A.J. Rose (Vicky Graff Photo)
By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Do you know who was the wealthiest person in the world in 2017? Most people do. Or they probably could make a pretty good guess. It’s Bill Gates, who along with Paul Allen, founded Microsoft in 1975. In 2017 Forbes reported that Bill Gates was worth an estimated $87.8 billion dollars.
But here is the interesting part. Can you guess the second wealthiest person according to Forbes in 2017? Most people probably could not. His name is Amancio Ortega. He founded Inditex Fashion Group which includes the Zara Clothing Line. They operate 7,000 retail outlets throughout Europe. His estimated worth in 2017 was $85.8 billion dollars.
And how does this relate to UK Sports? Ok, I’m getting to that. The UK Football Team is currently holding Fall practice preparing for the season opener against Central Michigan on September 1st. Throughout the Spring and now into the Fall we have heard a lot about guys like Benny Snell and CJ Conrad or the quarterback battle between Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, Jr. on the offensive side of the ball and Mike Edwards or Jordan Jones and even the loss of certain guys like Josh Paschal on the defense. They are the “Bill Gates” of UK Football. They get most of the notoriety. But who are the “Amancio Ortegas” of the UK Football Team? Glad you asked. Here are my picks for this season. The players that operate under the radar but should have big seasons for UK this year.
First up on the list is AJ Rose at running back. AJ – as a freshman last year – struggled to pick up on the nuances of college football. He seemed to be a step slow in making decisions and consequently didn’t seem to hit the holes at the proper times or run “north/south” when he did attempt to hit the hole. He struggled to make an impact in his limited opportunities last season. But this year should be a completely different story. He came in last season as a 6’1″ 185 lb running back from Cleveland, Ohio.
This season — after a year in the weight room — he is tipping the scales at 208 lbs. More than 20 lbs of additional muscle. And based on what we saw in the Spring game his timing has improved and he is running much better as a “north/south” type back in Kentucky’s run-oriented offense. This is what Eddie Gran, UK Offensive Coordinator, had to say about Roses’s performance in the Spring Game. “He’s just so much more confident,” Gran said. “A little more physicality. You saw him get north and south. You saw him run over a safety again. Dropped his pads.”
Based on Roses’s spring performance – 134 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries – this could be the year UK once again has two one thousand yard rushers and AJ Rose should be one of those guys.
The next player is also a guy that plays on offense. Zy’aire Hughes – at 6’1″ and 183 lbs – showed flashes of how good he can really be in the Spring Game – four passes for 56 yards and touchdown – and has continued to progress in the Fall. Here’s what he had to say about the process of learning a new position at the college level. “Playing quarterback got me here, really,” Hughes said. “But this spring has been about becoming a receiver instead of an athlete. It’s coming to me slowly. You can’t just be an athlete and be a good receiver. You just have to use technique and play the game.”
Based on his improvement in the Spring Coach Stoops had this to say about Hughes, “He has some juice and he has some speed and he can get open,” Stoops said.
Hughes should get an opportunity to use that speed as the UK offense needs to find a way to stretch the field if teams continue to stack the box against them to stop the run game. Hughes could be just the ticket this Fall.
The next article will cover two guys that aren’t very well known but should come up big on the defensive side of the ball.