In five years Eddie Gran has spoke highly of plenty of Wildcats. In less than a year on campus, JuTahn McClain might be receiving more praise than any of his predecessors.
A name few probably circled when he enrolled early this spring, it was not for lack of ability. In three years a Fairfield High School in Cincinnati he accounted for 60 total touchdowns and more than 4,400 yards, nearly surpassing 2,000 in 2019 alone. McClain was simply entering a crowded room with three talented upperclassmen, destined to watch and learn from the sideline in 2020.
Eddie Gran learned a lesson in 2016. That is when he told Benny Snell, “make me play you.” Three games into his freshman season, Snell got his first carry. He turned that into four touchdowns and tied a UK single-game record, beginning his campaign to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Eddie Gran said nice things about Benny Snell in the 2016 preseason. He never said anything like this:
“He’s a little bit different, locked in everyday. He knows this offense as well as any of the three the I have right now. I think he’s a special player,” Gran said of McClain.
“The old adage is the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. He doesn’t. You watch tape everyday you look at effort. You look at straining. You look at mental errors and that young man doesn’t have ’em. I feel very comfortable putting him in the game. There’s a lot of competition in my room right now.”
JuTahn McClain doesn’t make mistakes? WHAT?!?!?! Coaches don’t talk like that, especially Eddie Gran. He’s the old-head in the room that has been humbling running backs for decades, from Deuce McAllister and Cadillac Williams to Brandon Jacobs and Benny Snell. It’s still not even the first time he’s heaped praise on McClain. From March 10 of this year:
“Whoa, I’m gonna tell you something: I’m impressed with that young man,” Gran said following Kentucky’s fourth practice of the 2020 spring season.
“He is tough. He will stick his face in there and he does a great job in blitz protection. He is not afraid of anything. A little bit like Travis Tisdale, he’s got that burst. He’s very smooth, can catch the ball, so I think we got a really good one there. I’m excited about where he’s at right now already. You coach him one time and he gets it fixed.”
The fearlessness that McClain plays with is something even his teammates have picked up on through the first two weeks of practice.
“He’s a great player,” said fellow running back, Chris Rodriguez. “He’s not afraid of anything. He learns fast and whenever his number is called on, he’s ready to go. He’s paying attention not only on the field, but off the field too.”
To be quite frank, I don’t quite know what to make of Gran’s effusive, uncharacteristic praise of McClain. Is he using some of it to motivate the veterans? Maybe, but to go this far out of his way to tip his cap to McClain…
Regardless of motive, I’m still trying to recall when Gran has ever spoken so highly of any one of his players. While you’re waiting for me to remember at least one, remember No. 23.