats had two options after the shutout loss to the Tigers.

"We could have packed our bags and said this is going to be the same old Kentucky, or come out the gate swinging. We did the latter. Despite opening the season "slow," Aitcheson said he never doubted the team wouldn't have any success.

"I knew the identity of the team changed in the spring," he said. "The guys were competing a lot more. I knew going into the season we were going to be a different team." Aitcheson added that the win over Georgia has been the biggest accomplishment over the past three weeks.

"That erased a lot of pain from over the years," he said. Not a bad feat for a bunch of seniors, including Aitcheson, who just kept fighting through adversity.

"We bring our lunch pal with us to work," he said. "That's been the trademark of our class. We're hard workers. we're not the biggest, we're not the all-american, physical SEC players, but we know how to work. We keep chomping at the bit." Aitcheson said the biggest reward has been setting the standard for future teams to follow.

"We wanted to see the program in better shape leaving than what it was while we were here," he said. "That was one of our big goals. That means we've accmplished something great. Not only have we accomplished some good things on the field, but also in the classroom. I feel like we set a good example."

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