UK Coach Brooks Anxious to Get Season Started

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Rich Brooks paused for just a second and turned toward the door.

Then, with a volume that's surprising coming from a 67-year-old man who's seen 45 football seasons come and go, the Kentucky coach grabbed the lectern and decided it was time to give the assembled press a little pep talk.

"Get fired up! This is the start of the football season! Come on!" Brooks said.

The outburst was met with laughter as Brooks headed for the exit, though you couldn't blame Brooks for feeling the need to goose the media after a relatively sedate 15-minute question-and-answer session.

The calendar might say it's five days before the Governor's Cup between Kentucky and Louisville, but there has been a decided lack of buzz, perhaps because so much uncertainty surrounds both teams.

Even after three weeks of training camp, Brooks admits he's not sure what he's going to get on Sunday afternoon.

"Do I have a fear (of the unknown)? Hell yes I have a fear of it, that's why I don't sleep very well," Brooks said with a laugh. "Even after I've seen it in games I wonder if it's going to show up the next game. That's just, that's coaching. It's an interesting deal. Looking at guys, you know what they're physically capable of, but you don't know how they're going to respond in all the situations."

One of the biggest question marks surrounds quarterback Mike Hartline, who has thrown all of six collegiate passes. The sophomore was named the de facto starter when Curtis Pulley was dismissed earlier this month for a violation of team rules. Brooks stressed when camp began that Hartline could not afford to relax once he got the starting nod, and he's been pleased with his quarterback's progress.

"He's prepared and practiced like a guy that (knows) it's very important that he performs well and I believe that he will," Brooks said.

If he doesn't, the Wildcats could go to true freshman Randall Cobb, who has split time at both receiver and quarterback during training camp. Brooks said Cobb will almost certainly play some at wideout, but would likely not put Cobb in at quarterback unless he felt the need to "shake something up."

"We don't have a plan to do anything at that position," Brooks added.

For now the job is Hartline's to lose, and his teammates know it's up to them to make sure he keeps it.

"We've got a new quarterback and (Louisville) thinks he's not ready," said left tackle Garry Williams. "But I think he's ready and we're going to step up and protect him no matter how many blitzers they bring."

Williams, the most experienced player on the line, also sees himself as the offense's psychiatrist.

"When things get rough, (I'll) just turn around and say 'everybody calm down, the next play we're just going to go out and hit them harder,"' Williams said.

And as bright as the spotlight is on the quarterbacks in this rivalry, the team that wins the rushing battle usually wins the game. The Wildcats would appear to have a distinct advantage with a quartet of talented backs in Tony Dixon, Alfonso Smith, Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen.

"There doesn't have to be just one guy," Dixon said. "We feel like we can set the tone."

Setting the tone -- and more importantly, being able to handle the pressure that comes with playing a rivalry game on national television -- will likely determine whose season starts with a bang instead of a thud.

"For a lot of guys this is going to be their first real experience of playing a lot or starting a game," Brooks said. "We'll be on the road, it'll be noisy, it'll be a different atmosphere, a different situation than they've ever been in in their lives. It's true for some of the guys at Louisville too. How those guys respond is a key to the outcome of the game."

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