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July 27, 2013

Stoops and staff want to build on presence in Louisville

LOUISVILLE -- Mark Stoops wants to win in Louisville. He wants to beat his in-state rivals. He wants to recruit well.

He wants to let people know he's to be taken seriously in Louisville.

"We want to be a big presence in this city," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "It's the largest city in the state. We've got a lot of alumni here, good high school football players here, so we want to be here as much as we can."

Stoops and his staff got an assist on Friday from the UK Alumni Association in Louisville. More than 800 alumni from the area swarmed the Kentucky International Convention Center for a luncheon just to hear Stoops and his coordinators speak briefly.

Attendance at the luncheon nearly doubled from 2012, when 450 people arrived for the same event. Some alumni who hadn't registered ahead of time had to be turned away at the door.

"Everywhere we turn around, there's a sellout now," Stoops said.

Stoops touched on his familiar talking points that he'll continue to hit in the days leading up to the Wildcats' season opener on Aug. 31. He spoke about looking forward to the start of camp, questions that have to be answered, and progress that has to be made.

Louisville is one area where they've already made gains. Stoops made the city a priority when he arrived. On Eliot's first day on the job, he was recruiting at Trinity High School in Louisville by noon.

"When we walked into Trinity, we wanted to let people in Louisville know Kentucky is here and we're not messing around," Stoops said.

That visit paid off when Kentucky signed Rivals 250 defensive end Jason Hatcher in February, flipping the former USC commit.

Friday was another win for the staff in Louisville, but he's become accustomed to winning in-state battles. Dating back to 2008, Stoops has gone 7-1 against major in-state rivals while serving as defensive coordinator at Arizona and Florida State.

The crowd brought enthusiasm and energy to the event, but the also brought expectations. After a 2-10 season and an offseason of positive momentum, the staff is aware there will be pressure to continue their off-field success between the hash marks.

"It's a lot better than nobody caring, I'll tell you that," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "The interest level is high. The fan base has an understanding of where we are at. It's going to be a process and there's going to be some stepping stones and some building blocks in this process. The product we're going to put on the field, they're going to be proud of."

Like his head coach, Brown fell back to familiar talking points. His unit still has a ways to go, and he's focused on Western Kentucky now rather than the University of Louisville.

But even if the Cardinals aren't on his mind, Louisville is.

"There's a lot of good high school being played in this city," Brown said. "This is the biggest media market. Obviously, we want to make our presence (known), obviously, we've got a rival here.

"We want to get in this area and make some noise."

For a full recap of what Stoops discussed on Friday, as well as transcripts from interviews with Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot, visit the House of Blue.

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