Jeff's Journal - #8

 Greetings from the library at the University of Kentucky. Photojournalist Kevin Fichtner (that's "Fic Cam" to fans of "Friday Night Football Fever" ) and I are in the middle of "Jeff's SEC Journey." That's our "Around the SEC in 10 Days" trek formerly known as the Skywriters tour.

First stop: Gainesville, Florida to check out the Gators.

The good news for Florida fans: When it comes to recruiting second-year coach Ron Zook has few peers.

The bad news: many of Zook's recruits (Florida features 46 first and second-year players)will be counted on to contribute right away, perhaps before they're ready. With Rex Grossman gone, there's a good old-fashioned quarterback controversy in the Swamp. We'll explore Florida's QB options when the Gators preview airs on WSFA 12 News at 6 Monday, August 18.
By the way, former Hoover receiver Chad Jackson is wearing Grossman's old jersey #8. We tried to talk to the player who led the Bucs to last year's 6A state championship, but Florida employs a "no interviews for true freshmen" policy.

Same story at Louisiana State, where Mobile quarterback Jamarcus Russell is "off limits" to anyone with a microphone.

For what it's worth, Coach Zook and I were born and raised in the same rural Ohio county. He's from Loudonville, where the favorite pastime is canoeing down the Mohican River.
If you're ever up that way, it's a great way to spend an afternoon. I'm from the "big city" of Ashland (the county seat), where my Dad and Grandpa set up their Auction and Realty business in the '60's and '70's after selling the family farm in Loudonville.
Dad tells me Grandpa Shearer once "had a sale" for Zook's dad. Like they say, it's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it.
 I wouldn't be surprised to see LSU make a run at Auburn in the SEC West. Quarteback Matt Mauck is "healed up" after a foot injury cost him the last 7 games of the 2002 season. We had lunch in Baton Rouge with former WSFA sports guys Lee Zurik and Todd Rossnagel. Lots of laughs talking about their years on "the Fever" in the late '90's.
Lee's a sports reporter and anchor in New Orleans. Todd is a morning news anchor in Baton Rouge.
LSU coach Nick Saban also has ties to the "Buckeye State." He was an 18-year-old freshman at Kent State in May of 1970, during one of the darker days in American history in the past generation. Saban had gone to lunch on campus that day, when National Guard troops (who had been summoned to Kent State by the Ohio Governor after students protesting the Vietnam War had been involved in looting) killed 4 students.
Saban says the aftermath of the tragedy inadvertently spared him from the wrath of his father. It seems the future football coach's study habits were not too impressive in those days. Saban says he was on the verge of flunking out of school when the university president suspended the rest of the spring semester, forcing Saban to complete the academic year and take finals by correspondence.
Saban says the more lenient "mail in your homework" grading and testing allowed him to retain his eligibility. He went on to become a 3-year letterman at Kent State as a defensive back.

We're on our way to practice here in the Commonwealth. Just got done interviewing Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky's star quarterback.

We'll tell you how the "Pillsbury Throwboy" dropped several pounds in the off-season when the Wildcat preview airs.
You can see profiles of all 12 SEC teams on WSFA 12 News at 6 and 10 the week of August 18-23.
We'll be checking in again next week on the homestretch of "Jeff's SEC Journey."
Until then, God bless - Jeff