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Kentucky Kernel

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It’s tailgate time in the Bluegrass

Kyleigh Miller
People tailgate the morning of the Kentucky vs. Ball State football game on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023 at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 44-14. Photo by Kyleigh Miller | Staff

Tailgating season has officially taken over college football once again, and there seems to be no better place to be in the SEC than right in the heart of Big Blue Nation. 

Prime locations for trailers and tents were scouted out and claimed by many loyal Kentucky football fans and groups weeks before kickoff. 

Bluegrass spirit was high the morning of Saturday, Sept.  2, as setup commenced in Lexington, Kentucky. College football season had officially begun, and “Caturday” was just getting started. 

When it comes to Caturday preparation, Jason Klare, a Kentucky alumni, is a pro, as he spent his glory days playing for the University of Kentucky Rugby Football Club.

“Like actually buying stuff, I start the Sunday before … Preparing the menu, preparing the drinks, making sure the invites go out and getting a headcount. So it’s about a week-long process,” Klare said.  He also noted his family lives in Northern Kentucky, which sets him back compared to Lexington locals. 

“So we can’t set up a tent before. But we have to get here right when the lots open. And that’s every game, no matter what time it starts,” Klare said.

Kroger Field lots opened at 8 a.m. Saturday. Despite the early morning hours, fans flooded in from all directions, sporting their best UK gear and their passionate Wildcat pride. “BBN” flags flew high atop tents, grills fired up and portable televisions were set to LEX18s’ tailgate coverage to stay on top of  the latest pregame highlights. 

Excitement and community were evident throughout the day. Students, alumni and locals gathered in the parking lots, creating an endless sea of blue and white to support the Wildcats on their first game of the season against the Cardinals of Ball State. 

For many fans of the Wildcats, this is the best time of the year. It’s a time they get to spend with friends and family gathered at their favorite place to support the Big Blue Nation and embrace their tailgate rituals. A great deal of fans have even seen Kentucky football run in their families for decades. 

Kentucky alumni Brad Bruns highlighted his time spent living on the legendary State Street. 

“During the 1995-1996 men’s basketball season, when UK won the ‘96 championship, our house was crazy with students. In the house, in the street and in the yard. It was such a cool experience,” Bruns said. 

Bruns has spent a majority of his life a diehard Wildcat sports fan and has continuously followed UK sports for most of his life. 

“Followed UK football since the mid 80s. And yes, tailgating has always been a part of it the whole time,” Bruns said. “Tailgating is the best part.” 

Bruns cracked open a Miller Lite and shared the most important rule of the tailgate. 

“Don’t run out of beer,” Bruns said. 

Some of the Cats’ biggest supporters show you do not have to be a student, alumni or even a person to bring your best tailgate spirit to Lexington. 

Matt Gilbert has been a Kentucky football fan and tailgating at Kroger Field since he was 5-years-old. Now, at 28, Gilbert has passed his love for the Big Blue Nation onto his 19-year-old, 60-pound Giant Tortoise, Otis. 

“We’ve been bringing him to every home game for 13 years if the weather is good. He’s pretty well known around here, walking around the stadium, a lot of people know who he is … We got a wagon right here and we pull him around … He’s pretty popular around here, that’s for sure,” Gilbert said.

From plenty of fans’ perspective, there is something to be said for how special a UK football tailgate is. Maybe it is the community, the energy, the food, the drinks, the sport or maybe just feeling connected to the school. 

For Ben Straeffer, a freshman finance major, it’s the connection. He explained how tailgating has helped him feel initiated into the Big Blue Nation as a first-year student. 

“It’s one of the best ways to get involved with the school culture and spirit,” Straeffer said. “It’s my first actual tailgate, but I have been following UK football for a couple years.”

The Wildcats will face the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky University at Kroger Field this coming Saturday, Sept. 9, at 3 p.m. EST.

With preparations for the tailgate beginning once again, the energy has been revived in Lexington coming off the first win of the season. Fans are coming together, students are ready and the city is alive. Welcome home, Big Blue Nation — let the tailgating season begin.

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