Behind Snell, Cats project to be fine at running back


Members of the University of Kentucky Football Team hangout on the field during the media day at Kroger Field on Sunday July 30, 2017 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Chris Leach

As a freshman, Benny Snell never imagined being in the role he currently is in just a year later.

A year ago, Snell was still learning the playbook while Stanley “Boom” Williams and Jojo Kemp took more of the first-team reps. Now, Snell is the one taking first-team reps and is viewed as a leader on the team, a role he is embracing.

“I’m very excited that it’s in my hands to run that Jojo and Boom are gone,” Snell said. “Those guys taught well, they taught me so much, I couldn’t thank them enough, but now it’s keeping the legacy going.”

Snell worked his way up the ladder by setting six freshman records last season and being one of two UK rushers to gain over 1,000 rushing yards. UK rushers, including Snell, rushed for the second most yards in school history and a tie for first most touchdowns in school history.

The emergence of the running game was a major factor in the Cats making their first bowl game appearance since 2010. Making another bowl game is at the top of the Cats’ goal sheet for this season, and in order to do that the running backs will need to continue at a high level.

That might be difficult as the Cats lost 51 percent of rushing yards, and 43 percent of touchdowns from last season due to “Boom” Williams and Kemp’s off-season departures. Snell returns as the lead running back this season, but he can’t carry the full load himself and will need other running backs to contribute.

“We’ve got to develop that thousand yards that we lost and so we’ll continue to put Sihiem (King) and A.J. (Rose), keep moving them up and put them in the thick of it with the ones and twos,” Eddie Gran said.

Rose is a sophomore coming off his redshirt season and is projected to be the Cats’ No. 2 back. Rose’s improvements from his redshirt year impressed Gran in camp so far.

“Certain defenses, they’re going to routine themselves on stopping Benny and then if I have a chance to get in there, I make people miss and I can go the distance and open a lot of people’s eyes,” Rose said.

King impressed many in UK’s annual Blue-White Spring game when he gained 94 total yards off 18 touches. However, King is only 5-feet-9-inches tall and 172 pounds and some fear that he is too small to be a good SEC running back.

However, “Boom” was nearly the same size as King last season and Gran doesn’t have any concerns with King’s size on the field.

“Do you have to watch the hits on a young man like that, because he is small? I don’t worry about that with him,” Gran said. “I think some you do when you have a small running back, but I don’t. He brings the toughness.”

Koback is an early-enrollee freshman who is working to return from a broken leg suffered in his last season in high school. Koback hasn’t been able to prove himself in practices yet, but the little he’s shown has impressed Snell early on.

“Him being the size he is right now and how focused he is, I just see a lot of myself,” Snell said. “I hope, I definitely hope he’s with us this year.”

Everyone knows what Snell is capable of doing, and if the backup running backs pan out like they should, UK could enjoy another year with a strong running game.