I’ll never forget my first conversation with Kash Daniel. Back in May 2015, the Painstville native was one of the hottest recruits in the country and had just landed an offer from Kentucky, so Matt told me to reach out for him for an interview. I did, catching Kash just when he got home from his job at the car wash. Ohio State was scheduled to come watch him practice the next day, and life as he knew it was about to change. Even then, his mission was clear.
“Being from Eastern Kentucky, you kind of get looked down on because of where you’re from,” Kash said. “The big thing for me is to show people it doesn’t matter where you come from, what school you go to, if you can play, they’ll find you.”
Now a junior at Kentucky, Kash leads the SEC in tackles with 22 and has matured into a full blown folk hero. After the Cats’ streak-busting win over Florida, he recreated Stone Cold Steve Austin’s beer stunt with Gatorade in a video that’s been viewed over 1.2 million times on Twitter:
— Kash Daniel (@KashDaniel15) September 9, 2018
Kash’s rise is a story of patience. In his first two years at Kentucky, the former high school All-American and Kentucky Mr. Football turned heads on special teams but played behind two-year team captain Courtney Love at middle linebacker. Yesterday, Mark Stoops said being under Love’s wing primed Kash for the spotlight.
“I think it comes from him having a great example of Courtney [Love], playing in front of him for years and the leadership qualities of Courtney, but Kash, first it comes from a want to, a desire, a passion to play good for his team. It’s not so much he’s worried about how Kash plays. It’s a matter of how much our team plays when Kash is in there. If we have that mentality with all of our players, then good things are going to happen because it’s a mentality.”
Even while backing up Love, Kash made his presence known. An avid fisherman, he and fellow Kentucky native Landon Young could often be found on the state’s lakes and rivers, even taking the SEC Network and Kentucky Afield with them on occasion. Despite limited playing time, Kash’s personality made him a fan favorite. Who could forget the awesome mustache he sported during camp last year, or the reason he finally shaved it off?
“I was left unread too much on SnapChat,” Kash said. “I mean, when you’re trying to SnapChat and you’ve got that mustache saying, ‘Hey, you know, I could be a potential threat,’ you’re not going to get a lot of positive responses. Yeah, that one had to go.”
The mustache is gone, and Kash Daniel has a hilarious explanation why. pic.twitter.com/LNnSBD93wg
— Jon Hale (@JonHale_CJ) August 11, 2017
Saturday night was far from the first time Kash has channeled Stone Cold. At a wrestling match before the Music City Bowl last year, he entered the ring wearing an “Austin 3:16” t-shirt and jumped on the ropes to lead his teammates in an “S-E-C” cheer. His Twitter feed is a constant loop of 90’s WWE clips, which you can picture him recreating as a kid in Paintsville. From the wrestling to the fishing to the Popeye muscles and chaw in his cheek, Kash is as mountain as they come, a label he wears with pride.
“I feel like sometimes I got the whole Appalachian mountains on my back,” Kash said at Media Day. “It’s not a bad thing to me because I want to make everybody back home proud. That’s what drives me everyday to keep up, keep going and do this day in and day out.”
Combine Kash’s drive with his larger than life personality and relentless work ethic and you’ve got the ideal leader for Kentucky’s defense, a role Josh Allen says the junior has taken to like a fish to water.
“He’s becoming the vocal leader of the defense, which he should be, and he’s taking it to heart,” Allen said at SEC Media Days. “Kash is unbelievable. He’s learned so much and he’s gained so much confidence out there. He’s more comfortable. He can move better. He’s doing a lot of stuff that we need.”
Kash’s attitude is clearly contagious. As previously mentioned, he leads the SEC with 22 tackles, but Darius West and Josh Allen are tied for fifth with 15 apiece, followed by Jordan Jones at sixth with 14. Kentucky’s defense is the best it’s been in years and it’s not just because of the talent; like Benny Snell, they’re playing with a giant chip on their shoulder.
“This changes the game,” Daniel said of Kentucky’s win Saturday night. “Hopefully now everybody gives us some (of) the respect we earned. There will probably still be some doubters, just because we’re Kentucky, but that’s okay. Keep at it. Keep running your mouth. Keep opening your mouth about Benny. Keep opening your mouth about our defense. Keep opening your mouth and we’ll shut it up for you.”
He kept going, but reined it in before dropping an F-bomb:
Kash Daniel couldn’t contain his emotions, but he could stop himself from dropping an F-bomb pic.twitter.com/ynbHzhHDQx
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) September 9, 2018
Benny Snell is undeniably this team’s star, but Kentucky Football also climbed on the backs of players like Kash, Landon Young, and Drake Jackson, who chose to stay home and represent their state instead of leave for more prominent schools. Their passion and pride runs through program, which is why it’s no surprise that as the Wildcats rise, so does a folk hero from the foothills of Eastern Kentucky.