Brenden Bates believes it’s time for Florida to stop overlooking UK


An inflatable banana is tossed among Kentucky fans during the University of Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. UK won 16-10. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

“We haven’t seen our team’s true full potential yet,” junior tight end Brenden Bates said Tuesday after practice.

Kentucky has turned the ball over 11 times this season (six fumbles, five interceptions), which makes them one of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation. Something that simply won’t cut it against No. 10 Florida this weekend.

Bates believes that the Gators aren’t taking Kentucky seriously, despite being 4-0 (2-0, SEC) on the season. “Florida thinks that Kentucky is the same old Kentucky,” he said. “Even when we have close games with them or beat them, we’re obviously a very dominant team and they still see past that because it’s Florida.”

Despite Kentucky holding Florida to a one-possession victory in each of the last three games the Gators visited Kroger Field, it’s been hard for Florida not to overlook the Wildcats. As most fans will tell you, Florida is a step ahead, but not in Bates’ mind.

“If we put everything together, I really see us as being very dominant in this game,” Bates said about the game this weekend. Bates pointed out that Chris Rodriguez leads the SEC in rushing yards (520) and Wan’Dale Robinson leads the conference in receiving yards (402) and said the only reason that’s not being talked about more is because of the turnovers that have plagued the offense this season.

Once Kentucky cleans up their turnover problem—the sky’s the limit for the offensive-minded ‘Cats.

Bates said that if Kentucky can pick up the victory, UK will “get to show everyone from the fans [to the] college football rankings, that we’re who should be up there and that we’re a dominant team.”

The first step to achieving dominance in football is to be the more physical team. That philosophy has been instilled in Marrow’s tight ends since they stepped foot on campus as freshman.

“You have to have a different mentality in the trenches,” Bates said. “Especially a guy like me. At my high school, I was more of a receiving tight end. When I came here, I put on some pounds and showed Marrow that I’m very physical and it completely changed my mentality.” 

He said the same is true for wide receiver-turned tight end Izayah Cummings. It was shocking to see how fast he took to the position, as Bates has seen many players try to make the transition over his playing career. Sure, they could run routes and catch—but they simply weren’t tough enough. In Bates eyes, Cummings is that and more.

“[Cummings] was a wide receiver a few months ago and now he’s kicking some big dudes out—defensive ends, backers,” he said. “To play in the trenches and be a tight end, you’ve got to be mentally strong. You’ve gotta have a different mentality to go knock some dudes heads.”

Bates said he really saw that mental and physical strength on display in Columbia this past weekend in Kentucky’s 16-10 victory over South Carolina. He said with a laugh that it’s probably because he’s been watching him and fellow tight end Justin Rigg.

“[Vince] Marrow has one rule—no soft crap,” Bates said. “I think we really took it to South Carolina, and us [tight ends] individually, we take a lot of pride in it.”

Kentucky has put in some three tight end sets that Marrow and the rest of the tight end room have been loving behind the scenes. The plays have brought the offense success and has given Cummings the opportunities to bring the physicality that his teammates and coaches are now expecting of him.

Offensive coordinator Liam Coen said before the season that Bates was one of the most important players on his offense. Bates said it’s all about focusing on himself, his performance and what he can do to help his team succeed. “I don’t care about the hype, I just care about winning and what’s best for the team.”

What’s best for the team—as Kentucky fans would say, would be to defeat Florida in front of an already sold out crowd at Kroger Field for the first time since 1986.

“It would mean a lot,” Bates said about beating the Gators at home. “Especially for this season and to show the fans that we’re an elite team.”