Changing culture and desire to take the next step motivates Wildcats

Tyler Waldrep

Five. Four. Three.

This isn’t a countdown. Instead it’s the number of points Kentucky’s football team lost by when the Wildcats faced Florida, Vanderbilt and Auburn respectively, last season.

“We’ve been very close,” coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re tired of being close.”

Coach Mark Stoop’s team finished each of the last two seasons just missing out on bowl ellgibility with a pair of 5-7 records. Last season the Wildcats ended the year losing six of seven games after the team won four of its first five.

“It’s always important to get off to a good start,” Stoops said. “We’ve been able to do that the last two years. As you know, it’s a problem in the second half of the season. We need to finish stronger. There’s no doubt about that. But coming out of the block strong is always important.”

Finding wins in the first half of the season might be difficult for Stoops. In the first five weeks Kentucky hosts South Carolina and hits the road for an SEC Championship tour that has the Wildcats matching up against the Gators and the Crimson Tide in a four-week span.

The Wildcats’ home stretch isn’t much better. Kentucky hosts Georgia before hitting the road to face Tennessee and Louisville in the final three weeks of the regular season.

But it’s a new year and Kentucky’s players believe a culture change has taken place among the team that will help them exceed expectations.

“I think there has been a big leap forward in the leadership from the players and that has come from the coaches holding us more accountable,” center Jon Toth said. “Players are holding each other more accountable on and off the field and I think that will help us make the leap forward this year.”

The guy lining up directly behind Toth, quarterback Drew Barker, will also have a lot to do with the Wildcat’s chances of appearing in the postseason for the first time since January of 2011.

“What I liked about him right from the very beginning is how competitive he is,” Stoops said. “He has that moxie on the field. He’s a big guy. Physically, he’s a strong guy. He can run when necessary. And he has that ability to create plays… I believe he has that ability right now to be a leader without having to go out there and bang his chest every day and be an rah-rah guy.”