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Virtual Preseason Notebook: Hop on the Freshman Hype Train

The Kentucky football team has been practicing for a week. This preseason is unlike any other preseason for a variety of reasons. Today I’m going to to talk about one big difference and it has absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus.

Kentucky’s football coaches aren’t pumping the brakes on early expectations for the freshman class. No, that’s not the sound of Kroger Field’s third down whistle. Kentucky’s coaches are the conductors of the Freshmen Hype Train and they can’t stop tooting that horn.

My ridiculous metaphor does not even include the “what we’re hearing from camp” behind the scenes type stuff. Kentucky’s football coaches are hopping on Zoom calls and actively promoting their young football players, sometimes completely unprompted.

Exhibit A: Mark Stoops 

“I’m not gonna hold those guys back. If they can help us, they’re gonna be out there playing. I’m impressed with — I don’t really wanna single out anybody because I’m really impressed with the whole group, the whole freshman class.”

Exhibit B: Brad White on the Defensive Line 

“It’s a talented group. When the four of them all walk out, you’re like, WOW. That doesn’t look like a true freshman class. They have really good girth to them, good size. Big people are still big in the fourth quarter and that’s sort of our mantra. But like anything, when you walk in and you’re a true freshman, there’s a learning curve. You’re not just the biggest one anymore. There’s a lot of big bodies out there. We’re lucky enough to go against one of the best O-lines in the country every single day, so it makes us better up front. The competition is great.”

Exhibit C: Eddie Gran on the Wide Receivers 

“You look at Mike Drennen, he came in a little bit late but you can see he’s in good shape right now. He’s very athletic. I’m going to tell you, he can do a lot of things. I’m looking to see how he keeps improving. I saw Earnest Sanders today showed up on a couple catches; I saw Kalil (Branham), he did as well; Izayah (Cummings) — all those guys today I actually felt their presence. That’s good.

“They’re making our other group really work hard. They know, they see the athleticism. They see the size, so I think it’s only going to push that group to make them better. Is any of them going to come in and help right now as a true freshman? I’m not sure yet. We’ll see how it goes the next three weeks.”

Why is this such a big deal? Mark Stoops never, NEVER goes out of his way to hype up new players unless it’s completely warranted. The head coach is hesitant to create lofty expectations for newcomers, and rightfully so. If they aren’t met right away, things can get messy. Coaches can also alienate one group when they praise another. Most importantly, newcomers typically don’t receive glowing recommendations because only a select few are capable enough to make an immediate impact in the SEC as 18-year-olds.

The list of true freshmen to play on Mark Stoops’ offensive line has only two players, Landon Young and Darian Kinnard. On defense it took Chris Westry and Derrick Baity time to wrestle away the starting role. Benny Snell broke every UK freshman rushing record and he didn’t even carry the ball until week three.

Even though they’ve received a ton of praise and the NCAA’s eligibility waiver essentially gives them a free pass this season, there still may only be a handful of true freshmen that see significant snaps. Who exactly will they be? I have some guesses, but that’s all they are right now. I’ll let the young guys get hit in the mouth a few more times before I’m ready to share which wide receivers and defensive linemen will be ready to roll week one.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR