Even former UK players downplay the pressure to "end the streak"

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

You haven't heard Kentucky players talking about stress or overbearing pressure from the fan bases's desire to "end the streak" against the Gators.

But couldn't those answers be scripted, well-rehearsed attempts to put up the appearance of calm?

Not according to former Kentucky players, who tell Cats Illustrated that the Big Blue Nation's desire to reverse a 30-year trend has no impact on the team's preparation and performance against the Gators.



Believe it or don't believe it.

Kentucky has lost to Florida every year for three consecutive decades. The Gators may have had a more talented roster, top to bottom, every single one of those years. But the odds say Kentucky should have won even just a few of those games as an underdog.

So it's fair to wonder how much of a mental hurdle there might be for UK's players at this point.

Not much, according to the UK players who spoke with Cats Illustrated this week.

Craig Yeast, who finished his Kentucky career with 2,899 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns as undoubtedly the greatest college receiver in the program's history, believes the shoe may actually be on the other foot.

"Honestly I never felt any pressure but more of an opportunity to play against the best," Yeast said. "Not to end the streak because I always felt the pressure was on them. As a team we knew they were more talented. They were always ranked in the top 5 to 10, but (were) always very upbeat during that week and felt anything could happen if we went out and executed.

"For the Cats on Saturday, (what was) most important is that every single player and coach on the team have the honest and true belief that we could win."

Unfortunately for Kentucky and for Yeast, the streak didn't end during those years from 1995-1998. The closest any of Yeast's teams came to beating Florida was in 1998, when the No. 8 Gators beat Kentucky 51-35 in the Swamp. The year prior the score was 55-28. And when Yeast was just a freshman and then a sophomore, well, it wasn't close.

Then again, the streak wasn't nearly what it is now. It was more akin to the 10-year drought Kentucky had against South Carolina before Joker Phillips' team beat the Gamecocks. Kentucky had only lost to Florida for nine consecutive years when Yeast arrived at Kentucky. When he left, the streak still wasn't half of what it is today. How time flies.

Former Kentucky defensive back and current high school football coach David Jones, who suffered a gunshot wound recently, knows a little something about preparing for and playing the Gators, too.

His 2006 and 2007 teams at Kentucky were very competitive against the Gators, with the former holding a 7-6 lead late in the first half in the Swamp before losing 26-7 and the latter (as the higher-ranked team) losing to Florida 45-37 with College Gameday in town.

"As a player, playing Florida was always fun," Jones told Cats Illustrated. "They always had the big name quarterback or running back that the nation would talk about. So I always wanted to shut them up as a player. But the streak never really came up like that in the locker room. We basically were trying to beat the players. But Coach (Rich) Brooks did a great job not letting us worry about it also."

Jones believes that Kentucky's home field advantage could be the key to the outcome on Saturday night, and said he hopes fans turn out and create a difficult environment for Florida to play in.

Cornerback Trevard Lindley, one of Kentucky's best defensive backs of modern times, joined the program one year after Jones, in 2006.

"For me (there wasn't) not much pressure," Lindley said. "You got out there and play your hardest. For the players, they're only going to play Florida for four years, so they can only control those years not the 30 years that the streak is."

Star defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon agrees.

"When the ball snaps for the first time you're not thinking about the streak anymore," Jarmon said. "Then it starts to creep back into your mind in the fourth quarter when you're a few plays away from rewriting history. It can definitely provide motivation especially with the home field advantage."

Lindley believes Kentucky will take care of business on Saturday. Jarmon, again, seems to agree.

"Florida is flying into a perfect storm in Lexington this weekend."

So if we're to believe the current players, and former players, the streak might be more something the fans talk about than the players. But as time goes on, there's no doubt the narrative has taken on a life of its own. Whether there's a mental hurdle or not, the only way to end the discussion entirely, for Kentucky's players, is to change the outcome.


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