By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Everyone knows that Benny Snell was a great player and leader for Kentucky football. But how important was he? Was his leadership essential to Kentucky football being able to move from the bottom of the SEC ladder to near the top?
As a running back is he irreplaceable and now, because of that, Kentucky football will fall back into the SEC abyss with Vanderbilt and Arkansas? Here’s my take on Benny Snell and his role at UK.
He was an in-your-face competitor that wouldn’t back down from anyone. He could “talk the talk” but he could also “walk the walk.” He was very vocal but also led by example, he was a player you could count on to get yards when you had to have them and he didn’t mind getting up in a teammate’s face if they weren’t performing to the level they should be.
Those kinds of players are important on any team but are especially important on teams that haven’t been perennial winners. They help to create a culture of belief and expectation. With that type of mindset players go into each game believing they can win and expect to win.
Here’s UK coach Mark Stoops take on Benny Snell and the role he performed while playing for Kentucky. “Benny Snell is big shoes to fill and we know that,” Stoops said. “The part that was undervalued with Benny was his attitude and his heart and his competitive nature. We have to make sure somebody fills that void. Talent-wise, we have very good players there and they (each) bring a different dynamic. We return some talented guys there and we’re excited about that.”
And I believe he is right. Those are big shoes to fill but the Wildcats have three talented running backs that in my opinion will more than adequately fill those shoes from a yards gained standpoint. But where will the team leadership come from? Where will that “heart” and “attitude” and “competitive nature” come from?
I think UK fans should look no further than senior linebacker Kash Daniel. Daniel is a player that grew up on the blue and white of Kentucky football. As an Eastern Kentucky native he knows how important it is to Kentucky fans to win football games for his home state school. And he knows a few things about leading — vocally and by example.
And make no mistake, just like Benny Snell, Kash Daniel can “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” Here’s what his high school coach in Paintsville said about Daniel. “He was always the leader of whatever team he was on”, said Joe Chirico, head football coach of the Paintsville Tigers. “They knew they were rallying around Kash because he was going to play hard and he was going to expect everybody around him to play hard. That’s just the way he’s been his whole life.”
Daniel is a leader and he is a winner. He has that intangible gift of being able to make everyone else around him better by his attitude and his desire to win. He will do whatever it takes to win.
Mark Stoops said as much about Daniel last year when he became a starter on defense. “Kash is a guy that’s hard not to root for. He’s a Kentucky guy. He cares about this program. He’s passionate. He plays extremely hard. Very unselfish. For those years he was sitting there behind Courtney, didn’t say a word. Just what can I do to help, how can I help on special teams and just learn his position. And that’s what I told the guys in there. The young guys gotta understand that and learn that. We have a great example of some older guys that have paid their dues and worked on it, and we have very good leadership on this team,” Stoops said.
That’s exactly what Kentucky needs — leadership on and off the field. Players that believe in themselves and believe in their teammates. Players that work just as hard in February as they do in September. And Kash Daniel is the epitome of that.
So on Aug. 31st when you see a blur of blue and white wearing number 56 crash through the line and create another tackle-for-loss, just know that that is Kash Daniel “walking the walk.” But before those 100 plus Kentucky players ran through the tunnel to start the season also know that Daniel was already “talking the talk.”
And to have another successful season like the 10-3 one in 2018 Kentucky football needs both.