Part three in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats.
Josh Clemons showing off the results of his controversial legs for arms surgery.
Braylon Heard 5-11, 189 Jr.-Tr. Youngstown, OH/Nebraska OR
Jojo Kemp 5-10, 194 So. DeLand, FL
Josh Clemons 5-10, 223 Jr. Fayetteville, GA
Mikel Horton 6-1, 230 Fr.-HS West Chester, OH
William Mahone 5-9, 196 Fr.-RS Cincinnati, OH
Stanley “Boom” Williams 5-9, 200 Fr.-HS Monroe, GA
DJ Warren 6-0, 251 Sr. Alcoa, TN
Jeff Witthuhn 6-3, 246 So. Bowling Green, KY (Kenwood)
CAMP BATTLE PART ONE: HEARD V. KEMP
Though both will undoubtedly see significant game action, Braylon Heard and Jojo Kemp will battle for the lead ground role in the 2014 edition of Neal Brown’s Air Raid Offense. Kemp led the Cats in rushing as a true freshman in 2014, amassing 482 yards on 100 carries. Those totals are even more impressive considering the fact that Kemp compiled most of them on extremely gimpy ankles. After off-season surgery to repair bone spurs, Kemp has recaptured the speed and agility that made him the 10th rated all purpose back nationally by Rivals. Competing with Kemp to be the Cats’ lead back is Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard. Heard was a top 5 running back nationally out of Cardinal Mooney High School, alma mater of both Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow, when he made the unfortunate choice to attend Nebraska, possibly while in a corn on the cob fueled state of euphoria and confusion. In his sophomore season for the Huskers, Heard rushed for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns, while averaging nearly 7 yards per carry. Though he has yet to see game action for the Cats, his redshirt year, as he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules, allowed Heard to learn the offense and to develop physically under the tutelage of Erik Korem, Kentucky’s High Performance Coach. Regardless of who wins the starting nod, Kentucky appears to have two dynamic and experienced backs in Kemp and Heard. As recently as his post-practice comments today, Neal Brown expressed high confidence in both.
CAMP BATTLE PART DEUX: WILLIAMS V. HORTON
Unlike other spots on the roster in which the Cats remain perilously thin (receiver and linebacker come to mind), Kentucky is blessed with solid veteran depth at tailback, as indicated with the discussion of Kemp and Heard above as well as the comments on Josh Clemons below. That may lead to the expectation that freshman are unlikely to crack the rotation in the backfield. However, the SEC is an unforgiving league with a well-earned reputation for devouring running backs. Most teams need at least four solid backs to endure the conference meat grinder. Based in part on this need for depth at the position, in his public comments leading up to the start of camp, Neal Brown has stated specifically that at least one true freshman tailback will play. This is due not only to the need for a deep roster of ball carriers, but also to the fact that Kentucky has two phenomenal freshman prospects at tailback. Mikel Horton is a 230 pound bruiser from West Chester, Ohio. Rated a four star player out of the talent-rich state of Ohio, Horton was able to get a head start by graduating early, and participating in Spring Practice. Horton performed well in the Spring Game, carrying 13 times for 70 yards. Competing with Horton for time is Stanley “Boom” Williams. More of an elusive and speedy back that Horton, Williams, also a 4 star recruit, picked the Cats over offers from Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, South Carolina and others. Williams may have the slight edge as the freshman more likely to play as his skill set can be utilized in the return game as well as in the backfield.
A STORY OF PERSEVERANCE:
Football at the highest level is an unforgiving game. Just ask junior tailback Josh Clemons. Clemons looked to be set for big things as a true freshman at Kentucky in 2011. He scored a touchdown in his first game, and later broke off an 87 yard touchdown burst against Central Michigan. Beside his on-the-field exploits, Clemons was an absolute freak of an athlete, with uncommon speed and a Hulkish appearance. But just because a football player is built like a statue does not mean that he is made of iron. Clemons suffered a bad knee injury in the middle of his first year. He missed all of 2012 recovering. After enduring more than one year of grueling rehab to return to the field, Clemons tore his Achilles the summer prior to the 2013 season, thus losing a second consecutive season to injury. Most players would not make it back from a second brutal injury, but Clemons has. He recovered sufficiently to rush for 93 yards on 11 carries in the Spring game, and appears to have regained his elite speed. It appears that Clemons will have a role in the backfield for the Cats this season. Just what that role is will largely depend on his health, but he is certainly a player that all Big Blue fans can admire and cheer for.