Vaught's Views: Top 10 Moments of 2018
Kentucky players got to celebrate ending a 31-year losing streak to Florida this season. (Vicky Graff Photo)
When you look back at Kentucky football’s 2018 season, what are you going to remember best?
This season certainly had a lot of memorable times, including a lot off the field, and probably everyone has their own top 10 moments. For once, I had a hard time actually confining my thoughts to just 10, but here’s my list of favorite moments from this historic season.
10. Offensive lineman E.J. Price briefly left the team in the spring and went on a Twitter rant criticizing the coaches. Coach Mark Stoops not only let him stay on the team, but he became a part-time starter this season. But what really got me was when Stoops rode a bus back from Washington, D.C., all night while chaperoning his son’s school trip and then still managed to go see Price and teammate Josh Paschal get baptized.
9. Benny Snell could be the best running back Kentucky has ever had. However, at Media Day in August I asked him about all the bracelets he wore on his wrists. He carefully went through explaining where each one came from and then he told me one was actually used to repel mosquitos. I told him I was old, but I wasn’t going to fall for that. Then he quickly had me smell the bracelet to prove he was telling the truth and laughed the whole time. A few months later he was an All-American.
8. The long-awaited win over Florida changed the whole perception of Kentucky football. The Cats had lost 31 straight times to the Gators — I wasn’t sure I would ever see UK beat Florida again — when Kentucky won 27-16. That proved to fans — and maybe even Stoops’ players — that this team could play with any team in the Southeastern Conference finally.
7. Kentucky has eight players that are going to be playing in either the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine Game. Seniors Josh Allen, Bunchy Stallings, Jordan Jones, Mike Edwards, Darius West, Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson and C.J. Conrad all will be playing in the bowls and for Kentucky to have six defensive players with enough potential that NFL scouts want to see them in all-star play is another first for this program that UK fans won’t forget.
6. Kentucky not only beat Louisville to end the regular season, it routed the Cardinals 56-10 one year after UK not only got beat by Louisville but also embarrassed itself with the way some players acted during the game. It was quite a turnaround for Kentucky and the win wrapped up UK’s first berth in a New Year’s Day bowl game since 1998. It was the perfect regular-season ending for Kentucky football.
5. The feeling connected with Kentucky football the week of the Georgia game when a win would have put UK into the Southeastern Conference championship game. No, Kentucky didn’t win but just to see UK football not only in the SEC spotlight but also the national spotlight for a short time was a God-send for this program. It showed that while UK might not be able to contend for a division title annually, it can sometimes happen and for a fan base needing its belief in Stoops reinforced, this was perfect.
4. It was supposed to just be a routine Media Day with Stoops talking about what was coming for his team. Instead, he revealed that sophomore defensive lineman Josh Paschal would be out indefinitely after it was discovered he had skin cancer and that offensive line coach John Schlarman was also battling an illness that was later revealed to be cancer. Schlarman never missed a game despite undergoing chemotherapy and Paschal finally made it back to play in the final regular season game. However, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the emotion Stoops had that day explaining what was going on with his player and coach.
3. Kentucky was in big trouble on the road at Missouri. It had no offense and looked beaten going into the fourth quarter. That’s when Lynn Bowden returned a punt for a touchdown, which was impressive. However, after the game we found out that Bowden actually made the call himself to let him return the punt instead of normal returner David Bouvier.
2. Before the season started running back Benny Snell’s mother, April, told me during a radio show that this would be the year that Kentucky beat Florida. She guaranteed it and told me to remember what she told me. A few hours after Kentucky did indeed end that torturous losing streak by winning at Florida, I got a message from her reminding me about what she had predicted.
1. This was kind of a no-brainer. I can still remember the first time I interviewed Josh Allen after he signed with Kentucky. I also remember talking to his high school coach and having him tell me that Allen, despite being a two-star recruit, was better than players he had sent to Ohio State and Notre Dame. To see him become not only a consensus All-American this year but also a consensus national defensive player of the years is something I never really expected and probably will never see another player dominate play the way he did.