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Reunion Special To Brooks, His Players But Also To Current Cats

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Former coach Rich Brooks and his players made an impression on the current Cats during their reunion weekend in Lexington. (Vicky Graff Photo) Former coach Rich Brooks and his players made an impression on the current Cats during their reunion weekend in Lexington. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

It was no coincidence that almost 100 players from Kentucky’s 2006, 2007 and 2008 bowl teams came back to Lexington to honor coach Rich Brooks’ legacy.

Former UK tight end Jacob Tamme, who played on three teams that went to the Super Bowl during his nine-year NFL career, said his appreciation for Brooks has not grown because he appreciated him from the start.

“I came in with him. It has been special to me from that day forward. The first couple of years were tough and we had some growing pains but I always had faith in where we were going and we ended up having some good years and coach Brooks, in my opinion, was the main reason and driving force behind it,” Tamme said. “Every moment with him was special.”

Receiver Keenan Burton remembers Brooks inheriting a senior class that “did not really buy into what he wanted to do” when he came. Kentucky went 4-8, 2-9 and 3-8 in Brooks’ first three years after he took over when Guy Morris left for Baylor.

“You can’t create the culture you want if the leaders (on the team) don’t buy into the coach,” Burton said. “For him to see it all come together and be honored is great. He’s seen us grow into great husbands, great fathers, businessmen, NFL players. He has left a legacy in all of us with what he did.”

Kentucky went 8-5 in 2006 and got a Music City Bowl win. In 2007 UK was 8-5 again with wins over eventual national champion LSU and top 10 Louisville to go with a Music City Bowl victory. The 2008 season produced a win in the Liberty Bowl and 7-6 mark. Brooks’ final year in 2009 the Cats were 7-6 but did lose in the Music City Bowl.

Burton and Tamme were among the players who went to bat for Brooks with UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart in 2005 and again in 2006 that helped him keep his job when the coach said he had “questionable” administrative support. Burton said it was a no-brainer to stand behind Brooks.

“It would have set us back 10 years to have not kept coach Brooks,” Burton said. “He was the man for the job. We could not let the man fall on the sword for us.”

Dicky Lyons Jr. had his occasional run-ins with Brooks on and off the field. But no one respects the former coach more than Lyons.

“We wanted so bad to be accepted as a team. We learned to be Kentucky and not worry about what Georgia, Tennessee, Florida were doing,” Lyons said. “I didn’t always think I was listening to what coach Brooks was saying or even knew what he meant. But he made men out of us and you don't always realize at the time what the coach is doing for you.”

Coach Mark Stoops made sure his team heard from Brooks and some of his former players during their reunion weekend before UK beat Tennessee. The current Cats said they came away impressed not only by Brooks, but also the passion the former players had for UK and wanting to see the current Cats do well.

They noticed the way current NFL linebacker Wesley Woodyard was so passionate on the sideline watching the final minutes of the win over Tennessee.

“I think this win means a lot as far as getting the program back on the right track and in consistent bowl games,” senior linebacker Courtney Love said. “Having all those former players back definitely added more fuel. Those guys want to see us win and be better than what they were — and they were pretty god.

“We want to follow in their footsteps and just be better. That’s something they really preached to us. They want us to be better and break their records and go out and be the best team Kentucky has seen in a while. I think that is just phenomenal. It speaks to how good their character is. Everybody bought in and understood what they were talking about. It’s just amazing to listen to them and what they could teach us. I know being back here was special for them, but it was also special for all of us here to get to be around them.”

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