By LARRY VAUGHT
Going into the season it seemed like running back Chris Rodriguez could play a prominent role in Kentucky’s offense. Then came a no-no — he fumbled twice in the first game.
That quickly put him into Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ doghouse and he stayed there a while. However, he finally got his chance to play again, started earning more playing time and last week went over 100 yards against Vanderbilt (129 yards and two scores on just 15 carries).
“Well, it’s a great example if you look at him, and there’s others, but talking about that progression, and keep on sowing those seeds, keep on working, keep on doing the right things, and eventually you’re going to have your opportunity and an opportunity to prove it,” Stoops said of Rodriguez.
Rather than pout over his diminished role, he showed Stoops in practice he could be trusted and then produced in a must-win game. Ironically, a first-quarter fumble by AJ Rose gave him the opportunity at Vanderbilt to play more.
“He did that, he’s been doing that. But it goes back to his practice habits to be honest with you. He has been extremely disciplined, and again, he made a critical mistake Saturday that could’ve cost us late in that game, they (could have) made a blowout become close. He missed a blitz pickup, that’s inexcusable,” Stoops said.
“But he’s doing some really good things and he is practicing extremely hard and he is becoming more detailed and that’s where he’s taken to coaching. You see that with coaching experienced guys. You know, we have confidence in all of our coaches, but coach (Eddie) Gran does such a good job of coaching those guys and being hard on them and being disciplined with them and it is paying off.”
Stoops said young players like Rodriguez and freshman linebacker are not just trying rely on athletic ability to success but relying on fundamentals and coaching.
“You keep on doing that and the sky is the limit for certain people. We have a lot of good, talented players, but you have to be coachable and do the things we’re asking you to do. We’re interested in winning every game. We’re also interested in growth and how the program is growing,” Stoops.
That was praise for Rodriguez but may have also been a subtle hint to sophomore linebacker Xavier Peters, a player who was expected to be a big play producer for UK this year. Instead, he’s been held back by off-field lapses. Maybe he’ll learn from Rodriguez who took coaching advice and now is the key player for UK most thought he would be this year.