UK Football early enrollees show strength at spring practice

Jack Pilgrim

When head football coach Mark Stoops began practice for the spring semester, he had a few extra players at his disposal.

Offensive lineman Drake Jackson, linebacker Kash Daniel, quarterback Gunnar Hoak, and receiver Dakota Holtzclaw signed with UK in December after graduating high school early, along with JUCO offensive tackle Tate Leavitt, and headed to Lexington soon after to join the team in preparation for spring practice.

Several weeks later, UK received signatures from JUCO defensive tackle Naquez Pringle and quarterback Stephen Johnson II.

By graduating early and getting to UK before the other recruits of the 2016 signing class, the early enrollees have the opportunity to become acclimated to campus, get a head start on UK’s strength and conditioning program, and most importantly, participate in the spring practice session, learning the intense system ahead of schedule.

Daniel possesses great size at the linebacker position, and  he is already gaining muscle and strength at UK. Though the linebacker position is developing into one of the strongest positions on the team, it will be tough to keep Daniel off the field as a true freshman with his high football IQ and leadership abilities, along with his back-breaking hits and great instincts.

Jackson brings to the table unbelievable blocking technique that is rare for any freshman across the country — a factor that could lead to early playing time. Though he has UK senior Jon Toth in front of him on the depth chart, look for Jackson to be the anchor of the offensive line for years to come.

The 6’6”, 315-pound offensive tackle Leavitt fills the absence of Jordan Swindle, who graduated this past season. As of right now, Cole Mosier holds the edge in spring practices due to experience and familiarity to the system, but by season’s start, expect Leavitt to battle for the starting position and maintain success at left tackle in his time at UK.

According to practice reports, Johnson has been used in several offensive packages designed for a QB run at the goal line or in short yardage situations, along with normal passing situations, as he has fantastic touch and release on his throws.

At 6’3”, 330 pounds, Pringle has fantastic size and should develop greatly in the strength and conditioning program. Early practice reports indicate Pringle is competing well with Matt Elam at the defensive tackle position, among others, and will likely compete for playing time immediately when the season rolls around.

The most important skill Holtzclaw possesses is his incredible size, standing 6’7”, 215 pounds. Early practice reports indicate he is showing incredible raw talent at the position and performing at a high level on the outside.

Hoak is the last of the remaining early enrollees, signing with the Cats out of Dublin, Ohio. Though Hoak is talented, his skills are fairly raw and will likely need time in UK’s system before making a dramatic impact for the team.

With the spring game coming up on April 16 at noon, fans will be able to see UK’s seven early enrollees in action, fighting for their shots on the depth chart before the remainder of the 2016 recruiting class makes it on campus.

With so much positive news coming out of the early spring practice reports, fans should see some high-level action as the spring football session finishes up.