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LEXINGTON – Sometime during Saturday's Blue-White spring football game, Freddie Maggard took to Twitter to let the world know about his newest experience.
“Tom is a legend. This is not easy at all. Everything happens fast and then on to next play,” the Anderson County resident and former University of Kentucky quarterback tweeted out.
“This” happened to be Maggard's first gig as a game analyst. He was working on the UK Football radio broadcast with long-time play-by-play man Tom Leach and sideline reporter Dick Gabriel as the Wildcats completed their second spring practice under Coach Mark Stoops.
From all indications, the UK running backs and the 35,117 fans that made it to the game were not the only ones drawing rave reviews. Maggard did just fine.
“There were times I would be listening to (Leach) call the game and I thought I was home listening to it on the radio. Then he would look at me like, 'Say something.'” Maggard laughed.
Apparently what he said was very good.
Full disclosure: I did not attempt to listen to the broadcast while working the game. I probably should have.
“He did a great job,” said Gabriel, who has to be on top of what happens on the field and in the broadcast booth. “He really knows his stuff. This game moved at a faster pace than a regular game, but he didn't step on Tom. He made insightful comments.”
For now, the radio work was a one-time thing, but the Harlan County native's blood runs Blue 365 days a year. He plans to be at every home game and travel to LSU this fall.
And he's sold on Stoops' performance in Lexington despite finishing just 2-10 in his first go-round.
“He has done a tremendous job,” says Maggard, who quarterbacked the Wildcats during the coaching tenures of Jerry Claiborne and Bill Curry. “He is a solid, proven recruiter. He has discipline. The kids also have fun. You have to have the fun moments.
“He is the perfect man for the job.”
Saturday, the small steps Stoops has made turned into big gainers by a group of running backs that Maggard believes are the best Kentucky has had in many years. Granted, the big guys – Jo Jo Kemp (131 all-purpose yards) and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard (55 yards) – were running against the Wildcats' second team defense. Josh Clemons' 93 yards were split between the two teams.
Still, Maggard says, “I see some future pros in this backfield.”
And that, Maggard believes, goes back to how Stoops has attacked the task of rebuilding Kentucky football.
“You have to recruit and develop,” Maggard says of Stoops. “They have recruited better players than the ones when they got here. And they have developed the players that were here.”
Big-time quarterback Drew Barker, who played his final high school game on the Anderson County field back in November. Ranked as one of the nation's 10 best at his position, Barker picked UK over Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. He finished high school in December and went through spring drills.
He was only 7-for-19 for 74 yards Saturday but made some splendid throws, including a 30 yard beauty to Demarco Robinson for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Barker gave a few glimpses of what the fuss was about.
A decade ago, Barker most likely would not be wearing Blue and White.
“There was no way,” Maggard said of the former prospects of a Barker ending up in Lexington. “But Coach Stoops came in here and was very brave in saying, 'We are going to get the best players in Kentucky.' He wouldn't back down from anybody.”
It's reminiscent of a key part of the formula Claiborne used to return Kentucky to respectability in the 1980s.
“Coach Claiborne locked down the state,” Maggard recalled. “The best players in the state came to UK.”
It's begun to happen again with talents like Ryan Timmons, Jason Hatcher, Matt Elam and Barker all picking UK over perennial powers.
“I have a lot of friends throughout the Southeastern Conference,” Maggard said. “They love Mark Stoops. SEC fans were mad at Kentucky for not taking football seriously, to be honest with you. You have to have the commitment.”
With the commitment in coaching salaries and facility upgrades UK football looks to be on the way up.
But building Kentucky football is even tougher than working in the broadcast booth. Maggard would not commit to a prediction for 2015.
“I just want to see improvement, which I have seen today,” Maggard said as we got ready to leave Commonwealth Stadium. “I am not going to put a number out there because it is so hard to predict.”
But Maggard says one thing is very apparent.
“This team is much better than last year.”