JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Former UK Hoops Player & Current EKU AD Lochmueller Looks Forward To Upcoming
Steve Lochmueller is a familiar name in Kentucky.
Most people know about him through his early days when the 6-7 swingman played basketball as a member of UK's famed 1971 "Super Kittens" recruiting class and played two varsity years for then-new coach Joe B. Hall, for whom he has a lot of respect for.
Interestingly, Lochmueller also played football briefly for the Wildcats.
And he will be watching Saturday night's UK-Eastern Kentucky University football matchup in Lexington with great interest, cheering for his team.
But the personable Lochmueller won't be pulling for Kentucky, his alma mater, this time at New Commonwealth Stadium since he has a new job as the athletics director at EKU, a post he has held since April.
"I’m a proud alum of the University of Kentucky, but there’s no doubt who I will be cheering for on Saturday," he said earlier this week. "I'll be pulling for the maroon and white. The Colonels football team is ranked 17th in the nation in FCS (NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision). While we didn’t win the North Carolina State game (in a 35-0 setback recently at Raleigh, N.C.), we were competitive as compared to others they have played at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level."
In addition to football, Lochmueller -- who is originally from Tell City, Ind. (near Owensboro, Ky.) -- also pointed out that EKU's cross country teams are off to great starts this season.
"The men’s team is ranked 18th in the nation, and both our women’s and men’s teams have competed and won against top programs," he said proudly.
By playing a football game at Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky will be getting a $450,000 payout, according to reports from the Lexington Herald-Leader. But it likely won't be a very easy night for the Colonels on the field.
Lochmueller appreciates the fact two of the state's "Power Five" conference members -- U of L and UK -- are willing to schedule against the state schools like EKU, which is a longtime member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
"They don't have to do that," he said of Louisville and Kentucky. "We appreciate the opportunity to showcase our student-athletes at the highest level of collegiate football.
"Our Colonel teams always expect to win. I never want any of our teams to go into a game expecting to lose, that’s not the Colonel way. Part of our vision is to move our football program to FBS. Six FCS teams have beaten FBS teams this season. Once two teams step on the field, anything can happen.
"It is a financial necessity for Eastern Kentucky to play FBS schools. We are utilizing multiple financial resources to embark on one of the most expansive facility projects EKU athletics has ever undertook. We will soon be starting on major renovations of our football, baseball and softball facilities. The financial benefit of these games, along with the impressive increase in interest and membership in our Colonel Club, will help us move EKU athletics forward."
Lochmueller's EKU also will be facing the Wildcats in another major sport -- men's basketball -- on Wednesday night, Dec. 9 at Rupp Arena. That game will be seen on ESPN2.
"I know coach Dan McHale and myself will enjoy bringing Colonel Basketball to Rupp Arena," said Lochmueller, who was a successful businessman, primarily as an executive in the telecommunications field, for many years before taking the EKU post. "Kentucky is No. 1 again and I know Cal will have his team ready. Coach McHale will have his team prepared to play the Wildcats."
McHale, who was hired to replace Jeff Neubauer last April, is a former assistant at U of L, Minnesota and other schools. He also served as a student manager for four years at UK during coach Tubby Smith's tenure, including the 1998 national championship team. The New Jersey native graduated from UK with honors in 2001, receiving bachelor's degree in business administration.
Lochmueller, who is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, is pleased to have McHale on board.
"Dan is one of the best young coaches in the country and has assembled an amazing coaching staff," commented the EKU athletics director. "Through the recruiting efforts of Dan and his staff, they have and will continue adding incredibly talented student-athletes to our roster. I know Dan is going to take our program to the next level."
Even though he'll enjoy watching the Colonels against Kentucky, Lochmueller said these matchups are for the players.
"The games against my alma mater are not about me, they are about the student-athletes competing at the highest levels," he said. "It is my job to make sure the student-athletes have all the tools necessary to be successful on and off the court."
While Lochmueller will always be a faithful Wildcat, he added that he is "honored to have the opportunity to lead Colonel athletics."
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Speaking of Saturday's contest, it could be a trap game for the Wildcats if they aren't careful. Remember the Auburn-Jacksonville State game on Sept. 12? The Tigers had a close call before winning 27-20 in overtime. Remember the Georgia Southern upset of Florida in 2013? As Lochmueller pointed out, several big-name schools have lost to FCS schools this fall.
Nationally-ranked Eastern Kentucky has been a powerhouse for years in its division and currently has a handful of transfers from UK, Ohio State and Florida, among others, on its roster. Before the 2015 campaign began, media members from across the Ohio Valley Conference picked the Colonels, now 2-1, to finish second in the conference.
However, the Cats have fared well against EKU in the series, winning three games with blowout scores of 52-7, 51-10 and 37-12.
A fearless forecast: Kentucky by 24.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.