Kentucky’s 2020 football recruiting class is one of the most talented groups of individuals ever assembled at UK. A group ranked in the top 25 nationally that featured five-star defensive lineman Justin Rogers, four-star quarterback Beau Allen and four-star receiver Michael Drennen, the first number called was actually from a three-star prospect, running back JuTahn McClain.
The Cincinnati native wasted no time getting to work. McClain arrived in time for spring practice and immediately impressed Eddie Gran, earning rave reviews from the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. A freshman who forced his way into the rotation, three games into the season he earned his first snap, a 17-yard carry against Mississippi State that ended with a thud as he lowered his shoulder into the defender.
A week after earning some garbage time minutes, he played a key part in putting Tennessee away in the third quarter at Neyland Stadium. Deep into Tennessee territory, Kentucky needed two yards on third down to keep the drive alive. Even without much daylight, he found a crease, put his down and picked up the crucial first down.
“First off, I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m a young Buck so it means a lot to me knowing the Coach Gran can trust me enough to put me out there,” McClain shared Tuesday night. “With Smoke being out they put their trust in me and it just feels like that was something big for me.”
Kentucky would finish that drive with a field goal before ultimately putting the game out of reach on the following possession. McClain finished the game with 23 yards on seven carries.
He has not been on a college campus for long, but he’s already learned what it takes to be successful in the SEC.
“You gotta know your opponents and go out there and execute. If you don’t know your opponent then you’re as good as dead,” McClain said.
That’s no hyperbole. SEC defenders are just a little bit bigger, faster and stronger than what you’ll find at high schools across the country.
“They’re really flying around. They’re huge. In high school you really don’t see that many big people. You will see a couple big guys in a couple games, but in the SEC there’s a whole bunch of big guys. Shout out to the Big Blue Wall because they make it easier for me to read everything, they’re taking care of the big people up front and they’re making it easier for me to make second-level cuts and read the linebackers.”
Two games into his career and he’s already thanking the big uglies. McClain gets it.