Last night, Josh Allen was named the Herald-Leader’s Sports Figure of the Year, another well-deserved honor. Benny Snell and Mark Stoops also finished in the top five, further proof of a banner year for Kentucky Football. Here’s the top ten:
1. Josh Allen, UK Football
2. Benny Snell, UK Football
3. Justify, Triple Crown winner
4. Mark Stoops, UK Football
5. Asia Durr, UofL Women’s Basketball
6. Sydney McLaughlin, UK Track & Field
7. Rachael Denhollander, Louisville attorney and former Michigan gymnast who helped bring Larry Nassar to justice
8. Rondale Moore, Purdue Football, Trinity HS alum
9. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers, Henry Clay HS alum
10. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz, UofL Basketball alum
How did the KSR crew vote? It probably won’t shock you, but our ballots were decidedly UK-centric.
1. Mark Stoops – Stoops proved the doubters wrong by leading Kentucky Football to its first ten-win season since 1977, and he did it with a strong rushing attack and defense, not a flash-in-the-pan gimmick that’s brought the program national attention in years past.
2. Josh Allen – A former two-star recruit, Allen is now a projected top three NFL Draft pick after a historic senior season at Kentucky; if that’s not proof that Mark Stoops’ method of discovering and developing talent works, I’m not sure what is.
3. Benny Snell – From his first carries as a freshmen, you knew Benny Snell would be special. His hard-running style, mega watt smile, and infectious personality made him a rockstar, right down to when he dropped to his knees in the end zone after breaking Kentucky’s all-time rushing record, a picture-perfect moment.
4. Justify – “It will be a long time before another horse wins the Triple Crown,” they said after American Pharoah did it in 2015. “Not so fast,” said Justify.
5. Dontaie Allen – If not for a season-ending knee injury, the Pendleton County star would probably have finished his high school career as KHSAA’s all-time leading scorer. Instead, he’ll bring Bluegrass roots back to Kentucky Basketball.
6. Neal Brown – After turning heads for four seasons at Troy, the Danville, Kentucky native is finally joining the majors at West Virginia, which could heat up the recruiting wars in the Commonwealth for years to come.
7. Sydney McLaughlin – The best one-and-done Kentucky’s had in years.
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – On a team full of fresh faces, Shai stood out for his relentless work ethic, which turned him from a four-star recruit into a lottery pick.
9. Craig Skinner – Capturing Kentucky fans’ attention in sports other than basketball and football isn’t easy, but Skinner has managed to do it, turning UK Volleyball into a perennial powerhouse.
10. JJ Williams – The face of a rising Kentucky Soccer program, Williams led the Cats to a historic season before being selected 18th in the MLS Super Draft.
1. Benny Snell — Not only did Snell break an elusive all-time rushing record to lead UK to its first ten-win season in 41 years, he made Kentucky football cool. That kind of infectious energy is something that cannot be taught or replicated.
2. Justify — He could not be slowed by the wettest Derby in history, nor was he fazed by Pimlico’s fog. Unfortunately, American Pharoah’s recent run took away too much of the spotlight from Justify’s Triple Crown victory.
3. Mark Stoops — The SEC Coach of the Year could have (and probably should have) won the national award as well for turning UK into a 10-win team.
4. Josh Allen — Arguably the greatest defender in school history, an NFL general manager will lose his job for passing on Allen.
5. Sydney McLaughlin — What records didn’t she break?
6. Josh Paschal — The Kentucky defensive end was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the preseason and finished the year on the football field. His fight and determination to beat cancer motivated his teammates and inspired fans across the Commonwealth.
7. Rondale Moore — Moore immediately grabbed the spotlight, setting an all-purpose yards record in his nationally televised debut, before he became the catalyst in an upset victory over Ohio State, a win that galvanized the Purdue community amidst Tyler Trent’s courageous battle against cancer.
8. Cameron Lancaster — Louisville City became the first USL team to go back-to-back, thanks to Lancaster’s efforts.
9. Craig Skinner — Few Kentucky teams can say they went undefeated in conference play, and Skinner’s 2018 team is one of them.
10. Johan Cedergren — UK’s best men’s soccer season ever would not have happened without Cedergren.
1. Josh Allen — Defense was the key to Kentucky’s historic 2018 football season and Josh Allen was the face of it. In my opinion, Allen is the best to ever do it in Lexington; and though the same can be said of Benny Snell, I give Allen the slight nod because he was also the best in the entire country and should be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
2. Benny Snell — Like Allen, I think Benny Snell is the best to ever play his position at the University of Kentucky. The numbers speak for themselves, but he also had that charismatic personality rarely seen out of the football program. Putting him second wasn’t easy.
3. Justify — Only two record-breaking seasons from Kentucky football players can top a Triple Crown winner. If Justify had suited up with Allen and Snell in the Citrus Bowl, I might’ve put him first.
4. Mark Stoops — A case can be made for Mark Stoops at No. 1 on this list, but a big part of his success came from the play of Allen and Snell. Of course, he recruited those two under-the-radar prospects and helped mold them into the otherworldly talents they became, but I still have him running third among the three Sports Figure of the Year contenders from the football program. It’s crazy to think the head coach of UK’s first 10-win season in forever would finish fourth in the voting, but here we are.
(I feel good about my top-four picks after they finished in the same order.)
5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — I admit Gilgeous-Alexander is a little high on my list — he didn’t even make the Top 25 in the overall voting — but I remember when he walked onto campus as a four-star recruit and I remember when he single-handedly won games for Kentucky and then I remember him being picked 11th overall in the draft and now the Clippers love him. It was a very impressive rise in one year and he is still rising.
6. Rondale Moore — A former Trinity star, Rondale Moore led all of college football in receptions in his true freshman season at Purdue, and earned First-Team All-American honors as an all-purpose player. On top of that, he probably played a big role in Jeff Brohm turning down Louisville, which I found HILARIOUS.
7. Sydney McLaughlin — I don’t know exactly how many records Sydney McLaughlin broke at UK but it was a lot. And then she signed a mega-deal to be the new face of New Balance and she’ll be one of the superstars for the U.S.A. in the next Olympics. Kentucky was lucky to have her for a year.
8. Donovan Mitchell — As much as it pains me to admit it, I enjoyed watching Donovan Mitchell’s unexpected rise to stardom with the Utah Jazz, especially in the playoffs. And if not for a second-year Ben Simmons taking advantage of a loophole in the system, Mitchell would’ve been the NBA’s Rookie of the Year last season.
9. Vince Tyra — Former Kentucky baseball standout Vince Tyra took on a shitty job as the leader of a shitty athletic department. He got a sympathy vote from me for all he has to deal with, and it looks like the Chris Mack hire is going to work out.
10. Justin Thomas — As a big golf fan, I had to include Justin Thomas, last year’s winner of the Sports Figure of the Year award. He was the tour’s money leader with $8,694,821 in earnings in 2018.