Kentucky’s Mark Stoops: ‘There’s a lot to learn’ from resolved legal matter

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Six University of Kentucky football players on Tuesday learned of a grand jury’s decision to decline to indict them on burglary charges. In anticipation of that decision, they’ve been practicing with the team for the last week.

Head coach Mark Stoops revealed that during a press conference held Tuesday evening after UK’s practice. The six players who were previously facing charges — RJ Adams, JuTahn McClain, Andru Phillips, Earnest Sanders, Vito Tisdale and Joel Williams — had to participate on a limited basis, under NCAA rules, before being able to fully take part in regular practices and regain their eligibility to play in games.

Stoops would not speculate much on the availability of any of the six to play against Florida on Saturday. He thanked the grand jury for doing its “due diligence” and arriving at the decision that it did.

Since the charges were filed on Aug. 19, Stoops has been steadfast in his support of the players and trust in the legal system.

“We believed that at the end of this process they would be exonerated, and they were,” Stoops said.

The litigation stemmed from an incident at a March fraternity party. It resulted in the host fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, receiving probation, and launched a UK investigation that found multiple UK football players — including the six charged in August — guilty of student conduct violations but permitted to remain at the university.

“There’s a lot to learn,” Stoops said. “I think we all can understand the basics of that and where they need to be, and what they need to be focused on. They are college students and in the spring time, and things happen. But, again, I appreciate the process playing out.

“I feel bad for people that don’t have representation, I can tell you that. The wrongly accused, it’s a scary world out there for them.”

Stoops expressed some surprise that his team had to deal with this at all. The players were originally suspended from team activities for 13 weeks into the summer.

“I believe that nobody believed it would go this far,” Stoops said. “Maybe one person.”

Stoops did not specify, but he might have been referencing Tisdale, who also was facing a wanton endangerment charge that the grand jury also declined to indict. His university student conduct review is believed to be the last to be finalized, on June 7; he was found to be in violation of the school’s code regarding “harm or threat of harm,” but his scholarship was not suspended. The school also determined that “there was not a preponderance of evidence” that Tisdale had a gun at the party, which was alleged by some witnesses.

Of the six players — all in their second year with the team — Tisdale was the one who played in the most games last season,and the hybrid safety was expected to make immediate contributions for UK’s defense in 2021. Phillips, a cornerback, played down the stretch last season, and McClain in fall camp was vying for the No. 2 running back spot on the depth chart.

The layoff has effected all of them.

“They’re definitely backed up,” Stoops said. “I noticed it today. We were definitely excited to get ‘em back, but watching ‘em, they definitely need a lot of reps. ... Game speed, game reps, I don’t know how fast that’ll come.”

All of the players posted original messages or retweeted messages on Twitter indicating relief about the situation being resolved. Wrote Phillips:

“I just want to get on here and thank the lord, my family/friends and anyone else who has been there with me through this whole situation. Today my fabricated charges were finally dropped, and I can do nothing but thank the lord. Time to get back to work!!”

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