HOOVER, Ala.-Andre Woodson could be the spark that Kentucky football needs.
With a sense of excitement in his voice about his 6-foot-5, 230-pound signal caller and some of the young talent in his program, Wildcats coach Rich Brooks appeared to be optimistic as he addressed the media during the final session of SEC Football Media Days on Friday at the Wynfrey Hotel.
"(Woodsen) has a chance to be a rising star in this league at that position," Brooks said. "I believe we have good weapons for him to throw to, but Andre will be the key."
The Kentucky program needs a spark. Since replacing current Baylor coach Guy Morris, who went 7-5 in his final season in Lexington, Kentucky has won only six of 23 games, is 2-14 in SEC play and 1-9 against the SEC East. Last season, the Wildcats finished 2-9 a year ago, with their only wins coming against Indiana and Vanderbilt.
While it is understood that the Kentucky program has been hurt by NCAA probation (the Wildcats will have only 76 scholarship players this year), there has been talk that Brooks needs to show signs of the program turning the corner this year to keep his job.
"I can't control job security," Brooks said. "I can control direction we are headed and the plan to get Kentucky out of a probation period. Right now, I think we are a better football team than we were last year and we have to go out and demonstrate that. 2006 will be the best team that Kentucky has had in quite a few years, but then we have to go out and beat some other good teams."
As a freshman, Woodson got a taste of life in the SEC when he started and played the Wildcats' 42-10 loss at league champion Auburn last Oct. 23. In that game, Woodson completed 14-of-26 passes for 73 yards and was intercepted once. He also was sacked seven times buy the Tigers' defense.
"He had some moments of brilliance in that game," Brooks said. "But he also had some moments where he played like a freshman."
Wide receiver Tommy Cook believes Woodson's experience can only help the team.
"It was really fundamental to get him in some tough game-like situations like we did last season," Cook said. "That was huge."
Woodson finished 2004 with a 61 percent completion percentage, 492 yards passing, two touchdowns and only one interception.
Safety Muhammad Abdullah, a second team preseason All-SEC selection, has taken note of Woodson's abilities.
"He's a pocket passer who does well out of the pocket," Abdullah said. "Though he may not have great speed, he is fast enough to get away from defenders."
Though Woodson is the player Brooks seems to be building his offense around, incoming freshman quarterback Curtis Pulley will be a factor this season. Pulley was ranked as the fourth-ranked overall prospect in the state of Kentucky in the class of 2005, according to Rivals.com.
"I'm sure he's picked up some of the offense (during voluntary summer workouts)," Brooks said. "What we need to make sure with Curtis is that he has a package of our offense he's comfortable with by that first game."
Brooks also spoke highly of Zipp Duncan, a jumbo athlete who will be a solid addition. The No. 13 overall prospect in the state of Kentucky in that class of 2005, Duncan projected as a tight end out of high school, but will start on the defensive side of the ball.
"Zipp is a guy who can play some tight end, but we are going to start him at defensive end," Brooks said. "I think he's a guy that can come in and be a factor. We don't have many guys that are 6-5 at defensive end. He's a guy that athletically, I think can come in and help us right away."
In addition to Pulley and Duncan, Brooks expects several other first-year players to play this year.
"We will have probably anywhere from seven to 10 freshman play significant roles," Brooks said. "Some may push for starting spots. Depth is part of the issue, part if it is guys coming in are pretty good."
Brooks also mentioned rising sophomore running back Rafael Little along with several other youngsters, as a player to watch this season. Little was Kentucky's second-leading rusher with 262 yards a season ago.
In addition to Woodson's potential and the young talent in Lexington, a fresh approach on offense may help, too as UK graduate Joker Phillips takes over as offensive coordinator on a full-time basis this season.
Phillips, long known as an ace recruiter, called the plays for the Wildcats' 37-31 loss to SEC East champion Tennessee in the final game of the 2004 season. It was likely Kentucky's best showing of the year as the Cats had the Vols down 31-22 heading into the fourth quarter before Tennessee rallied for the win.
"It was a close game all game long and we really had a chance to win," Cook said. "It gave us a great start to this season."
The Wildcats play host to in-state rival Louisville at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 4.