The past ten days have been the craziest of Kash Daniel’s life. Two weeks ago, the 6’3″ 230 lbs. linebacker from Paintsville only held offers from Austin Peay, Ball State, Charlotte, Marshall, and Troy. After a breakout performance at the Rivals Camp in Charlotte in which he was ranked the sixth best defensive performer, major offers began pouring in, starting with Kentucky on April 27.
“Being a kid from Kentucky, it felt really good,” Kash said of receiving a scholarship offer from Mark Stoops. “You grew up watching Kentucky football, and to get an offer from Coach Stoops and that staff really means a lot. From the way that the program’s headed, it’s such a really high honor for me.”
The next day, Louisville offered. A few days after that, South Carolina and Purdue. Tomorrow, Ohio State is coming to town to watch him practice. That’s pretty huge for Paintsville, a small town nestled in the foothills of Eastern Kentucky.
“The whole community knows about it because it’s pretty exciting. It’s not every day you get the defending National Champions coming to a small town like Paintsville,” Kash said. Kash works at a car wash during the summer, and said his old boss texted him when he heard the news.
“He randomly texted me the other day and said, ‘I heard Ohio State’s coming to practice.’ If he knows about it, the entire town of Paintsville knows about it, and if the entire town of Paintsville knows about it, then all of Eastern Kentucky knows about it.”
“Being from Eastern Kentucky, you kind of get looked down on because of where you’re from.”
Eastern Kentucky isn’t just where Kash is from, it’s who he is, and one of the first things he mentioned when we spoke. Kash doesn’t just want to be a football player, he wants to be a trailblazer for his region, which is why Stoops’ focus on in-state talent hits home.
“It shows there are kids in Kentucky that can play as well. I’m the only kid from Eastern Kentucky that’s got a Division I offer. I’m the only kid in Eastern Kentucky that’s been ranked by Rivals. Being from Eastern Kentucky, you kind of get looked down on because of where you’re from. 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.”
Kash claims he wasn’t really a fan of any team growing up, but went to a few UK games every year with his family. Although Kash also speaks highly of Louisville, the fact that Kentucky was the first major program to give him an offer is not lost on him.
“I’m the first kid from Paintsville High School to hold an offer from Kentucky since 1987. The last guy to do that was by the name of Joey Couch, and he ended up being an all-SEC lineman. It’s a really high honor for me,” Kash said.
Kash’s latest visit to Kentucky came during spring practice, and although he didn’t express any preference between the Cats and the Cards right now, he left Lexington impressed.
“I was really exciting to watch because they were all fired up. Even thought it was spring practice, it was like they were getting ready to play someone like Alabama or something. Really high intensity, they were really excited to play. Even thought it was just a practice scrimmage, you could feel the excitement that was there. That’s good to know the players were excited about it. It was a really good experience.”
Middle school ties with in-state guys
A lot of the buzz around the Kentucky program stems from a strong 2016 recruiting class, which includes top in-state prospects Drake Jackson, the top center in the country from Woodford County; Zy’Aire Hughes, a three-star athlete from McCracken County; Landon Young, a four-star offensive tackle from Lafayette; and Davonte Robinson, a three-star cornerback from Henry Clay. Kash is very familiar with the first two, going back to when they played on an all-star team back in eighth grade. Kash calls Drake, the leader of the 2016 recruiting class, his “old buddy.”
“I’ve known him since we were in middle school, played on some all-star teams together. Drake’s a great player and Zy’Aire Hughes, I’ve played with him too, Landon Young, I’ve gotten to know him over the years on recruiting trips and stuff like that,” Kash said. “I’m pretty close to all of them. Most of those guys are in-state guys, and most of the in-state guys I’ve played with, so we’ve got a really good relationship.”
In fact, Kash said he talks to Drake probably three times a week now. “Ever since Kentucky offered, he’s been calling me, you know, texting me, trying to get me to commit as early as possible,” Kash said. “He’s like, “man, it’s gonna be just like eighth grade on the all-star team. You, me, Zy’Aire, add Landon in to the mix, we’ve got a chance to do something special here.”
Drake Jackson’s sales pitch
I talked to Drake about Kash, and he couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice. “Kash is my boy. I like that guy a lot.” Drake’s sales pitch has four key points:
- The chance to represent your state;
- Stoops’ record of developing defensive talent;
- Erik Korem’s high-performance training program; and
- The chance to play in the SEC in your own backyard.
“For Kash, he’s an in-state kid. I know his mom is a big UK fan. What I say to Kash, I say ‘Kash, listen. You and I, we’ve played together, we know what it’s like to play in Kentucky, represent the state of Kentucky. You want to go play where you’re going to be known. You play at Kentucky, you’re the hometown hero,” Drake said. “You know what it’s like to represent the state, there’s nothing better. I’m not even playing there yet and I feel like I’m representing the state. You’re not that far away, you can come back home after a game, say hi to your mom and dad, you can come home every now and then and watch your old high school team play.”
Drake is already pointing to the 2015 NFL Draft as proof Stoops can develop defensive talent. “You want to look at this past draft, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. Now, they’re different players than Kash is, but Bud was a projected linebacker, so is Kash, so you’ve got to look at how Coach Stoops and Coach Eliot have been able to develop these type of players, especially guys who are in the front seven. That’s big for Kash. Kash is a linebacker. Coach Stoops is really good with defensive backs and linebackers, as is Coach Eliot. That’s a big pitch.”
Erik Korem’s high-performance training program is another major selling point. “Kash is huge, he’s like a freak athlete. When he gets to UK, the weight program they have is so good. Kash will be freaking jumping over buildings by then,” Drake said. “I told Kash ‘you’re strong, but they’re going to take you to a whole other level.'”
Finally, Drake circled back to the point that’s already pulled in several in-state prospects. “You’re such a stud you’ll get immediate playing time here for sure,” Drake told Kash. “You’re playing on a big stage but you’re doing it at home. You get to play in the SEC in your backyard. There’s no comparison to that.”
Taking his time to do it right
Kash admitted that the past two weeks have been “overwhelming,” and if Ohio State likes what they see tomorrow, it’s going to get even crazier. “I think if Ohio State offers me, that would be a really high honor for me, and this thing will bust wide open. If a great program like Ohio State believes in you, then everyone in the SEC, ACC, they’ll be like, ‘okay who is this kid?'”
Although an offer from the defending National Champions would be hard to turn down, Kash said he’s determined to take his time to go through the entire recruiting process.
“I’ve got five official visits and I talked to my dad about this, every school wants me to commit as soon as possible, but it’s pretty overwhelming as a 17-year-old to make the decision right on the spot, so I’m going to take time with me and my family to take those five official visits to make my decision. Once those visits are over, I’ll have and idea of where I want to be.”
If there’s anyone who knows what Kash is going through right now, it’s Drake. “Kash is going to get big offers, and if he’s smart, he’s going to take his time and make sure he makes the right decision. That’s what I did. I probably could have committed to UK when they offer me right after my sophomore football season, but you’ve gotta be smart. If you have an opportunity to get offers like Ohio State and all those other schools, you only get recruited once,” Drake said.
That being said, don’t think for one second that Drake’s throwing in the white towel. “I said, ‘listen Kash, I want you in blue now, but I totally respect you going out taking visits because you want to. You want offers from South Carolina, Louisville, Kentucky, all these big schools. I want Kash in blue, but I also want him to have fun with the rest of the recruiting process.”
Trading cartoons for wind sprints
For now, Kash is just grateful to see all of his hard work coming to fruition. “You can tell the community of Painstville, they’re really proud of me and what I’ve done,” Kash said. “They all know how hard I’ve worked over the years, the hard work and stuff I’ve put in outside of practice. I’ll be on the floor doing 200, 300 pushups a night during TV commercials.”
That work ethic goes back to his childhood. “When I was a little kid, my dad’s was really hard on me. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because I know what he’s trying to do now, he just wanted me to have the best opportunity to be the best player I can be. So at twelve years old, when kids are waking up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and watching cartoons and having breakfast made for them, I got up at 7 a.m. and started running wind sprints with my dad and having to make my own breakfast and after that, we’d watch college football.”
Kash’s father was a professional bass fisherman but gave up the job when Kash was born so he wouldn’t have to be on the road so much. As you might imagine, he’s a pretty proud man right now. “He really is,” Kash said. “It’s more of a pride thing for him because he’s put a lot of work too for this to happen for me. I can’t thank him enough.”