There’s something different about one new Kentucky football player.
Each January a new batch of athletes begins classes at the University of Kentucky. There are typically a few junior college transfers, but most of the football players opt to skip the final semester of high school to become early enrollees. Obviously, the transition from high school superstar to the lowest on the totem pole in the SEC is difficult.
In February of each year UK formally introduces the players to the media. I am obliged to always ask, “What’s the most difficult part of the transition?”
School is usually the No. 1 answer. Few players have ever been asked to do so much on a regular basis. The early alarm clock for 6 a.m. workouts is something no one is ever prepared for until it happens. Those workouts drove Lonnie Johnson to get sick everyday for a week.
Prepared to hear similar stories this morning when I met five midyear additions, Kalil Branham gave a response I had never heard before when I asked him, “What’s the biggest difference from high school to now?”
“I have more time on my hands,” the wide receiver said. “Other than that, the transition has been pretty good. There’s really nothing hard about it. I mean, the workouts are hard but there’s really no struggle with the transition.”
Branham laughed at the notion that college classes are difficult. He was willing to admit the competition is better. “Everybody’s faster. Everybody’s bigger. Everybody’s stronger.”
The biggest difference for Branham is that he finally has the tools to go all in. Athletically built to play wide receiver, he was forced to play quarterback in high school because his team simply did not have one. To get better he set up a jugs machine in his backyard and caught 100 passes a day. Catching the passes was simple. Setting up the machine and his obstacles — that is a completely different story.
“It’s the greatest thing in the world. Really I don’t have to set anything up. It’s right there. I just go in and *snaps fingers* get it over with.”
A painful adjustment period for most is a luxury for Branham.
Catching 100 balls in 30 degree weather HURTS! I had to get it done while you watch peps live out their dreams on sundays from your couch and saying what you would do. #branhamboys pic.twitter.com/kFwSpVkdIX
— Kalil Branham (@kbug_dash) December 8, 2019
It was important for Branham to arrive early, and not just so he could get access to the jugs machine. Kentucky opens the season against Eastern Michigan.
“It’s going to mean a lot because my brother plays for Eastern Michigan,” the younger Branham said. “Playing against my brother, it’s going to be something special.”
The eldest of the three #BranhamBoys just completed his redshirt freshman season with the Eagles. John Branham Jr. is running back that recorded more than 2,000 yards in his senior season to earn all-star honors in Ohio. The two have competed against one another their entire lives.
“It was back and forth really. When we raced, I was always the speed guy, strength was always him. But then once I got older it started evening out. I was always faster though.” Kalil said there’s no trash-talk in advance of the game. “It’s all love between me and my brother. It’s all love.”
Branham is not the first hard worker to ever play football at the University of Kentucky. What sets him apart from his predecessors is his mindset. Everybody enters campus with big ambitions, hoping to be the difference-maker that takes the Kentucky football program to new heights. Branham is not one of those guys. His focus is on the hardest part of the process, the daily grind.
“I just want to be the best I can be,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about my goals yet. I just want to be the best I can be and hopefully get a good amount of time in spring ball.”
If the wide receiver continues to regularly enjoy the process, it’s safe to say he’ll find a few snaps this spring.