Stoops talks mentality, COVID protocols and quarterbacks


Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops holds up the Belk Bowl trophy after the Belk Bowl football game between Kentucky and Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. UK won 37-30. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Eric Decker

Despite potentially disappearing home-field advantages and conference-only scheduling, Mark Stoops doesn’t seem swayed as the start of his eighth year in Lexington approaches.

When describing Kentucky’s mentality heading into this unprecedented 2020 season, Stoops decided to quote famous U.S. World War II General George Patton.

“I am a soldier,” he said. “I fight where I’m told, and I’ll win where I fight.”

Stoops and his players seem to understand the need to maintain focus on the field as uncertainty surrounds the modified season and the ramifications of COVID-19. One of the larger issues that comes with the attempt of this college football season is the regulation of student-athlete interaction with their fellow students on and off campus. A single case on the roster could end up sidelining the entire team.

Stoops said he knows many of his freshmen have in-person classes on campus. But he trusts how they’ll conduct themselves after seeing upperclassmen and team leaders step up to the plate in regulating not only the newbies, but the roster as a whole.

“They’ve done a really good job and they need to continue that.” Stoops said. “Having the leadership we have in our program, they’ll force it among themselves.”

The coaching staff has held an empathetic view of its student-athletes throughout the entire process, one that appears to have worked. Stoops said that he allowed players the opportunity to opt-out of the season with no repercussions, but none of them expressed any concern over playing and zero of them opted out.

That includes quarterback Terry Wilson, who’s coming off a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. He should be ready to take back reigns of the offense when the season begins. Don’t think Stoops is going to ease him back into the fold, as he emphasized benefit of extra time to prepare now that there’s a late September kickoff.

Presumably eager to get back on the field and silence his doubters, Wilson isn’t the only one in the quarterback room that holds a little extra motivation going into week one. Incoming transfer Joey Gatewood, who transferred to the Cats from Auburn, might not get an opportunity to step on the field. The 6’4″ quarterback was only able to practice slightly with the team during the spring before the pandemic forced everything down, but the issue is that his eligibility waiver has yet to be ruled on. Stoops and his staff are still awaiting a decision from the NCAA.

“We had turned in everything necessary.” he said. “We expect an answer here relatively soon… I don’t think it appropriate for me to speculate on what I expect at this point.”

While Stoops isn’t speculating, the high number of quarterbacks who have been ruled eligible has the fan base holding out hope for Gatewood. Whether he is deemed eligible or not, Stoops having already established an in-season mentality for the team inspires hope for a high level of success on the field.