UK football takes one step backward, two steps forward

Commonwealth Stadium during the UK vs. UofL in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

Commonwealth Stadium during the UK vs. UofL in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

By Matt Overing | Football beat writer

The UK football program has been called a “project” by UK head coach Mark Stoops multiple times this season.

That project has taken steps forward and backward in the past three days. Steps back include a 42-point loss to the University of Georgia on Saturday and the suspension of a player, while steps forward include a new renovation plan for Commonwealth Stadium and increased opportunities for young players.

“This past Saturday, there’s no denying it, that was a blow to our progress and that’s disappointing,” Stoops said.

The Cats fell to Georgia by the largest point margin of the season.

Stoops also announced that senior running back Raymond Sanders will not play this Saturday against the University of Tennessee due to a violation of team rules.

“He will not be permitted to play this week,” Stoops said. “He’s not kicked off the team or anything like that. He just can’t play in this game.”

Stoops said he was unsure whether or not Sanders will participate in senior day festivities.

Despite the negativity surrounding the team, UK football did have a positive announcement Monday.

The athletic department announced a $110 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, which will be finished in time for the start of the 2015 season. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart said the renovations will continue to push the football program forward.

“This is a historic time for Kentucky football,” Barnhart said. “The vision we have long worked for is taking shape.”

In addition to “tightening up” the stadium from approximately 67,000 seats to 61,000, each side of the stadium will face dramatic changes.

“The stadium will have a brand new look, both inside and out,” Barnhart said. “The renewal of Commonwealth Stadium will enhance the experience for everyone at the game: student-athletes, fans, students and recruits.”

Changes to the east end zone will include a multipurpose recruiting room, where recruits will be able to interact before the game, at halftime and after the game.

UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he is excited for the change.

“It’s an opportunity for us to go into the offseason with positivity,” Brown said. “I think it is a great day for the Commonwealth. It’s going to provide another burst of energy in our program. It’d be huge to have the unveiling today and then go win on Saturday night.  It’s going to be a pivotal next two months of recruiting.”

Young players have an opportunity to have a positive end to the season, Brown added.

Stoops said five recruits will be enrolling in January to prepare for the 2014 season. Linebacker Dorian Hendrix, running back Mikel Horton, wide receivers Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and quarterback Drew Barker were the five early enrollees named.

“We’re excited,” Stoops said. “That’s a great five guys that we’re able to touch on right now that will enroll in January. There’s a whole slew of guys that are going to join these five.”