For defensive tackle Amobi Okoye this time of year is a familiar one. The 19-year old senior, who at the age of 16 recorded 17 tackles as true freshman in 2003, has kept this schedule for four years now. However, it's not something that is done as an annual routine, but instead it's the time of year when Okoye and his teammates push each other to become better players than they were year before.
"We're working out a lot," he explained. We're running and doing a lot of drills. Guys are learning the offense and the defense more and we're getting better as football players pretty much."
This is also the time of year when the returning players adjust to life without those that lead them the year before.
"We'll definitely miss the presence of Montavious Stanley and Elvis Dumervil," he said. "Personally they were real close friends of mine. They were the kind of guys that made you play better by just being in their presence, but they're gone now."
Despite the loss of three starters along the Cardinals defensive front, Okoye is confident in the group returning.
"We have a lot of people coming back – guys like Brandon Cox, Zach Anderson, Adrian Grady, Earl Heyman – we have a whole lot of people coming back. The list can keep going on and we are all getting better everyday."
"I like them – they are fast learners," he said of the newcomers. "They are doing pretty good with their technique's so far and that's good for us as a defense, because we like to have people that can come in and play."
Entering his final year of collegiate ball, Okoye also recognizes that the leadership that he saw from his elders the past three seasons has now become apart of his new role on the team and that he believes that the freshman already on campus have began to look to him for an example.
"They probably do," he explained. "That's my role now and it's a role that I've taken upon myself. It's my time to do what I need to do as a leader."
Okoye's new responsibilities as a senior leader include helping the newest members of the Cardinal program to develop a strong work ethic and make sure that their focus in set on the season-opener.
"That's the first game of the season and it's for the championship of the state," he said. "It's a great experience that I've enjoyed all my time here, so hopefully I can keep it that way. We are all just focusing on Kentucky right now."
"You can't really explain it – you just have to experience it," he said of the rivalry. "When I was a freshman I never really had an explanation of what it was like. I didn't really know what it felt like until I played in it and then you know."
The experiences of last year, especially the high amount of preseason press that the team received prior to the 2005 season, are something that Okoye will reflect on during his preparations for the 2006 campaign.
"What I learned from last year was that you can't pay attention to all the big expectations and instead learn to come together and focus on us as a team," he explained. "We just have to do what we are supposed to do and take it one game at a time."
The Cardinals will begin practice for the upcoming season on August 5.