Showalter shows Kentucky’s passion for football
Published 3:14 pm Thursday, September 28, 2017
By LARRY VAUGHT
At the end of last football season John Showalter kept telling other members of the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville about the passionate Kentucky football fan base.
So he couldn’t help but have a little fun when he came to Kroger Stadium Saturday with another TaxSlayer Bowl scout to watch the Kentucky-Florida game.
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“I told him the tailgate atmosphere was usually a lot better and was better two weeks ago for the Eastern Kentucky game,” said Showalter, a Boyle County native and former football player at Boyle County High School. “I couldn’t help myself.”
Showalter sensed how special the pregame atmosphere was for the game but also wanted once again to emphasize that Kentucky does have a passion for football.
“Outside of the state, people don’t always realize the passion Kentucky fans have for football and all sports,” Showalter said. “After a slow start last year, Kentucky kind of got on a roll and I did my best to let people in our organization know that. Once things started coming together and then Kentucky beat Louisville, there was really a lot of excitement.
“Bowls want fans to come enjoy the game and then come back to visit. They want fans to stay in the hotels. I knew Kentucky fans would do all that. I beat the drum for Kentucky as hard as I could. I knew Kentucky would be great for our game and it really was.”
Kentucky lost to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl and is not eligible to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl again this year due to a policy adapted to keep the same team from playing in the same bowl consecutive seasons.
“All the bowls kind of work together now to get the best matchups for everybody,” Showalter. “Fans don’t travel to bowl games like they did 15 years ago. This year Kentucky can’t come back with the way our contract is structured with the Southeastern Conference.”
Just don’t think the Wildcats will not be welcomed back again.
“I know Kentucky didn’t win but Kentucky was so well represented by the administration to the way the team and fans behaved and interacted. It was great,” Showalter, who played for former UK assistant coach Chuck Smith at Boyle County High School, said.
Kentucky Showalter says Jacksonville would like to have more neutral-site matchups in early September to start the college football season. The city has a “big one” in the works for next year and had Alabama and Florida State play there a few years back.
“The BCS (bowl championship series) is a whole lot more about strength of schedule now,” Showalter said. “When you get down to the end, strength of schedule matters. Labor Day weekend works well for fans for a big neutral-site game. It gets on the calendar early and makes travel and planning easier for fans. It’s good for teams and coaches are sort of coming around. I get coaches don’t want to play marquee games right out of (preseason) camp, but it is coming. I definitely can see with the way Kentucky football is headed that Kentucky will have a chance to be in those types of games because there are going to be a lot of them I think.”
Still, it was not just a vacation trip back to Kentucky for Showalter. He wanted to see UK athletics officials again to continue a “strong relationship” with them.
“It’s about more than the bowl for us,” he said. “Last year we hosted the SEC gymnastics meet in Jacksonville. We hosted the women’s conference basketball tournament two years ago. We have track and field this year. We have the Florida-Georgia (football) game annually. We have had the ACC baseball championships. That’s why I always want to reach out to all the folks I can.”
That includes former Boyle teammate Neal Brown, who is now the head football coach at Troy University. Showalter was in Brown’s wedding party and the coach comes to Jacksonville for a PGA Tour event.
“Neal puts in the work. He has not backed into his success,” Showalter said. “It has been fun to watch his success. I always kind of felt like he was on the path to do great things. I’m proud of him and I know all of Boyle County is, too.”