For Kentucky football players, Tuesday could have turned into a day to take it easy. It was the Wildcats’ first full day in pads, and the heat index hovered around 100 degrees during the afternoon practice.
But new coach Joker Phillips didn’t complain, and he said some of his players even embraced it.
“Guys practiced hard, with a lot of enthusiasm,” Phillips said. “As we practiced faster, guys started to lose their feet and not run through tackles. But we’re practicing smarter and staying off the ground.”
Among those that drew Phillips’ attention Tuesday was senior wide receiver Chris Matthews. Matthews was a newcomer to Kentucky last season, a 6-5, 219-pound junior college transfer from Los Angeles. He struggled in 2009 jumping from the junior college circuit to the Southeastern Conference. He caught just three touchdowns, none of which were in conference play.
Wide receivers coach Tee Martin said Matthews took it upon himself in the off season to spend a lot of time each day catching balls and getting trimmer. As a result, both Phillips and Martin agree Matthews is ready to live up to heightened expectations.
“I’ve compared him to a lot of big, physical guys I’ve played with in the past,” said Martin, who spent four years as an NFL quarterback from 2000-2003. “Plaxico Burress is the one he reminded me of most. I played with him in Pittsburgh, we were drafted together. He has so many of those same type of skills as Plax had.”
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari visited the practice, Phillips said, and Calipari particularly enjoyed a sumo drill. Asked if he invited Calipari to participate in the drill, Phillips laughed.
“No, no, no, no,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of insurance.”