12:28:57 Belk Bowl

Kentucky place kicker Matt Ruffolo kicks an extra point during the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kentucky won 37-30. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

It has felt like forever since we’ve seen college football, but we’re finally less than 10 days away from opening day in the SEC. If you’ve been anxious for its return, just imagine if you were the one suiting up.

The buzz of excitement for strapping on the pads has been evident inside the Kentucky facilities. Defensive coordinator Brad White mentioned an evident sense of eagerness from players to just get back onto the field.

“You can tell the guys are ready,” he said. “The urgency has elevated; they know they’re in the single digits right now until kickoff time so you can sense it.”

 There has been a fair amount of raving done by coaches and the media about the potential of White’s unit. Given its 2019 achievements and the abundance of returning bodies, it’s understandable. That said, he doesn’t want that getting in his players’ minds. He wants to keep them motivated and ready to prove themselves again.

“There’s definitely a pride piece to it,” White said. “I think anyone that’s a competitor has that pride piece. We also know that year’s past.”

“We’re a different team… every year is different, and every year you have to face new adversity and new challenges. Just because you look good on paper doesn’t mean you’re going to rise to those challenges and elevate,” he continued. “I think we have the guys to do it, but you never know exactly how it’s going to play out until it happens.”

We’ve heard praise and constructive criticisms regarding offense and defense all summer, so much so that it almost seems like the special teams have slipped to the backburner. Having the reigning Ray Guy award winner at punter explains that to an extent, but the kicking situation is much more fluid.

Kentucky plans on rolling out Matt Ruffolo after a successful second half of 2019. Ruffolo went 4-5 on field goal attempts and 18-20 on PAT’s – his two misses coming in a rain-soaked Missouri game – after taking over for Chance Poore midway through the season. The senior from Centerville, Ohio told reporters that despite the good percentages, he used those misses as learning opportunities.

“I was prepared kicking-wise, but mentally, that Missouri game could’ve been better,” Ruffolo said. “But is was a good learning experience for me… I’m definitely more mentally tough this year.”

Dealing with thousands of screaming fans is where that mental toughness is needed more than ever for a kicker. But this year won’t bring the same level of noise or distraction from the crowd. Ruffolo mentioned that the noise in the stadium wouldn’t matter much to him anyway though, because he deals with a tough condition when practicing.

“Stoops stands right over me so that’s pretty intimidating in itself,” he said. “Obviously I want fans there, it definitely adds a little bit of pressure but like I said… it really shouldn’t affect me too much.”

If the Cats can get repeat performances out of Ruffolo and Duffy respectively, they hold a great chance to stay competitive in every contest.