Mark Stoops as excited as ever for Kentucky football


Chris Rodriguez Jr. poses for a photo with head coach Mark Stoops during the UK football media day on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Year nine of Mark Stoops at the helm is underway, as he answered questions today at UK football media day.

A lot has changed since Stoops arrived in Lexington, but one thing that hasn’t, is Stoops’ undying faith for the program.

“I’m as excited this year, as excited to get going right now as I was in year one,” Stoops said. 

Stoops entered the bluegrass in 2013, taking over for former head coach Joker Phillips. In eight seasons, Stoops has compiled a record of 49-50. That record may be misleading however, as Stoops has taken UK to winning seasons in four of the last five years, including a current winning streak of three in UK’s bowl games. 

Game 100 of Stoops’ tenure at Kentucky will take place on September 4 at Kroger Field, as the Cats will kick off their 2021 campaign against UL Monroe.

Who will be under center taking the snaps for that game? Well, it’s still too early to tell for Stoops:

“It’s more important to get it right than to be in a hurry,” Stoops said. “We do feel like there is quality depth maybe for the first time. You go all the way down and have four or five guys that you feel confident that could play football at this level, and getting them reps is a concern, and we will work that as best we can.”

Time will tell as to who leads the Cats out on the field on Sept. 4. Between junior  Penn State transfer Will Levis, junior Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood and Lexington’s own sophomore Beau Allen, there is zero shortage of talent in the quarterback room.

While the starting quarterback may be a transfer, that won’t be the only position that potentially benefits from the portal. 

The Wildcats landed multiple transfers that are expected to provide big impact this season. Wan’Dale Robinson from Nebraska is set up to be a main target at wide receiver. Dare Rosenthal comes over from LSU to bolster the offensive line in a big way. On the other side of the ball, Jacquez Jones, Ole Miss’ leading tackler from a year ago will bring an edge to the linebacking core that could take it over the top. Depth was added to the linebacker spot as well with the additions of Michigan State’s Luke Fulton and Georgia Tech’s Justice Dingle, brother of current UK tight end Jordan Dingle. 

Stoops knows that the transfer portal is now more important than ever, and he feels that he capitalized this offseason:

“I feel like we got (transfers) in positions that we needed some depth,” Stoops said. “We have some really good players and really hit some needs, so it was very critical for us, and I feel very good about it.”

It’s no secret that Mark Stoops is feeling great about the state of the program as the season approaches, but this season does carry a new wrinkle that no-one in college football has had to deal with until now. 

In the beginning of July, Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) policies were put into effect, changing the landscape of college sports. Until now, players have never been able to make money off of their own name in college. These policies will impact some players decisions, from the deals that they sign, the choices they make to even where they decide to attend school. 

While this has the potential to shift the state of college sports, coach Stoops understands the potency these NIL deals could carry, and what it could do to the University of Kentucky:

“NIL is a major concern of how it affects our game, how it affects your locker room,” Stoops explained. “For me, personally, yes I’m concerned about the way it affects our team. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve educated them as best we can, it does not seem to be a problem at this point.”

“Many of our players feel like they just want to concentrate on football,” stoops continued. 

Stoops is aware that the way some collegiate athletes will operate will change from here on out, but he isn’t worried about the choices his players will make.

“We have really good kids, very good players that are very conscientious, that do so many things to help the community,” Stoops said. “I just appreciate our players.”

Whether some of the Wildcats are making money off of the field or not, it is what they do on the field that will win them football games. With Stoops at the helm, expect football to remain the priority at Kentucky:

“I feel really good about this team, I love our coaching staff. I feel like we’re in a really good place.”