Quarterback Sawyer Smith's body was so beat up physically that he went a whole week without throwing a football after Kentucky's loss at South Carolina last month just to give himself time to recover partially. However, he knew his ailments paled in comparison to what patients at Kentucky Children's Hospital faced and wasn't about to miss a chance to visit there.
"The stuff you go through on the field, you think you're tough, and you think you're strong. You go there and walk around, and you really get inspired by the philosophy that some of those kids have at such a young age," Smith said.
"There's a kid in there, probably 16 or 17 years old, he has his Bible by his bed. I asked him how much time he spends reading it, and he said about four hours a day. For a kid of that age to have that kind of mental strength and power while suffering from an illness is just inspiring. That's all I can say... It's just inspiring."
"UK players really give their time. They don't just visit and leave. They will stay, and sometimes we will even have to pull them out of the room because of time limitations.”
Former UK tight end C.J. Conrad started a program where UK football players visit the hospital one day each week. Conrad has graduated, but the program continues much to the delight of Jennifer Guilliams, child life coordinator at Kentucky Children's Hospital.
"We get a lot of visitors, but the consistency of the weekly visits of the UK football players is phenomenal," Guilliams said "UK players really give their time. They don't just visit and leave. They will stay, and sometimes we will even have to pull them out of the room because of time limitations.”
Guilliams says not only do the young patients at the hospital benefit from the visits, but so do the patients' families.
"The families, the parents, get a boost from the visits, too," Guilliams said. "We see sick teenage kids, and younger school-age boys sit up in bed when the players come. The personal touch that these players are giving to patients—you can tell it is 100 percent appreciated.”
Guilliams says Kentucky football director of player development Courtney Love, a former UK linebacker, told her that sometimes it's almost like a "competition" to see which players get to make the weekly visits.
"We see some familiar faces each week and some new faces, too," Guilliams said "We have kids that are frequent patients here and look forward to Tuesday (because of the visits from UK players). After the players leave, they will talk about getting posters or footballs signed I have seen parents going through some of the worst times of their lives, and feeling everything is out of control and visits from these UK football players really brightens their days.
"It is amazing what these players do for our patients as well as the patient's families It also really makes our whole staff feel good to see what they do. They will go to any child, any room and spend as much time as they can. They don't do it for any reason other than they just want to be there for those kids. To me, that makes these athletes pretty special.”