Four years ago, I began my KSR journey as a freshman at UK and as a brand-new intern writing for this website. One of my first story ideas came from a saying I heard about every single day: the freshman 15. But instead of talking about the transition to college and inevitable weight gain, I decided to feature a few of UK’s most promising freshmen. The goal, of course, was to find 15 incoming freshmen with the potential to be breakout stars, both during their rookie season and throughout their career at the University of Kentucky.
Fast forward to today, and I’m a senior nearing graduation. Some of my classmates, the “originals,” you could call them, can say the same. Others, however, are already playing in their respective professional leagues and bringing home the big bucks.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be following up on each of these “originals.” Where are they now? What’s changed since their first year on campus? Did they meet – or exceed – expectations?
Let’s start with none other than Benny Snell.
Snell was featured on Oct. 23, 2016, the day after Kentucky’s thrilling 40-38 win over Mississippi State (sigh). The freshman running back ran 19 times for 128 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown that put the Cats up 20-17. The victory was Kentucky’s fourth “W” of the season, and Snell dominated in each of the four outings. In total, he rushed for 431 yards against New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
After the game, Coach Mark Stoops commented on Snell’s performance. In hindsight, he described his up-and-coming running back perfectly.
“I really have a lot of confidence in him for his being a true freshman. It’s amazing,” Stoops said. “[Snell is] hard-nosed, great balance, tough runner, tough mindset, tough attitude, no B.S. – that’s him. He’s here to work and win football games and get better. And I love that.”
No B.S. about him? That sounds about right.
Snell’s impressive performances early in his first season began to create competition between Snell and fellow running back, Boom Williams. While both went on to have successful seasons that year, the narrative of their rivalry continued to grow throughout the season. Both tried to downplay it; Snell said both backs are “very competitive on the practice field, but that just makes both of us better,” while Williams added “we’re able to coach each other without someone getting upset.”
Ultimately, Williams elected to enter the NFL draft after rushing for 1,170 on 171 carries during his junior season. Snell also broke 1,000-rushing yards that year (1,091 yards, good for UK’s freshman record), and the keys to the Kentucky kingdom were firmly in his hands.
You know how the rest of the story goes. Snell, of course, went on to have two more 1,000+ yard seasons, and he broke or tied 14 total school records, including the school record for most career rushing yards (3,873) in epic fashion.
Benny Snell was a consistent offensive weapon for Kentucky throughout his time with the Cats, a leader on and off the field and always one heck of an interview. His smile would light up any media room after a big win, but he also wasn’t afraid to get fired up or even downright feisty when he needed to.
His “it’s ya boy, Benny Snell” phone calls became the highlight of UK students’ Saturday mornings, and his interactions with the camera never got old.
Simply put, Benny Snell transformed from a promising freshman to one of the most talented yet unique players the Kentucky program has ever seen.
Now, of course, Snell is off UK’s campus and primed to make his mark on the NFL. After being selected in the fourth round of the draft as the No. 122 pick, Snell’s time with the Steelers got off to a quick start. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger praised his rookie running back, and now fans are even hoping to see him on the field more frequently.
Professional running back careers are notoriously short, but Snell is prepared to make the most out of his 4-year, approximately $3.2 million contract. If we’ve learned anything about Snell over the past four years, it’s you should never count him out – he certainly doesn’t.
p.s. The KSR comment section often turns into a dark and dangerous place. Usually, I try to avoid it all together. However, I must give credit where credit is due (don’t make me regret it, and certainly don’t get used to it!). Two commenters on the original article had takes that ended up being, well, pretty accurate.
jdarren1963 – Benny’s so good. I think he’s going to be one of the greatest RB’s to ever play for UK, barring, God forbid, any serious injuries. So glad he picked the Cats.
runningunnin.454 – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone Snell’s size move the pile like he does. Very impressive strength and determination, especially for a freshman.