VAUGHT: Brooks won't downplay expectations

As Kentucky football slides comfortably into the summer season with basketball creating all the buzz with Billy Gillispie's numerous verbal commitments, it's still amazing to me how Rich Brooks refused to take the traditional path and downplay his team's chances for next year.

Rather than talk about coping with the dramatic loss of four players drafted in the NFL and three more who signed free agent contracts, Brooks bluntly said he would be disappointed if UK did not play in its third straight bowl game.

At some schools that might not sound like a huge hurdle, but remember Kentucky has played in three straight bowl games just once -- from 1950 through 1952. Since then, UK has played in consecutive bowl games just twice.

"I just think we are a good football team. It is a simple statement," said Brooks. "I am not looking for excuses. I want to let people know we are a good team even though we lost some great players. We have people in line to step up and do the same things, or in a different way with the same results."

Brooks says it's not important that the players know he has confidence in them.

"But it is important that they have confidence in themselves. That's one transition we have made in Kentucky football the last two years. Our players have started believing they can win instead of thinking, ‘Here we go again,' when something bad happens," Brooks said.

"One of the more difficult things to replace this year will be the leadership we have lost rather than the production. Leaders come to the forefront in games. I can still look back three years ago and remember things happening and players starting to take leadership in this team whether it was Tamme, Woodyard or Burton. Two years ago you could see Woodson emerge in the locker room and be a little more vocal about getting this thing done here.

"As important as it will be to replace the production of those great players we lost, it's going to be more important to replace their leadership. We have players I think have the talent to be as productive, but they've got to out and prove it and also prove they can be great leaders."

Of course, Brooks did put just a bit of pressure on second-year defensive coordinator Steve Brown when he said he had the best linebackers and secondary he's had at UK. That goes well with three returning big-time players in the defensive line.

"Coach is realistic. We have some guys, or at least the first 11, who are pretty good. What we have to see is some of the younger guys continue to get better. But we have some guys that can be good players for us and we expect to be good players. We should be better," Brown said.

Which would make it a lot easier for Kentucky to fulfill Brooks' prophecy.

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