By LARRY VAUGHT
Despite consecutive seven-win seasons and trips to bowl games, Kentucky fans have not embraced this year’s football team.
However, when Kentucky got back to Lexington about 3:30 a.m. Sunday after beating Florida to end a 31-year losing streak a few hours earlier, about 100 or more UK fans were waiting at the airport.
“That meant a lot to our players to meet us at 3 or 3:30 or whatever it was, and to have people there, I certainly made a point to walk out and say hello and thank you to them. Our team did as well,” Stoops said Monday.
“That meant a lot to us, and again with that streak, I’ve always addressed you head on, saying it is important, without a doubt to our fan base and to our team, but that wasn’t our full concentration. Our concentration was about us, our preparation, the way we play and continuing to build this team and continuing to play. If you do that, you’re going to put yourself in a position. That’s what I meant, and that’s what I’m most concerned about, is us, the way we play and the way we prepare and the way we build our program, to put ourselves in a position to beat Florida and to beat anybody we play. That’s what I meant by that.
“I’ve always said it’s important (to end the streak). I said it at the beginning of the year, is it important to beat Florida? Yeah, but that’s not just our sole concentration. Our concentration is on us, and the way we play, and the way we prepare. If you do that, good things are going to happen.”
Stoops and his players interacted with a lot of fans after the game. The head coach had about 250 text messages congratulating him on the win.
“I greatly appreciate it. I did not get back to all 250 people, but it is time to put it behind you and worry about the present and what we are going to do today to put ourselves in a position to win this week and improve our football team. It was a fun 24 hours, but it is time to move on,” he said Monday before also thanking coaches and friends for congratulating him.
Stoops wouldn’t disclose exactly who reached out to him but said he was great to see so many “recognize” the work his team put in to be able to beat Florida.
“What I’m most proud of this game was just the way we did it. Just being, again, methodical, tough and hard-nosed, handling adversity and taking care of the game one play at a time and when opportunities came we made big plays,” Stoops said.