Lexington, KY - Last month, Kentucky Football announced the launch of Wildcat Connect, a new mobile app for serving and connecting current and former players. Leadership in the football program say the app represents UK Football’s commitment to athlete outcomes, including career preparation, life skills development, success in the name-image-likeness (NIL) era, diversity and inclusion, connection with alumni, and athlete wellbeing. UK Football partnered with a Charlotte, NC-based ed tech company, Grafted, to build and launch the new app on Grafted’s video-first technology platform.
Leading the development and rollout of the Wildcat Connect app is the Wildcats’ Director of Player Development, Courtney Love. “Building successful student-athletes is about preparing them for whatever awaits them in life after sports— maybe that’s the NFL, maybe that’s a career in coaching, maybe that’s pursuing their degree field. But whatever the path, the more prepared they are personally off the field, the more prepared they will be professionally,” Love said.
And if there’s one Kentucky football alum known for his achievements off the field, it is Courtney Love (Kentucky, '16-'17). As he led the Kentucky defense as a senior, he also led the team in community service hours, dedicating himself to Amachi Central Kentucky, a mentoring program for children impacted by incarceration. Love was awarded the 2017 Wuerffel Trophy, an award given to college football’s top community servant.
Since graduation, Love has become a fixture in UK Football’s coaching system, first as a linebacker coach and graduate assistant and now as the Director of Player Development. In that role, Love helps players navigate what Love calls “all the life stuff” that comes with being a college athlete, including mental health, financial literacy, brand building and NIL, career preparation, and other life challenges.
“It’s a tough job— with long hours and messy work that gets me involved in athletes’ lives in ways that I wasn’t as involved in as an on-field coach. But it is my passion to serve, and it’s an honor to give back to such a great program that has opened up so many personal and professional opportunities for me over the years,” Love said.
One mark of Love’s student-athlete development system is his incorporation of technology to enhance athletes’ personal growth. With a myriad of topics that he is responsible for educating athletes on— and limited schedule availability to do it— he needed to explore online content delivery systems. “We went with a platform called Gameplan to administer all of our life skills courses in one place,” Love said.
But Love and his staff quickly realized that Kentucky Football needed more than a learning management system to engage their athletes in relevant training. “They didn’t use the system, and so they didn’t take the courses that we built. They saw it as extra homework, which obviously wasn’t our intention,” Love said.
And so just as he’d done throughout his career as a defensive linebacker, Courtney Love made an adjustment.
“When I learned about Grafted, the thing that was the most interesting was that we could deliver all of our life skills content in an interactive and engaging way,” said Love.
On the Grafted platform, Love's vision for engaging athlete outcome content comes to life. Love and his team can host interactive online broadcasts where current athletes ask questions about specific life skills topics and then the host answers those questions. After the broadcast, those questions are then automatically clipped and converted into searchable video answers available on the app.
Moreover, the responsibility for creating content no longer falls solely on Love’s shoulders. Every Wildcat Connect user creates video “stories” based on specific prompts, and alumni who are experts in specific topics or fields are invited to provide answers to additional questions, with some being selected for in-depth broadcasts. In this way, Love is able to supplement the work of his small staff and leverage the influence, knowledge, and service an active alumni community supplies.
“We now have a community where all current and former Wildcat football players can connect with each other and learn from each other. And that’s tremendously exciting,” Love shared.
Far from a learning management system, Wildcat Connect has the ability to match current football players with relevant connections based on career interests, majors studied, and the topics they are most interested in. When a new football player joins the app, the Grafted algorithm automatically builds a feed of relevant videos to engage with. Designed with highly-engaging platforms like TikTok and Snapchat in mind, the content on the Wildcat Connect app becomes more relevant the more a user watches.
In the Wildcat Connect app, current and former UK football players have access to hundreds, and soon to be thousands, of on-demand videos, produced by app members. Students can then easily move from content to connection via in-app direct messaging, giving them unparalleled access to UK former student-athletes who are eager to help their fellow Wildcats pursue careers.
Part of the power of Grafted's technology stems from engaging athletic alumni, says co-founder Tyler Baker. Since launching in March of 2020, Grafted has become a leading-edge choice of forward-thinking athletic departments across the country, including those in the Big-12, Big-10, SEC, Conference USA, and Ivy League.
"One of the things we've learned from building so many of these platforms for athletic departments is, athletes are very likely to listen to former players. The shared bond of playing for the same team, walking the same halls, and living the student-athlete life just ratchets up the trust level— which means that athletic departments have a better shot at making critical athlete outcomes content 'stick' with their players," Baker said.
And alumni are grateful for the opportunity to serve, according to Baker.
"As a former D1 basketball player, I know the incredible bonds that are formed through college athletics. And when you leave the program and its orbit, as an alum, you miss it. We built Grafted, in part, to give alumni a way to stay involved and invested in an athletic department after they leave," Baker said.
And that is a theme that resonates with Courtney Love as well. "Obviously not all of our alumni are blessed enough to continue coaching here at UK. But it's awesome that they can still stay connected with each other, with the program, and with athletes that really need their advice and expertise," says Love.
Since launching in August (just 4 weeks ago), Wildcat Connect is already expanding the engagement opportunities for UK Football.
Through the Wildcat Connect app, Courtney Love and his team are actively building a vibrant community around Kentucky Football.
"We want to build a support ecosystem that recruits, players, and alumni want to be a part of— and can all benefit from," Love says.
And Love and his team are just getting started.
Learn more about Courtney Love the player and the coach. Find more information on Grafted’s technology solutions for higher ed at getgrafted.com. Download the Wildcat Connect app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play.